Hal Royaltey (hal) Mon 22 Jan 07 21:48
Please welcome David Hafter, our next guest in the Inkwell. David N. Hafter is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over twenty years of experience working with teenagers, young adults and their families. He lives in Davis, California with his son, Noah and his wife, Pamela Delaney, also an LMFT. Some Well oldtimers may remember David under his old user name of "wooly". Leading our conversation is David Adam Edelstein. David is a former young man and current father of a six-month-old daughter, which suddenly has him eyeing young men with suspicion. Welcome Davids. Let's begin ...
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 23 Jan 07 07:43
Thanks, Hal. David, maybe the best place to start is with a bit of an outline. "Growing Balls" is a great title; can you tell us a little bit about what the book is about?
David Hafter (davidhafter) Tue 23 Jan 07 14:57
Sure. And thanks for having me here in this format. It's a privilage. Let me begin by referring you and all other participants here to my website(www.growingballs.com). There you will find a few paragraphs from each chapter, some great artwork from the artist who worked with me and a music video of a song I wrote for the book -- at my son's urging -- in "youtube" format. A few minutes on the site will help put this coming conversation into perspective. The book began with a conversation I had with another guy my age (late 40's) about the challenges faced by boys and young men nowadays. In subsequent discussions with other men, I came to the conclusion that a little book full of the mentoring we would give to a young man if given the chance was in order. This book gives me the unique chance to leave the "treatment box" of my usual role as therapist for awhile and talk about prevention. Prevention of what? Prevention of guys entering into the roles of husband and father before they are ready to do the jobs well. Prevention of domestic violence; prevention of substance abuse and addiction; prevention of guys paying huge prices for avoidable mistakes with girls and women. In my work I see kids having kids, huge divorce rates and boys growing up without mature male mentoring from either their fathers or other healthy men in their lives. Boys are thrust into the shark-tank of adult life with very little preparation. In more traditional societies with established rites of passage into adulthood, it is someone other than the father who ushers the boy into manhood. Growing Balls allows me to play a very modest such role in the lives of guys I am unlikely ever to meet, either professionally or personally. In my therapist role, I help people to explore their problems or symptoms and come to their own conclusions and decisions about what they want to do. Soap-boxes are not ethical for therapists. I can offer some guidance, of course, and I do. However, the role of writer is a much looser one than that of therapist and I relish the opportunity to say exactly what is on my mind in just the terms I want to use. As for the title, it is meant to be a grabber, of course. The "balls" metaphor is actually for courage and integrity, two under-valued qualities in our culture today. People tend to talk about a guy having balls meaning audacity, gall, nerve or "chutzpah". I prefer to use the term for courage and integrity -- a young man growing into his maturity to the point that he is able to "do the right thing because it is the right thing to do." That is the level of maturity required of a man who wants to be a good husband and father. I better stop here or I'll end up re-writing the book... David
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 23 Jan 07 22:34
Don't do that! We want people to read it, of course. In your book you talk about 25 being the age at which most young men are ready for these kinds of responsibilities. I confess I thought that was a little late until I realized that I got married exactly a week after my own 25th birthday, and I certaintly wasn't ready before then. Would you say that 25 has always been the average age when young men "grew balls"? Or has that age changed over the years?
David Hafter (davidhafter) Wed 24 Jan 07 09:30
I think it has changed. In our father's and grandfather's day (and generations before them) social expectations were different and socially acceptable choices were fewer. For example, sexual pressures pushed some early decisions back then as couples could not live together unmarried as they so commonly do today. Moreover, only a few decades ago one income at a standard job often enough to support a family, society was set up to accommodate new couples aged, say 18 to 21. Obviously, this is not the case today.
Michael Zentner (mz) Wed 24 Jan 07 09:41
Great subject, thanks. My son is almost 18 and I wonder what I've been able to teach him. NOT becoming a parent early is one of them. One day I think he was a sophomore in high school I showed him where I kept the condoms and told him he should never, ever be without one just in case. His response: "Thanks dad, but they hand them out at school." My cousins in Texas and Louisiana all got married in their very early 20's, which I just couldn't believe! I was thirty one, and I'm still not sure I was ready. (As I age, I think about issues confronting boomer males in the youth oriented society we created. Maybe I'll write a book called "Shaving Your Balls.")
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 24 Jan 07 14:44
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David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 24 Jan 07 15:38
That's a pretty enlightened school! I don't think we talked about it at all in my school. David, your answer sounds like you're saying that society has changed more than males have -- that guys were getting married younger because they had no choice, not because they were neccessarily any readier then. Is that the case? Have you seen that change happen over the time (two decades!) you've been a therapist? Or has it been a longer scale than that?
David Hafter (davidhafter) Wed 24 Jan 07 20:20
That's a pretty good question there, Dave... Actually, I have had a few older guys (60's through late 70's) read the book and give me feedback. Interestingly, some of their initial reactions have tended towards the negative, being defensive and somewhat offended at the idea that their marriages, which took place when they were in their late teens and very early 20's, were ill advised. I encouraged them to note that I am writing to the modern young man and in fact stated in the book that things were different in past generations. For the most part, once their blood pressure dropped a bit, the feedback got more positive with remarks like, "I wish this had been around to read when I was younger." This leads me to believe that it is the times and circumstances of being young today that is the issue, not so much males in general. In the last 20 years, I have seen less mentoring going with young guys (and girls)on as families struggle to make it financially, working longer and harder. There are fewer sports and music programs available for kids (where mentoring used to happen) and fewer kids are working on developing areas of expertise (arts, sports etc) as they get caught into the addictive and fantastic machinery of games. One more thing: The artist who did my drawings for me, Pierre Pobre, lives in the Philipines. (Again, check out the website: www.growingballs.com. There is a link to his website there, as well and it is worth checking out.) He asked for a copy of the book in order to get a better sense of what I was looking for in terms of visuals. After reading GB, he told me that he had not expected to relate to it since it came from western culture. In fact, as far as he was concerned, it translated very well cross-culturally.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 25 Jan 07 17:13
Wow, that's gratifying.
David Hafter (davidhafter) Thu 25 Jan 07 18:29
You know, it really is. As I wrote this book, I was conscious of a desire not to "leave anyone out". How would what I was writing go over within this community or that? Would a gay kid be able to translate the material from the language of a straight orientation and get benefits from the book nonetheless? Would it make sense to a variety of racial and ethinic groups? The jury is still out, of course. But the more I tried to be ever so inclusive, the more the writing suffered and the messages became diluted with political correctness. Meanwhile, I got positive feedback from a couple of African American readers, none of which complained that what I said was off base or particularly ethnocentric. I hope to get further feedback from a variety of readers over time. On my website, each chapter snippet is set up for blogging so readers can chime in with their opinions. I hope they do as my greatest desire is for GB to start conversations. To be agreed with would be great, but not necessary and with controversial topics like these, widespread agreement is not even a reasonable hope.
Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Thu 25 Jan 07 20:40
David, looks like you have hit all the main points. I particularly like the absence of psychological jargon. In a way, you are reminding people of things they already know when they take time out from cultivating illusions left over from childhood. A breath of fresh air.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Fri 26 Jan 07 06:57
That seems to be one of the paradoxes of this advice -- which I think may be inherently paradoxical, not because the advice is flawed -- that until young men have grown balls, they may not be ready to hear the advice in the first place.
David Hafter (davidhafter) Fri 26 Jan 07 09:59
"A breath of fresh air..." Thanks for that. I just took a deep breath myself. The paradox mentioned by David is true. At the end of the book I talk about the fact that GB is written directly to an audience that is the least likely to read it. Nonetheless, I refused to write a book *about* young men instead of *to* them. I do acknowledge that it may be adult men and women who read it most, and that is really okay with me, as long as they act on what they read. I want them to get that the young men in their lives, their sons, brothers, nephews, cousins, boyfriends and so on both need and deserve positive male mentoring. I really hope that GB catches on, for example, with single mothers raising sons alone. It will be a help all by itself as a paper-mentor but may also inspire these moms to remember to look for opportunities for their sons to get mentoring in the extended family or from guys teaching/coaching through community activities. One way I have heard GB being used to get it into the hands of those who need it is the following strategic move: Some friends of mine, after reding the book themselves, tried to get their 16 year old son to read it. After a cursory glance through a few chapters, he decided he had balls a-plenty and didn't need to read the rest. His folks let it go, not wanting to push. Then, he got over-involved with his girlfriend, dropped some in his grades from too much IM'ing and not enough studying and finally got busted for lying to his parents. One of his consequences was to read the book one chapter at a time, followed by a conversation with his parents on what he got out of each chapter. He quickly saw many of his behaviors within that relationship as errors that lessened his personal power in other areas of his life. Pitter-patter goes my heart... I also recently received an email from a mother who bought the book for her 21 year old son whose heart was had been broken in a painful relationship melt-down. She wrote that her son had read the book and had genuinely benefited from it, feeling empowered and in a position to begin moving on. Forgive me if I seem to be tooting my own horn too much here, but that kind of story makes the whole effort worthwhile for me right there. One last thing: If anyone got a kick from the song on the website, I perform at the Border's Bookstore Cafe in Davis, CA every month, usually on the 2nd Friday from 8 to 10pm. I have moved it to the first Friday for Feb (the 2nd, next week) because I have tickets to see the phenomenal Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel on the 9th. He's at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on the 10th, by the way). Anyhow, if anyone ever is in the neighborhood, come on by. Also that pariticular Borders stocks the book. Otherwise, you have to buy it from my website or from Amazon.com or ask your local Borders to carry it (it is in their system to do so).
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 27 Jan 07 09:02
Hah, making the son read the book a chapter at a time is great. Although the subtitle of the book mentions marriage and fatherhood, it seems like a lot of the essential lessons are applicable to all young men, whether straight or gay -- that it's broadly about learning to have successful, long-term relationships. Would your advice be any different to a young gay man?
David Hafter (davidhafter) Sat 27 Jan 07 12:01
No, it wouldn't. I would probably suggest that a young gay man look for mentoring in another gay man, one who is older and wiser, when it comes to negotiating the more unique challenges society puts before gay guys. However, a straight mentor would also have plenty to offer in terms of the common areas all young men face. I'm glad you see those areas covered in the book.
John Payne (satyr) Sat 27 Jan 07 14:26
It seems to me, not having read the book, that the message described here is one that will be particularly hard for young men growing up on mean urban streets to hear, since they are so often under pressure to project unassailable masculinity - a position from which it's likely difficult to consider that they might need to grow some balls.
David Hafter (davidhafter) Sat 27 Jan 07 20:59
It depends what they consider to be the definition of balls; in my book, having balls means having courage and integrity -- the willingness to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Having balls means having personal values and living by them. The first chapter establishes that understanding from the start and serves as the foundation for the rest of the book. I'm not sure what you mean by "unassailable masculinity". Young people living in urban settings do have some pressures on them to put across to others that they are not and will not be anyone's punk (to use their word)-- but this is true of both boys and girls. So, if I am reading you correctly, and I may not be, I am hesitant to call what they have to project outward to their urban world as masculinity. It's more like a willingness and ability to be aggressive when necessary. I don't want to equate masculinity with aggression. I have worked for many years with these urban kids. In LA, the group homes I worked in had serious and sometimes outright scary, gang kids. For five years, I also ran mandatory counseling groups for offenders with at least two DUI's and these guys tended to be from poorer areas (the rich guys got their tickets fixed). I developed some of the book from my work with them. I currently work with kids from the roughest, poorest parts of Stockton. Some of the kids are in gangs. However, I have also worked with the kids from the richest families in America. I ran a program in far north Idaho where fortune 500 families paid some 60K per year -- cash -- to have their kids chop wood, clear their heads and pour out their hearts in all night rap sessions. I found that despite the cultural and economic differences, all these kids had much in common. They all needed to feel heard and understood. They needed respect and wanted to feel loved and appreciated. All these kids recognized bullshit when they saw or heard it and responded well to people with integrity and a genuine interest in them. They needed to learn how to recognize and deal with their feelings about themselves and others in socially acceptable ways. They all had crosses to bear.
John Payne (satyr) Sun 28 Jan 07 13:59
Point taken. Perhaps 'unassailable self-possession' or 'imperviousness' would have expressed it better, since it applies to both sexes. Either way, it's my impression that city kids are under intense pressure to behave in what they see as an adult manner from an early age, and it would seem to be difficult to consider, from that position, that their maturation might be incomplete.
David Hafter (davidhafter) Sun 28 Jan 07 20:17
Well, that' an interesting notion. I'm sort of stuck on the idea of them being under intense pressure to act like adults. Is it really that they are forced by circumstances, to start acting in an adult manner or is it simply more difficult for these kids to act in what we, from the outside, might consider to be a normal child-like manner? Kids/young people adapt to their environments and a norm is established according what it takes to make it while living there. Meanwhile, while I am not sure what you mean be acting in an adult manner since that is not my experience of most of these kids, I have seen parentified children (kids who, for a variety of reasons, end up taking on more "adilt" responsibilies that what we would consider normal or desirable for that age) in families from every economic strata. And the pressures on them are indeed intense -- whether their parents are addicts/alcoholics, seriously depressed or otherwise mentally ill, absent etc. When you connect with these kids and they feel safe with you, the desires and needs they have are pretty standard, like those I mentioned in my last response. In my experience, young people in general are pretty capable of recognizing their own limitations. They are hungry for someone to give them some a reality check as well as to validate their experience of the world. This doesn't mean they necessarily go out and behave responsibly as a result -- but seeds do get planted. We therapists, especially those of us working with young people (often already in trouble), have to accept that we often do not get to see many of the changes we are trying to nurture. But we do get those phone calls six months or six years later from young people keep us going.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 29 Jan 07 22:10
You're probably bound by professional ethics to not talk about those phone calls, but I'd love to hear about them if there's some way you can tell those stories in a general enough way. It seems such a struggle from seeds getting planted, as you say, to becoming functioning adults. It sounds so movie-of-the-week, but do you think that some of these kids just need someone to open their eyes once?
David Hafter (davidhafter) Tue 30 Jan 07 00:03
Right. I can't go into any details... but what generally happens is that when kids finally "get" what we were trying to do, a few of them want to reach out and let us know they got it, and express appreciation for our efforts. They may acknowledge how tough they were to work with and may cop to all the impediments they threw in front of us to test us -- and see if we were worthy of their trust. Learning who to trust is a skill we all have to master as we grow up and we all make mistakes in that arena. The kids we are talking about here have often had significant betrayals in their young lives, so trust doesn't come easily -- nor should it. However, when it happens that you gain such a person's trust and they subsequently benefit by going on to have healthier relationships than they might otherwise have had, well, it's a wonderful thing. Gaining a kid's attention, let alone his or her trust, is no simple task so any success is worth celebrating. Actually, one reason I wrote my book in a politically incorrect style, one that would catch the attention of the young reader but would also create some barriers to the book's marketability, was that I wanted to talk *to* young men, not just write about them. To speak to them meant to speak from the heart as well as the head and young people have great bullshit detectors. It also meant speaking their language, at times, which I'm comfortable doing since I have spent so much time talking with young people. Much of the book, to me however, maintains a pretty adult tone. But that works, too, because the voice in the book is really my own and I don't talk down to or patronize kids. I'm not trying to be cool to them, but I acknowledge that cool is important, especially at their age. I have already had an educator at a continuation high school (a program that specializes in kids who have been in trouble or have specific behavioral difficulties at a regular campus) tell me she struck out with her principal in trying to put GB on the curriculum. She argued unsuccessfully that GB is exactly the type of book these kids need to read. And while the principal also read the book and understood her point, she also could not handle the language and so took a pass. I'm not upset; I understand. It's disappointing, sure, but I know I could have written the same material using only polite language and imagery but I didn't think that book (let's say I used GB's subtitle: "Personal Power for Young Men" instead of "Growing Balls" for the title)would have had the same impact on guys reading it. Meanwhile, I have written a group counseling curriculum that can be used by therapists, school counselors, group homes, teachers and the like that does focus on the Personal Power theme and avoids all language testicular... I sent it to this teacher and encouraged her to try it out since she said she was determined to take messages out of the book and somehow get them across to her students. That sort of passion is inspiring, isn't it? As to your question, David, do these kids just need to open their eyes once? That *is* kind of a movie of the week image and a very attractive notion -- but no, it's not too realistic. The troubled kids that straighten right out after a deep conversation with a wise elder are definitely off the pages of a script. Young people with serious issues don't turn their lives around overnight, although those with all their faculties intact can certainly have epiphanies. In my experience and those of many of my colleagues, kids don't often share those moments with anyone, especially not at the time. Later on, in those lucky phone calls you might hear a kid recalling the moment when he or she first saw the world from a slightly wider perspective and that moment was the start of significant change, when puzzle pieces started to come together. (Geez, now *I* sound like a cliche').
Credo, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Tue 30 Jan 07 04:04
>Young people with serious issues don't turn their lives around overnight, although those with all their faculties intact can certainly have epiphanies.< This might be generalized to "people with serious issues .........
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 30 Jan 07 07:40
Heh. Certainly I didn't do that, although there were a few key *periods* in my life, if not moments, that got me on the path to figuring things out. And (speaking of politically incorrect chapter titles) "What to do with your dick" would certainly have been good reading for me before then. I suppose the next question I have -- especially regarding that chapter -- is whether you think that just reading advice, no matter how direct, can really keep young men from screwing up? "Don't have sex with crazy girls" is terrific advice, indeed, but I'm not sure I would have even been able to read that sentence when I was 18, let alone follow it. Isn't part of the process of growing balls about learning from dumb mistakes?
David Hafter (davidhafter) Tue 30 Jan 07 08:06
Yes, sure. There's no substitution for the maturation you get from direct experience; I acknowledge that in the book more than once. But even though your kid is going to touch the hot stove, don't you still warn him that if he does, he's going get burned? Is the written advice enough? In most cases, probably not. But maybe it helps the reader avoid repeating the same mistake. Or, if a guy reads GB and later on has an experience that rings a memory bell, he might go back and read through it again. Other advice might have a better chance of sinking in the second time around. He may also get sensitized to the material watching his friends make mistakes that he recognizes from the book and is therefore able to steer clear of that trouble for himself.
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