Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 6, 2010

The Favre Syndrome (Something to Prove)

Brett Favre with the Vikings

Image via Wikipedia


The following began as a comment at Men on the Journey, a blog by Loyola Press that I frequent. It is a men’s spirituality site, created in tandem with Richard Rohr’s new book On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men.

If you are like most Westerners, especially Americans, you read that title and probably think “Men who meditate? Never heard of ’em.” But that’s the point. There may be a Chicken Soup for the Trucker’s Soul or some such thing out there in the market. But there are so few who actually meditate (quite different from thinking), and even fewer practitioners of the various spiritual practices that the old monastic orders found so fruitful in maintaining wisdom, faith and inner peace. Among those men who do meditate, I suspect 75% or more are using an Eastern or Buddhist model –which is not so different, but different enough to note the Christian version.

Rohr, as a Franciscan, is therefore one of the leaders of men, a scout giving directions to and through that “desert” of tough but valuable discovery of God, self, and truth.

So to give some context, the blog entry by Joe is about ideals of toughness and winning that boys are pressed to accept as law from an early age. The cowboy in the white hat, who helps others but needs no help himself. The athlete whose very soul and sense of worth is on the line based upon his (or her… though much less frequently) ability to keep on winning. Call it the Brett Favre complex.  (See photo —> oh, and look!  Real Men do wear pink.)

The first couple of commentors after Joe’s reflections on John Wayne, old and new Clint Eastwood, and the trap of the false masculine told good stories about getting off that crazy train to nowhere. Meanwhile, I ended up realizing I never really got on in the first place.

Here’s how I put it, though I’ve expanded and politicized it a bit here… given my tendency to run at the mouth… 

I was certainly exposed to the “defined by winning” aspect of modern culture as a young man. But if we’re lucky, our families of origin manage to put a certain level of security in place so we can be defined by trying, or even better, by being (as in True Self being).

I may have been born somewhat “dis-illusioned”, or maybe it was a growing sense of “the system is rigged” that I started having as an adolescent. All I know is I stopped caring much about winning, outdoing the other guy or girl, being strong and silent… and invested in relationships. Not that I didn’t feel weird amongst male peers, and I certainly didn’t take the romantic realm by storm. But I also saw male friends get chewed up by “losing” (and in fact I was naturally successful in the academic realm), so compassion and ease won out over fear of failure. I also saw the macro implications of the win/lose dualistic system: entire continents like Africa being tyrannically ruled by the “winners”, or the ones most capable of brutalizing their brothers and sisters.

Cut from adolescence to adulthood, and my resistance to playing a rigged game: I became a Mr. Mom. I serve more at church in traditionally “feminine” ways than masculine ones. Plus I have had only limited success or financial gain in the typical realm of a man’s “work world”.

Thus midlife for me has become about two things —

1) teaching other men, younger and older– plus my semi-traditionalist wife who does not love the game, but is used to it and good at it –that there’s another way to go, hard and counter-cultural but worth it… and

2) coming into my natural gifts, self-affirming, living deeper still in God’s love, enjoying a *leisurely* ride in the saddle or canoe with a friend, instead of a race, and thus getting strong enough to endure the parts of the game I still don’t like, but might actually start winning.

God’s grace? Absolutely. I’m in it for good, win or lose.

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