Category Archives: Boys and Men

Numbers, Men and Suicide in Montana, Liz Plank, and My 42 Seconds of Fame

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Last month in Bozeman, I took a lunch break from a 6.5 hour suicide assessment and treatment workshop for professionals, walked out of the #IwontcallitGianforte Auditorium on the campus of Montana State University where #Idonotteach, up two flights of stairs, where I met Liz Plank and the amazing video recording and production team for the Vox news show Consider It.

Despite being in the middle of a wardrobe malfunction, I was fascinatingly anxiety-free. After talking about suicide for three hours nothing else really matters much.

Liz Plank is a big deal and a fantastic dresser. All that fits fabulously with her being a fourth wave feminist and 2018 Webby award winner. I was super happy to meet her then, and now, after having met her and done a couple Tick-Tock stunts with her (watch this 9 seconds: https://www.tiktok.com/share/video/6692077388945165573?langCountry=en), I’m still super happy to have met her.

Andy Warhol said we get 15 minutes of fame and Marilyn Manson sang about 15 minutes of shame. What I got in the final Consider It episode was somewhere around 42 seconds of a mix of the two (I’m estimating here because I haven’t timed it). But here’s the good news . . . and there’s lots of good news.

  1. The Consider It episode is now available for public viewing and it’s EXCELLENT. The title: What’s Behind Montana’s Suicide Epidemic? Obviously an incredibly important topic and other than my 42 seconds of fame/shame, very thoughtfully and artfully done (first person to post a comment that accurately identifies my exact wardrobe malfunction on the Consider It site will get a free JSF book of your choice). Yes, you can watch the best ever Consider It episode right here: https://www.facebook.com/consideritshow/videos/1395971993875811/
  2. When Liz Plank got her 2018 Webby, she did a 5 word speech. Listen for her 5 words here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4pTOQ2YY5Y
  3. Wonder what the heck Liz Plank was talking about in her 5 word speech, find out here (spoiler alert, this video makes fun of Donald Trump): https://www.facebook.com/feministabulous/videos/140217433363072/
  4. If you want Liz to have John S-F back on her show to answer the question of why people vote for Trump against their own best interests, start using the hashtag, #JSFknowstheanswer EVERYWHERE and especially here: https://www.facebook.com/consideritshow/?epa=SEARCH_BOX
  5. For me to get my 15 minutes, all you have to do is watch the Consider It episode 22.5 times. https://www.facebook.com/consideritshow/videos/1395971993875811/

As always, thanks for reading and have a fabulous weekend!

John S-F

 

Please Support Trapper Creek Job Corps and the Other Job Corps Designated as Civilian Conservation Corps

Hi All.

I’m asking for help. All of the Job Corps designated as Civilian Conservation Corps are slated to be cut.

Below, I’m pasting information about Trapper Creek Job Corps. I’m also providing a link to a form letter with talking points, as well as an Excel sheet with contact info for various Senate Offices.

Thanks in advance for your help. Job Corps was started as part of LBJ’s war on poverty. It’s a program that gives youth and young adults ages 16-24 a chance to learn a trade and become a taxpayer who contributes to our country in positive ways.

I hope you will spread this message far and wide!

Here’s the letter:

Dear Friend of Job Corps.

This is not a drill. This is 911.

The media is out there; Secretary Acosta (Department of Labor) and Secretary Purdue (USDA) have made the agreement to eliminate the USDA’s role in the Job Corps Program. This means that Trapper Creek (as well as the other 24 Forest Service Centers, or CCCs) will be transferred to DOL, and Trapper Creek will be more or less eliminated as we know it. Our students will no longer be served by this program. Our communities will no longer be served by the extensive support of our amazing students. Our 55 hard working staff at Trapper Creek (and over 1,200 Nation-wide) who have dedicated their professional lives to helping disadvantaged youth will lose their jobs. It is clear this is an assault on our youth, our communities and our people.

My understanding is as such: the decision is to eliminate operations of the CCCs by September 30, 2019. This is not an arbitrary date: it is the last day of the fiscal year. Should this movement take place successfully, the contingent will have won; Trapper and the CCCs are over and done for. We lose our jobs and the thousands of young people served by the CCCs ever year will be without services. However, Congress was just notified today of this decision and, frankly, are not happy. The Forest Service Job Corps program has always had huge support from both sides of Congress; Democrats believe in the humanitarian component while Republicans believe in the fiscal responsibility of training young adults in poverty to learn the hard skills to get a living wage job and the soft skills to stay employed.

WHAT I NEED YOU TO DO: below are two documents.  The spreadsheet attached has contact information for Congressional folks in your states. Please make as many contacts as you can to them as well as to local political folks; mayors, city council, etc. We need as many calls and emails as possible from as many folks as possible. Democrats are already putting things in writing; Republicans are on board but all together too quiet. These folks need to hear of your displeasure of this decision.

Also attached is a form letter (5.23.19 CCC Agency Letter), talking points if you will, to use when visiting with these folks.

Please forward this message to all parties you know that care about our youth, our communities, our staff and the program at large. Facebook is a great tool to move information as well.

FEDERAL EMPLOYEES: do not use government time, equipment or material to move this information. You are welcome to use Facebook if you do not identify yourself as a Federal Employee.

The Talking Points letter is here: 5.23.19 CCC Agency Form Letter with Talking Points

The Excel spreadsheet with contact info is here: Copy of CCC Contact Sheet

 

 

 

Dealing with Your Grief before it Deals with You

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When it comes to caring for our own mental health, most Americans are asleep at the wheel. There are road signs, signals, and exits everywhere, but most Americans are committed to keeping their eyes shut and snoozing right through anything remotely resembling mental health awareness.

Okay. This judgment is a too harsh. But, I’m thinking this way because, not long ago, I watched the film, Manchester by the Sea. Casey Affleck plays the lead character, Lee Chandler. Obviously the film got me a little worked up.

Early on, Lee Chandler’s negligence leads to his children dying in a fire. By any and every measure, this is a trauma and tragedy of immense magnitude. Chandler is emotionally desperate. He tries killing himself. He ends up choosing to live.

But how does Chandler handle his traumatic grief? He continues to drink alcohol and numb himself. He lives like an automaton. Who can blame him? His grief must be so huge that it can’t be addressed. Right? Well, not exactly.

Not long after his children die, Chandler’s brother dies. This is terrible and sad, but suddenly, Chandler gets a second chance. His 16-year-old nephew needs an adult role model. Chandler is the best option.

The film is about pain.  Chandler is devastated. I get that. But instead of showing a glimpse of what it might take to face grief, instead, the film shows Chandler studiously avoiding anything resembling counseling or psychotherapy or education or the possibility of any genuine human interactions that might be helpful.

To be blunt and unkind, Chandler is an emotional chicken. He doesn’t face his emotions or embrace an interest in improving himself or his relationships. He doesn’t do that before or after his traumatic grief. Why not? One reason might be because doing so would be against the cultural norm for real men. . . because real men avoid looking in the mirror and engaging in emotional self-awareness. Seriously? Is this all we expect of emotional development for men and boys? I hope not.

Chandler could have done better than that. We can all do better than that.

What do we know? There’s substantial scientific evidence supporting several ways Chandler might move toward addressing his grief, his depression, his alcohol abuse, and his damaged relationships. He could have been a better person a better man, and a better uncle.

Okay. I’ll calm down now. I understand this is just Hollywood . . . which is why I feel so free to attack Chandler for avoiding what might have been good for himself and his nephew.

All this brings me to my point. In the latest episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, Dr. Sara and I interview Dr. Tina Barrett about how to talk to children about death and loss. Then, in the following episode (watch for it next week), we interview her again about how to help children through the death of a loved one.

If you don’t know who Dr. Tina is, you should. I met her in the mid-1990s, hired her at Families First in about 1998, and have followed her amazing work ever since. In our podcast, she provides wisdom and guidance and insights about death and dying. I hope you’ll take time to listen (and avoid being like the character Lee Chandler). Tina has some great ideas that might just contribute to your (and your children’s) emotional development.

As usual, you can listen at iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Or you can listen on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Let’s Do the Sex Talk Again

Rita Reading

Now, more than ever, we need to actively teach children about healthy and safe sexual behaviors. Why now?

First, pornography (which is arguably NOT the best sex education source for our children) is extremely easy to access.

Second, a former reality show star who was recently elected President has made statements that are likely to reinforce archaic ideas about female bodies being grabbed and groped and objectified–all in the interest of male pleasure. Personally, I’m against that message and hope you are too.

Third, parents have an important role in protecting their children from the range of different sexually transmitted diseases are associated with unprotected sex.

Fourth, well . . . why would anyone not want to actively teach children about healthy and safe sexual behaviors?

In the 10th episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast (PPPP), Dr. Sara Polanchek and I discuss why and how parents and caregivers should “. . . do the sex talk again and again.” Given the ubiquity of sex in the media, parents can’t afford to ignore this important topic. No longer is it good enough for parents or caregivers to toss an old sex education book into their child’s room and then hope that healthy sexual learning will magically occur.

Parents need to be brave. Parents need to face their own sexual issues and hang-ups. To get started, parents might want to listen to our latest PPPP episode titled: “Let’s do the sex talk again.”

Here’s the link to iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Here’s the link to Lisbyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Please forward this post and these links to parents or guardians or grandparents who you think might benefit. Feel free to ask questions and engage in discussion. Our podcast offers ideas about how to get more comfortable with this exceptionally important topic. Listening to it is a reasonably good way to spend 28 minutes of your life.

Today, I am Captain America

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Today, I am Captain America

John Sommers-Flanagan

One of the hardest things about being a superhero is maintaining a secret identity. Sometimes I get so far undercover that even the Marvel Comics people don’t know who I am. This pretty much drives them nuts. But they deal with it, because, after all, I am Captain America.

I was born with the name John Sommers. This might be confusing to those of you who thought Steve Rogers was the original Captain America. That’s a myth Marvel and I perpetuated to help keep my identity secret. To further the deception, in 1985, I changed my name to John Sommers-Flanagan. This addressed the dual objectives of expressing an equal partnership with my wife and further obfuscating my identity.

Hyphenating my last name was a strategy similar to how my friend Superman is able to maintain his secret Clark Kent identity just by wearing nerdy glasses. Obviously, if you wear nerdy glasses, nobody will think you could possibly be Superman. Well, I wear nerdy glasses AND I have a hyphenated last name. Nobody in their right mind could possibly think I’m Captain America. Think about it. One time a guy I know asked me, “What sort of man hyphenates his last name?” I didn’t tell him because I was maintaining the secret identity thing, but the answer was and is: “Captain America.” #perfectdisguise.

I told Superman I was coming out of the secret identity closet and he asked me, “John, why are you choosing, at this moment in history, to give up your perfect disguise?” I said, “Hey Clark. . . ” (we’re on a first name basis because it always feels awkward when people call me Captain), “. . . radical times call for radical measures.” He just nodded thoughtfully. He’s like that.

The thing is, while growing up as Captain America, I realized early on that women were competent and I wanted to work alongside them, as equal partners. This eventually led me to be against the objectification of women and in favor of women’s rights to make their own healthcare decisions.

Being Captain American has also helped me clarify other values. I’m a big fan of the phrase “All men are created equal” but I’m inclined to substitute “people” for “men.” It seems only right that Captain America would support statements that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence. Over the years I’ve had Gay and Lesbian and Transgender friends and family and colleagues, and you know what, I found that they’re kind and competent and respectful and loving and safe people to have in my life who are equal to everyone else. I’m also pretty big on liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people, and that includes Muslims and Mexicans and Native Americans who have sacred lands threatened by oil pipelines and other minorities, including sexual minorities and persons with disabilities.

It might surprise you to find out that I really love music. I’m not that much of a dancer—although I’ve cut a rug or two in my time. Now that I’m older, I’m more into lyrics than swinging my hips. Like that phrase in the Star Spangled Banner about America being “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” To me and most Americans, I think the meaning of those words is simple. We have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to marry whomever we like, and we’ve got the courage to accept and embrace the goodness inherent in all this freedom and diversity. We also have the freedom to hate, although most people end up feeling so good about living in America that they usually find they prefer loving over hating.

Another musical reference that gives me tingles is the part of America the Beautiful where it goes: “May all success be nobleness and every gain divine.” That’s massively deep stuff, but right now it doesn’t feel like Wall Street, income inequality, and tax breaks for the wealthy fit with the idea of success being noble and divine. What would Jesus think? Well, along with Superman, he’s one of my besties and so I asked him. Wouldn’t you know, he got all analogy on me. He said something about rich people getting to heaven being as likely as a camel getting through the eye of a needle. My follow up question was about whether that meant it would be easier for Ant Man to get to heaven? At that point Jesus said, “Sure, Ant Man gets in, along with everyone else who makes himself or herself or their-self small and is interested in serving others instead of trying too hard to be bigly.” Then he giggled for almost a whole minute. Sometimes I’m not sure I get Jesus’s humor, but He thinks he’s funny, so that’s good enough for me.

Here’s another thing freedom means to me. Freedom means that we don’t have to register ourselves or be profiled or be put on watch lists because of believing in a particular God or because of having a particular color skin. It also means we’ve got the freedom to vote. And that means registering to vote should be pretty darn easy for all Americans and that voting lines should be equally short in poor and rich neighborhoods. Mostly we should be registering cars and college students, and, because I’m a superhero, I’m also in favor of registering guns. My reasoning is that in the real world it’s not as easy to sort out the good guys from the bad guys as it is in comic books and on television. What helps me is that I wear an easily recognizable spandex red white and blue outfit.  So I figure if you’re planning to carry firearms, you should register them and then at least have the decency to make it clear that you’re one of the good guys and if that involves putting on some spandex, so be it. That’s what my friend Thor would say. He always likes to say “So be it” in his loud, thunderous voice. He can be pretty convincing.

Here’s one last point on the gun thing. You may have noticed, I only carry a shield. Make of that what you will. I believe in the right to bear arms, but I believe even harder in gun safety.

Growing up, I went to public schools all my life. I even went to public universities. And as I’ve made clear, I ended up becoming Captain America. That’s not to say public schools are perfect, but Damn, American public school teachers are fucking amazing (I think that’s how my friend Pink would say it). Do you know how hard teachers work? Do you know how little they get paid? Did you know that John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States said something like (paraphrasing here), “there’s no way you can spend too much money on education for poor people.” Now, if you studied some proper history in a public school, you’d know that during his time, John Adams was just about the smartest and most persistent dude on the planet . . . and you’d also probably know the difference between educational measurements of proficiency and growth. Just saying.

I should confess right now that I’ve thought long and hard about whether to support the new president of the United States. The disrespect he’s shown for anyone he considers beneath him and who didn’t donate to his campaign make it difficult for me to endorse anything about him. But then I had an epiphany. I realized, “Wait, I’m Captain America, and that means I’m all about supporting values and not people.” This epiphany (BTW, “Thank-you Jesus”) helped me see and understand that I’m not a republican or a democrat and that I don’t support specific politicians. Therefore, whenever our new president upholds the values of equality for everyone, freedom for everyone, health insurance for everyone, gun safety, and better education for everyone—I’ll support him acting on those values. Also, whenever he sacrifices his own wealth and ego and treats women, minorities, the disabled, LGBTQ people, and everyone else with the respect they deserve, I’ll support those actions too.  However, to the extent that he advocates unequal treatment of individuals, restricts religious and other freedoms, meddles with women’s health decisions, or interferes with the common person’s pursuit of happiness, I’ll be opposing him along with my friends Jesus, Superman, and Pink.

That’s because I’m Captain America.

And you can be too.

******************************

John Sommers-Flanagan is a clinical psychologist, a professor of counselor education at the University of Montana, the author of eight books, co-host of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, and Captain America.

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Cleavage, Revisited

It’s revision time for the Clinical Interviewing textbook (the 6th edition is coming). Revision time also means revisiting time. About three years ago I posted a new proposed section for the 5th edition cleverly titled, “Straight Talk about Cleavage.”

This time around I’m posting our slightly revised version of that section. What’s new is that I’m explicitly asking and hoping for your comments and feedback. Please note that this makes me nervous, but we (Rita and I) hope your comments and feedback will help us provide more perspective and depth to our discussion. We don’t want to come across as old fogeys or rabid feminists. Instead, we want to be reasonable, thoughtful, and balanced . . . and so we’re turning to YOU.

The section is below. You can post comments directly here at Word Press for all to see or email me privately at john.sf@mso.umt.edu.

Straight Talk about Cleavage

Although we don’t have any solid scientific data upon which to base this statement, our best guess is that most of the time most people on the planet don’t engage in open conversations about cleavage. Our goal in this section is to break that norm and to encourage you to break it along with us. To start, we should confess that the whole idea of us bringing up this topic (in writing or in person) and saying something like, “Okay, we need to have a serious talk about cleavage” makes us feel terribly old. But we also hope this choice might reflect the wisdom and perspective that comes with aging.

In recent years we’ve noticed a greater tendency for female counseling and psychology students (especially younger females) to dress in ways that might be viewed as somewhat provocative. This includes, but is not limited to, low necklines that show considerable cleavage. Among other issues, cleavage and clothing were discussed in a series of postings on the Counselor Education and Supervision (CES) listserv back in 2012. The CES discussion inspired many of the following statements that follow. Please read these bulleted statements and consider discussing them as an educational activity.

  • Female (and male) students have the right to express themselves via how they dress.
  • Commenting on how women dress and making specific recommendations may be viewed as sexist or inappropriately limiting.
  • It’s true that women should be able to dress any way they want.
  • It’s also true that agencies and institutions have some rights to establish dress codes regarding how their paid employees and volunteers dress.
  • Despite egalitarian and feminist efforts to free women from the shackles of a patriarchal society, how women dress is still interpreted as having certain socially constructed messages that often, but not always, pertain to sex and sexuality.
  • Although efforts to change socially constructed ideas about women dressing “sexy” can include activities like campus “slut-walks,” a counseling or psychotherapy session is probably not the appropriate venue for initiating a discourse on social and feminist change.
  • For better or worse, it’s a fact that both middle-school males and middle-aged men (and many “populations” in between) are likely to be distracted—and their ability to profit from a counseling experience may be compromised—if they have a close up view of their therapist’s breasts.
  • At the very least, we think excessive cleavage (please don’t ask us to define this phrase) is less likely to contribute to positive therapy outcomes and more likely to stimulate sexual fantasies—which we believe is probably contrary to the goals of most therapists.
  • It may be useful to have young women (and men) watch themselves on video from the viewpoint of a client (of either sex) that might feel attracted to them and then discuss how to manage sexual attraction that might occur during therapy.

Obviously, we don’t have perfect or absolute answers to the question of cleavage during a clinical interview. Guidelines depend, in part, on interview setting and specific client populations. At the very least, we recommend you take time to think about this dimension of professional attire and hope you’ll openly discuss cleavage and related issues with fellow students, colleagues, and supervisors.

My Father, Who Art in Vancouver (Washington)

That’s where he is (Vancouver) and where he’s been, mostly, since I met him on Thursday, October 18, 1957.

My father was born Jewish and usually says he’s an atheist, but he gives me faith in all things and hope for the world. He’s like solid ground after an earthquake. One time, when I was 15-years-old and riding on 39th street in Vancouver with my sister Peggy, she totaled her blue Toyota Corolla by ramming it into the back end of another car on a hot summer day. I still recall the song playing on the eight-track. “You put the lime in the coconut and drink them both together, you put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better.”

We did not feel better . . . until my dad magically showed up less than five minutes after the accident. This was long before cell-phones. Peggy had just been loaded into an ambulance and suddenly, there he was. He just happened to be driving by. He picked me up in his old yellow Ford van and just talked to me in his calm and soothing voice all the way home. I have no idea what he said, but it made everything okay.

How many times has he made my world safer? How many times has he made my world better? My best guess is countless or maybe double-infinity. And, being a scientist-type, I never use the words countless or double-infinity.

He was always stronger. He was always better. He was always smarter. No one could do mental math like my dad. Even now, at age 88, he’s a mental calculator to be reckoned with. He still beats me at gin, not so much because of using better strategy, but because he can still count cards and so he almost always has greater awareness of the cards I’m holding in MY hand than I do.

He was and is the most competitive person I know. He never gives in. He never gives up. He’ll play cards with you all night if that’s what it takes for him to win. But it never does. He wins long before we get very far into the night.

I know him pretty well. He’s honest to a fault. He would never cheat . . . at anything. He has a fabulous work ethic. He should have been a U.S. Senator. Can you imagine that . . . a trustworthy and hardworking American politician? Now there’s an unrealistic fantasy.

Let me tell you about his usual day. Despite his neuropathy, he’ll get up in the morning and take the dog for a walk. Then he’ll get back and read the paper until my mom wakes up. They’ll have breakfast together. It will be some terrible white bread or frozen waffles with syrup and maybe some bacon and eggs. He’ll probably do the dishes. Then my mom will take a nap and he’ll take the dog for another walk and then either read a book or watch the news or a bad television show until she wakes up again. At some point he’ll drag my mom out of their tiny room to play bean-bag baseball at the retirement home where they live. In the evening he’ll watch the Seattle Mariners struggle to score runs and, of course, the Mariners will lose another baseball game. Later, when we talk on the phone he’ll tell me that the Mariners will be getting a new hitting coach soon. . . and about three days later, they will. The only problem is they shouldn’t have hired Edgar Martinez; they should have hired my dad.

He’ll put my mother on the phone and we’ll talk a couple minutes. I’ll ask her about bean-bag baseball, but she won’t remember playing and so she’ll ask him and he’ll get back on the phone and tell me that she got three triples. All day he’ll cover for her and help her navigate the world that she’s mostly lost touch with. He’ll patiently answer the same questions twelve times over. When I ask him how he stays so calm and patient when my mom mostly has no memory, he’ll say, “I just remind myself that she’s not forgetting things on purpose. She would remember if she could.”

This is the man I can never live up to. But that’s okay. In fact, that’s the way it SHOULD be. To have a role model who is really a role model because he is so good and kind and compassionate and smart. Just being around someone like him makes me want to be a better person. I just have to ask myself: What would my dad do?

Before I get off the phone, he’ll do his usual (since 1982) good bye. He’ll say: “I love you.” And then, “Big hug.”

This is Max Sommers.

He is my father.

I have the honor of being his son.

I have the privilege of wishing him a Happy Father’s Day.

Hallowed be his name.

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