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Midlife Wisdom for Men Newsletter Issue #016, August 17, 2004
August 17, 2004
Midlife Wisdom for Men - Helping Men Navigate Midlife Transitions.


Written by Noel McNaughton
(c) copyright 2004


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August 17, 2004 Issue #016

=========== TABLE OF CONTENTS ==========

A Bit About Fasting

Are You Still Trying to Prove to Your Dad That You Are a Man?


Welcome to this issue of Midlife Wisdom for Men.

After the last newsletter I got a request to talk a little more about the fast I mentioned, so I will.

In our society, because we don't have any official markers for when we enter manhood, it is difficult to know when we are 'men'. And because most of our fathers have not recognized us for the men we have become, we keep trying to prove to them we are men, which is self-defeating.


A Bit About Fasting

Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline, as well as a health practice. I had an uncle who fasted one day a week all of his adult life. He did it for his health (he lived to 86), but I fast once a year as a spiritual discipline.

About fifteen years ago I began to get the sense that fasting would be a good thing for me to do, but I didn't know how to go about it. I didn't want to just quit eating and drinking for a few days and try to carry on a normal life, but I didn't want to go out in the woods on my own either. I was pondering what to do when I serendipitously discovered that a friend of mine led fasts. We knew each other in a different context, and I was not aware he did this. I asked him if I might come to a fast he was co-leading with a man from the Saddle Lake Indian Reserve a couple of hours northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, and he said that would be fine. I have fasted every year since.

Here is a quick rundown of what is involved:

  • We arrive on Wednesday about midday. There are usually about twelve to fifteen fasters, roughly half men and half women. The women fast in a different area than the men.

  • We cut some willows and build our little dome-shaped, tarp-covered hogans that we will be fasting in.

  • Later in the afternoon we have a sweat, then a meal, and then visit till sundown.

  • At about 9:30pm we have a 'berry ceremony' which lasts an hour or two, and which is designed to invite the 'grandfathers' (in Christian terms they would be called angels) to help us during the fast, and to guide us toward the answers to the questions we have come to ponder. At the end of this ceremony, the fast has officially begun. We sleep in a tipi in camp that night.

  • The next morning we have another sweat, change into our fasting clothes, and are led out to the fasting grounds and installed in our hogans.

  • The next three days are spent in contemplation, prayer and meditation. Different fast leaders have different rules for the fast. For example, for the first fourteen years I fasted, we were not allowed to speak to each other, except for a few hours Saturday afternoon, and we were required to stay awake and alert from sundown until sun-up, or until the first bird sang in the morning. We were allowed to have a fire. This year, because a different man was leading the fast, we were allowed to speak to each other throughout the fast, and we were 'tied' (with a rope around the outside of the tarp) into our hogans at sundown, and were allowed to sleep during the night. We let ourselves out after sunup.

  • On the morning of the fourth day (Sunday), the leaders of the fast come and hold a pipe ceremony with each faster, then lead us in procession back to the camp where we have another sweat. After the first round of this sweat, water is brought in and we have a drink, which officially ends the fast. We then have another berry ceremony, followed by a feast, then go home.

The fast is the spiritual highlight of my year. After a couple of days of no contact with the outside world, my mind starts to slow down, and I feel more tuned in to the spiritual, or 'unmanifest' world. Having nothing to eat or drink also helps one's mind focus more clearly during prayer and meditation. During the fast, I usually get insights into the proper direction for my life, and things I should focus on in the coming year and beyond.

The fast also has a cleansing effect on my body. By the end of the fast, my eyes are brighter and clearer, and my system feels 'cleaner'.

That being said, fasting is not for everyone. As with all spiritual disciplines, it is best to follow your intuition as to which discipline suits you best. A good book about the various spiritual disciplines one might practice is Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster.

If you have questions about fasting, please email me and I will try to answer them.


Old Tam, who had lost all his teeth, had a visit from the minister who noted that Tam had a bowl of almonds. "My brother gave me those, but I don't want them, you can have them" said Old Tam. The minister tucked into them and then said "That was a funny present to give a man with no teeth." To which Old Tam replied "Not really, they had chocolate on them..."


Are You Still Trying to Prove to Your Dad That You Are a Man?

We have no marker in our society that clearly identifies us, or defines us, as men. Initiation rituals do this in traditional societies, where the men come and take pubescent boys away from their mothers, put them through some rigorous ceremonies, teach them the roles and responsibilities of men, and bring them back to the village. From then on, the initiates are regarded as men.

We are not so lucky, and it often takes a long time for us to feel as though we are men. Barring initiation, what we really need is for our fathers to tell us they see us as men. But this seldom happens. Our fathers did not receive that kind of recognition or blessing from their fathers, nor did our grandfathers receive it from their fathers, so they did/do not know how to go about it, or that it is even necessary.

I was in my 40s before I clearly felt that I was a man, particularly around my dad. The precipitating event was small, but significant to me. Essentially, I had a disagreement with my dad about spreading fertilizer on his farm, and told him I was going to do it my way. We didn't have a big row about it, but there was something about coming up against him and not acquiescing that made a mental 'click' in my mind and helped me decide I was a man.

It seems strange to me that I would be in my 40s before 'feeling like a man', especially considering I was managing men in my twenties, and had held a number of responsible positions over the years. But I think that is the power of our relationships with our fathers.

The movie '8 Seconds' is a poignant example of a man trying to gain his father's love and approval. The 'boy' is the best bull rider in the world, but he never does get the one thing he longs for - his father's recognition and blessing.

Often men keep trying to prove themselves to their dads, even after their fathers are dead. Some years ago I met a fellow who had three Quonsets (big sheds) full of classic cars, including several Rolls Royces and a couple of Duesenbergs. As we talked, it became clear he was collecting the cars in order to feel important, and to prove to his dad that he was a success (read: a man). I am sure he was not consciously aware he was doing this, but his language made it clear to me.

It is the duty of the father (and that includes us as fathers and grandfathers) to give his sons his blessing and encouragement as they go out into the world, and let them know he sees them as men. Not getting this blessing can lead us to workaholism, feelings of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and/or grandiosity as we strive to show our dads that we are men.

It can also hold us back from achieving as much as we could.

Some hero's journey folktales tell of the young hero sleeping on the graves of his father and/or grandfather, to indicate that our job as sons is to surpass the father's accomplishments, which is how societal progress is made. Our fathers have taken us as far as they can, and now it is our turn. Many men are afraid to 'out-do their fathers', for fear their fathers might be angry, or hurt, or disown them. And some fathers might, but not fathers who have a sense of themselves.

Perhaps you are lucky, and your dad explicitly recognized you as a man. And maybe even had a ceremony of some kind for you. I made a special point of formally telling my sons, when they left home, that I saw them as men now, and would relate to them that way. I try hard to do so.

I mentioned that we don't have anything like an 'initiation' ceremony in our society, but that is not quite true. The Mankind Project has a very powerful weekend program called the New Warrior Training Adventure that is designed to act as an initiation for men in industrialized nations. I took the training several years ago, and highly recommend it to any man serious about clarifying his life mission, and being seen by his peers, and himself, as a man.


Callum decided to call his father-in-law the "Exorcist" because every time he came to visit he made the spirits disappear.


Just For You: A Free Do-It-Yourself Retirement Planning Report

If you are a new subscriber to this newsletter, you will recall I promised you a link to a secret page on the Midlife Men's site where you can download a free 27-page report on 'DIY Retirement planning' by George Slater.

Welcome to the newsletter, and for your free report, go to: DIY Retirement E-Report , click on the link, and follow the instructions.



Learn to be a Teleclass Facilitator

If you are a facilitator/speaker/professional who gives lectures or workshops, you can do it from home and make money. Teleclasses (also known as teleseminars) using telephone bridge lines, are becoming increasingly popular, and and a very inexpensive way to deliver high-quality training. I took training in teleclass leadership from Teleclass International which I highly recommend.



If you have something you want to advertise, just send me a note at



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Well friend, that's it for now. Again, if you enjoyed this and/or found it useful, and know of anyone else who might like it, please pass it forward. And if you have questions or recommendations, I would love to hear from you.

All the best, Noel

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