Leaving the Left

I’ve been thinking recently about my editorship of a men’s movement magazine called “Men Talk.” The position was strictly volunteer, and it fell to me because i was the only one who volunteered to try to put an issue out. Men Talk was the flagship publication for the Twin Cities Men’s Center, an organization that offered help to men in the form of groups, information, referrals, and moral support. I had previously written an article for them that appeared on the front page, so I imagine they expected more of the same from me. But that is not what they got.

The Men’s Center was progressive in its politics, aligning with racial equality, socialism, environmentalism, feminism, abortion rights, gender politics and gay rights, and opposing corporate greed, the military, and so on. I was part of the club, and also helped operate a public radio show called “Man Made Radio”, a half hour weekly show about men’s issues from a progressive point of view. The only problem with me running Men Talk was that I wasn’t part of the club anymore.

What happened? Well, lots of things. First, I became a father. This put a permanent dent in my pro-choice opinions. Then there was sobriety. I had been clean and sober about 4-5 years and gotten into therapy to get my head on straight. I was working as a CD tech at a men’s halfway house in St. Paul. I liked the work, I liked being sober, I liked being in a committed relationship, and I liked being a dad. But there was more going on that this.

Part of my recovery from alcohol and drugs involved spirituality. Many people in the twelve-step programs substitute a relationship with a “higher power” for the addiction that had ensnared them. I did that too. I wasn’t ready to go back to the born-again Baptist faith I was raised in, but I did want to stay sober and I did want to have a relationship with God. As part of this yearning, I joined an alternative, counterculture 2 year course training me to be a spiritual director.

On the first day I realized that out of a class of twenty-some people, there was only one other man besides myself. And he dropped out. The course was run by a nun, an ex-nun, and a female pastor. Many of the students were outspoken feminists. Unhappy outspoken feminists.

I was sympathetic to feminism. I really did try to empathize with the pain I was hearing. But I came to realize that no one really wanted my empathy, and no one seemed willing to give up their pain. Some acted like it was politically incorrect to talk to straight white men like me.

I eventually came to feel at a loss as to how to fit in with the group. I did become friends with a couple of the women, who saw what I was going through and sympathized. Long story short, I ended up dropping out at the end of the first year. I wrote a letter to the instructors about how I felt, and how it seemed to me that the spirituality being taught or expressed in the course was an angry and defensive one. At the end of the year I realized that I was feeling angry and defensive too.

I started reading up on feminism, and the more I read the more alienated I felt. I did a radio show about it, and another radio show about political correctness. I felt impatient with both of these “isms.” This impatience and antipathy followed me into my editorship of the men’s magazine.

The other event that happened during my tenure with Men Talk was the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Clarence Thomas. I remember watching the early part of the hearings and being impressed with Judge Thomas. It seemed he would be confirmed rather easily. Then Anita Hill appeared.

I was maybe one of a minority of people who did not believe Anita Hill. I thought the whole thing was a staged ploy to derail Thomas’ confirmation hearing. Who was to blame? The usual suspects, at least in my heated opinion. I remember writing in large letters on the wall-length whiteboard at the Men’s Center: “Is Clarence Thomas being lynched by the Left?” In a subsequent issue of Men Talk I nominated Thomas as Man of the Year, an opinion that infuriated just about the entire readership. For my part, it was simply hypocritical to blithely destroy the reputation of an African American man just because he was politically incorrect – that is, a prolife conservative.

I continued reading. One influential book was a memoir by Norman Podhoretz, a former liberal turned conservative. He helped found the neo-conservative journal Commentary. I felt a deep shift within me. I wasn’t a progressive anymore. I was a conservative: an angry conservative who felt fooled, misled, and betrayed by all my former companions. I took this out on the loyal readership of Men Talk, berating the Left and being disparaging towards feminism in print. I committed the cardinal sin of not genuflecting to Robert Bly, a fellow Minnesotan who had just authored “Iron John,” a book about men that actually went mainstream for a short time.  I did a “book review” without reading the entire book – not an honest move on my part. I remember ending my ‘review’ with the line: “when our wives and children need us, let’s not be drumming in the woods.” Ouch.

I wrote edgy editorials and articles more or less skewering the sacred cows on the left. I carried on like this for about a year and then left the paper. No one started a petition to try to bring me back. I thought I heard an audible sigh of relief from the leadership of the Men’s Center. Why didn’t they just boot me out at the beginning? Good question. I imagine it was a combination of inertia and no one else wanting the headache of being editor.

Looking back, I was wrong in how I went about things. I was basically a stealth editor who did not announce my intention of grinding my personal political axe at the expense of Men Talk and its readership. I should have announced my political views and the energy behind them to the leadership of the Men’s Center. I knew I wasn’t going to tow the party line on things – just the opposite. But what I should have done was to say something like, “Look, I don’t mind running the paper, but you guys should know that this is how I feel about issues, and I’m pretty fervent about my feelings.” Then they could decide whether they wanted to put up with me or not. That would have been the honest way to do things. By my silence, I took advantage of the situation and at times turned Men Talk into my personal hobby horse.

Of course, for their part, the leadership could have said after the first issue, “you are out of here, and take your right-wing views with you, good-bye.” But they didn’t. After my departure we have all lived happily separate ever since. I have gone on to write dozens of articles and a few books, but nothing on the men’s movement, or feminism, or any of the hot-button issues I couldn’t shut up about years ago.

Out of curiosity, I just went on the Men’s Center website. I found there an obituary to the one man there who I felt was a friend who cared about me. His name was Randy Genrich, and he died last month. He was a retired school teacher with an iron gripped handshake and a habit of hugging and sometimes kissing me (on the cheek) after we had lunch or some other bonding activity. I’ve thought about Randy over the years. He is the one guy I really miss. Rest in peace, my old friend.

As far as everyone else goes, hey guys, no hard feelings. You have a right to your opinions, and I have a right to mine. I’m willing to look beyond that and let bygones be bygones. God bless you all, and God bless us all.

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