Manhood, 1994

Copper John

For three months in 1994, Iron John was the window through which I saw the world. Robert Bly salvaged my sunken truths. Chest expanded with masculine pride, I wandered through the bare woods in upstate New York, breath blowing hot and smoky, mythic energy rising through my thrift store boots.

Feminists mocked. Jane, who ran with the wolves, called me "Copper Paul." Needing no approval from emasculating women, I suffered her double standard with pride. Her mockery was anger--it angered them to see another puppet to their feminine wiles slip his strings. I ate hamburgers and grew an embarassing fuzzy beard that blurred my face.

Iron John's timing was perfect. Presbyterianism didn't jibe emotionally, I was on the outs with my family, and I was surrounded by friends on their own spiritual quests. Some searched with improvised candlelit ceremonies, others buried ceramic sculptures at midnight, looking for God or God's distant cousin. Before I became Iron Paul, I solved my emotional frustrations by drawing long, smooth gashes into my arms with a hunting knife. I'd take masculine bullshit over that any day, and I did.

The members of the men's movement, those half-naked professors and accountants who beat drums in Maine, must feel the same way. They say "leave me alone" to the women they live with, then turned and say, "I'm deeply lonely," and head to a retreat, or into the embrace of a twenty-six year old. Those two magnetic emotions, spinning in opposition, keep everyone around them off balance.

For my own case of push-me-pull-you, I credit my mother. We replayed the same drama until I stopped speaking to her in 1994, right before the cutting ended and Robert Bly began. We would fight, and suddenly--I don't know how--I would literally end up in a slumped in a corner, sobbing, limp as a doll, arm over my head, begging her to leave me alone. Then, she'd descend and say, "Paul, I love you, I just want to hold you and make it all right." This, and similar things, happened at least once a month when I lived with her.

I've met dozens of men with similar dramas, who would rather come home to an apartment on fire than a phone message from their mom. I replay the drama through other women, asking for solid love, then clamming up when it's not offered on my exacting conditions. I want their deep affection, but fear the consequences, and I usually retreat, insisting that what's offered wasn't what I requested. If loves were Christmas presents, I'd find the stockings stuffed wrong and the sweater too scratchy.

These are recent uncoverings, but during my Iron John time, I just needed a way to say "fuck off" to the people who sent me back to the hunting knife, like my mother and a girl named Jenny who decided she'd help me get over my virginity, then refused to touch me after the awful event. I needed to feel larger and more important than I was, part of some great cosmic hive-mind. Before my experiment with spiritual manhood ended, I wrote to Robert Bly, a two page letter of shy thanks. He wrote back with a compliment--"you seem awfully wise for 19." I have the letter filed somewhere; its importance is dimmed, my unwashed masculinity passed, and most women friends gave up running with the wolves to jog with border collies. The mystical flame extinguished in favor of forgiveness. I speak once a month, with only mild dread, to my mother. I replaced God and faith with a dull nihilism that seems more honest by merit of its total blandness.

Before I finished this entry, I took a look in my box of Pauls, and found Iron Paul next to Depressed Paul and Christian Paul, and Industrial Music Fan Paul with Dyed Black Hair. He still holds that letter from Bly, and it's sad to see him, four years younger and very different from New York City Paul. His attitudes and hopes are not my attitudes and hopes; his emotions did not carry on to me. Time has rusted him through.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


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