reprinted from the May 2000 issue of Thresholds Quarterly
Will Glennon author of Fathering
by Dr. Barbara Condron
Will Glennon is a wonderful man to know. You’d expect that from the mind who brought Random Acts of Kindness into our hi-tech world. Will is also an attorney, an author, a publisher, and a father of a boy and a (Indigo) girl. When he visited us last fall, we talked about his work (see November 2000 Thresholds), his favorite books and about kids. What he has to say will illuminate the way you see yourself and how you understand where you came from. If you are a parent it will help you know how to do the "right" things. If you have parents (a commonality we humans share) it may help you to view and accept your upbringing in a new light, thus bring healing to you and your family. I hope you enjoy Will the father as much as I. -Barbara Condron
Glennon: Let me talk about kids for a minute. I would get lots of arguments from people but I think that the single most important thing that I have done in my life, the single most powerful thing I’ve done in my life and the thing in which I feel most truly myself is in being a father. No question about it. I love it. Absolutely love it and I’ve loved every minute of it. Every horrifying minute of it. Every painful minute of it, every exhausted minute of it. I’ve loved the times when my kids are fighting with me. I’ve loved them as teenagers. I loved the whole process. I can’t imagine a better role, and in another time, all I would do, was have kids. I would just live on a farm somewhere and be a dad.
That’s a part of my life that I feel like I was given this gift, and this is sort of a weird thing to say but partly in compensation for the fact that I was gonna have to work my butt off for the rest of my life, for other people, so I was given this one part where I got to really, really just relish the process of it. And I do, I absolutely love it. I have learned more from my kids than I’ve learned anywhere else. Sometimes I think that they were put into my life precisely to teach me. It’s like, “You are too dumb the way you are. You really need help, so we’re going to give you some kids. We’re going to get you up to speed buddy because we need some work out of you!” But I love that.
This is also gonna sound weird but that if the answer to what book would you want someone to read, if that someone is a man, and is about to become a father, that book would be my book, called Fathering which is about the experience of being a father and how to do it right. To me the greatest tragedy in this country is that we have essentially severed fathers from the process of raising children…
Dr. Barbara: absolutely…
Glennon: It’s such a massive, massive history of heartache on the part of all the kids who didn’t have their fathers. They have to look at them as these far away people. Like the struggles that build in real relationships (reaching out) was really hard to do for most people and on the other side the dads were dying (for contact). For that book I interviewed about 150 fathers. It was a fascinating experience because these guys – the youngest was 15, God forbid, and the oldest was about 88 – they are American guys and they cross the spectrum. They are truck drivers, university professors, grocery stores cashier guys. They were from different places in the country, different races. When I originally started setting up the interviews I thought well this will be real interesting to correlate all this information and figure out what the differences are and why some people could do this better…. there weren’t any differences. The experiences were so frighteningly identical, it was stunning. And the experiences were almost all tragic. Men who love their kids more than anything. I mean adored their children and did not know how to deal with it. Didn’t know how to reach them. Didn’t know how to talk to them. Didn’t know how to love them, didn’t know how to make them feel loved…
Dr. Barbara: Let me tell you a story, Will. My dad, he’s one of those “children should be seen and not heard kind of people.” I dearly love him, but as you can imagine he totally disagrees with how he sees Dan and I raising Hezekiah. He sees Hezekiah as a little hellion, running around when he “should” be sitting still. Dad tries to hold his tongue, and he’s not around Kiah that often, but the old ways haven’t changed much. We just went to visit him not long ago and it was so touching. Hezekiah brought his Star Wars movie, which he is absorbed in right now, and grandpa Bill has this huge TV, right? Kiah wanted to share the movie with my dad. It was his way of giving grandpa something, connecting at age five. Well, that’s over my dad’s head. To him, you don’t share movies. You sit and you just stare at each other…
Glennon: …or they watch television together…
Dr. Barbara: Right, hopefully it’s a start. Well, dad lets Kiah watch his movie but dad doesn’t pay attention to it. He’s talking to Dan or I and Hezekiah has such laser attention when it comes to a part he really wants grandpa to see, it’s like, “ahhhhh!!!” My dad gives in, as he sees it, letting Kiah “have his way.” I finally said, “Dad, he wants to share this with you. That’s what he wants.” And I was proud of my dad ‘cause he kind of got that point.
Then the next day dad can’t hold his tongue any longer. He starts talking, “when I come to see you and Dan and someone is always with Hezekiah,” and “when I come over (to him) they whisk him away.” The language, the choice of words, told me a lot.
Glennon: He’s noticed, he’s picked up on this … dad you set that up…
Dr. Barbara: Yes. I said, “Dad, you know if you want to do something with Kiah then you’ll get down on the floor (Kiah sits on the floor every day drawing with markers) and do what he is doing. That’s all you have to do.” Hezekiah was sitting before us, drawing, and I knew if dad would join him Kiah would welcome him. So I just let the idea and subject drop. Within ten minutes, dad was sitting on the floor drawing baseballs and softballs and soccer fields, teaching Kiah about sports. It was just beautiful to watch. I realized dad just didn’t know what to do.
Glennon: That’s incredible…and that is the tragedy, that is the tragedy. These guys, they go through this and they don’t realize until their hearts are broken, until it’s all gone, it’s all passed. Their kids are grown up but their hearts are broken. They blew it, the very thing they really wanted more than anything else, to love and be loved by their kids, to just be in their lives. They didn’t know how to do it and they didn’t do it. Interview after interview after interview… men don’t cry right?…one hundred and fifty interviews I did, every single man with the exception of 3 was in tears before the interview ended. And embarrassed by it you know because they don’t cry and they are going “I never do this.” I go, “Hey this is about your kids” and they go, “Oh yeah,” and they’re just bawling. One guy – the interview went for four hours because he couldn’t stop crying, and I’m just trying to calm him down. Unbelievable.
Dr. Barbara: Don’t you think that’s kind of the male story, particularly the last century. You could probably do the same kind of interviews with their wives and the same revelations would appear. Men were learning their lessons, women were learning their lessons. What I see so much is an evolution to it…
Dr. Barbara: ..where men are willing to cry a bit more, activate that heart. And women are willing to take charge a bit more, using that head.
Glennon: That’s where the next two books come from. The next two books are about raising girls and raising boys and their different issues. They’re really different issues because what we have done, and there is a reason for it.
If we go back in history and look at how this all developed, there is a reason why we raised our girls the way we raised them. We raised them because we were concerned about the survival of the species. We were concerned about the survival of our family. We needed nurturing people. We needed people who were going to be emotionally attuned to all these things. We needed people who were going to stay with the kids, take care of them, make sure that they were okay because if these kids weren’t okay, we were history! So you needed full time nurturing, loving women who were going to really focus on child rearing and keeping the home safe. You precisely did not want them strong and tough and nervy because if they were strong and tough and nervy they may stand up and try and fight the bad guy when he comes in and get killed, and then the family is history. Whereas on the other hand we had to train our boys to be warriors. They had to be tough enough that they could go and fight the tribe next door because they were going to come in and take our women.
These patterns built into an age-old cultural tradition on how to raise boys and girls. Your girls are supposed to be sweet and docile and nurturing and emotionally attuned to what’s going on but they are not supposed to be strong. They are not supposed to be confident. That then sort of evolved, and by the way they’re supposed to be beautiful so that they attract you know a man so that they can procreate and have kids so this whole cult of beauty started, and every aspect of our culture is now geared towards doing that, towards producing women that do that, from ads, motion pictures, television I mean everything…
Dr. Barbara: in spite of the whole women’s liberation movement…
Glennon: In spite of everything it still goes on.
On the other side of the picture, we severe our boys from the entire world of emotions before they are seven years old. I mean cut them off. You cannot have access to your emotions. It used to be direct. You had to be tough. You do not cry, it was a very overt kind of thing. Now it’s not so overt but it’s still there. People today don’t think they are doing that. You know they think, “No, I want my daughter to be strong and to be able to grow into her self, who she really is, and I want my son to be able to know who he is and access the emotional information he has.”
Here’s what happens: take a 4 year old girl, 4 year old boy. They’re in a tree they’re climbing and they fall out. They hit the ground. They are scared to death. They jump. They come running through the back door. “Ahhhhh, fell off the tree!” If it’s your daughter you enfold her in your arms, “Oh, you poor thing!” and you comfort her, stroke her and let her cry. If it’s your son, first thing you do is a quick scam, make sure his pieces are there right – he’s not dead, he’s not bleeding, he hasn’t broken an arm – then you give him a hug and say, “You’re okay.” The message is “you don’t get the comfort. You are okay, now stop crying because boys gotta be tough. Boys gotta be able to fall out of trees, jump up and say I’m fine.” Girls, it’s “oh you poor thing, I bet you are really scared, and why were you in that tree anyway? Don’t do that again!” That’s how we are. We are still doing that today in this country and you know every time I use that example people are going like….yeah this is what I do and I mean, that’s how deeply ingrained that kind of thing is.
Dr. Barbara: It’s all unconscious, collectively unconscious.
Glennon: In the process we give our daughters all of the emotional information they need, all the access to the deeper parts of themselves so that they in fact could figure out who they are and how they can blossom. But we don’t give them the strength or courage to actually use it. In fact you know we imprison them in this sort of myth of beauty, that you have to be this thing. We diminish them so much that they get sort of removed, they lose the ability to ever become who they are supposed to be, to ever have the strength, the courage to say this is who I am and I’m going to follow it.
With our boys, they have all the strength and courage in the world to do this but they have absolutely no access to it, none! It’s like well, what do you want to be? What excites you? Well, I want to be a lawyer. Well, why? Because it makes a lot of money. No, no, no! What excites you, where is your passion? What do you mean passion? You talk to most men and you say, how do you feel? They look at you like, “what are you talking about? I’m fine!”
Dr. Barbara: My body is okay.
Glennon: Yeah. Give me some texture to what’s going on here. And they don’t know. So, those books were written specifically with that in mind. Techniques to try, it is all common sense stuff really.
Dr. Barbara: Unfortunately it’s not all that common though.
Glennon: Exactly. The idea with the books was to put it again in a way that would ring true with them, “Yeah, I want my daughter to have good self esteem. Yeah, I want my son to be emotionally intelligent, that’s a good thing, I really want that.” Then they start to read it and nothing is scary and intimidating. It’s not telling them they’re bad parents. It’s saying, here’s how you can do these things, this is really exiting.
Underlying both of the books is if you really want to do your job right as a parent here’s what you do. Love your child, show your child that you love them. Show them that you love them in a way that they get, because they’re different. You can show your love, but if they don’t get it then you haven’t done your job right. You know, it doesn’t matter how much you love them or how much you think your showing them, if they haven’t gotten the point you have failed as a parent on that score. Be fascinated with them. Be totally, totally fascinated with who they are and what they’re going to become and what are the things that interest them. Then live that way together, and if you do that everything’s going to be fine! It’s not so hard!
As a culture we have this pattern of parenthood that really is about control. You know it’s do this, don’t do that. I’m your teacher. I’m your instructor and I’m also, you know, your maid and your cook and I have all this work to do and I’m so busy doing all these things that I don’t have time to actually be your parent. But that’s what we see on television, so people do that. In the process of doing that they forget to do the only thing that’s important which is to get down on the floor with them and be just absolutely fascinated with who they are. So fascinated you can’t wait to get up to see what they’re going to do the next day. And
It was funny, the (phone) interview today was about how to parent the “different” child. And it’s like, they’re all different, that’s the point! They’re all extraordinarily unique! It’s your job to find that uniqueness. Support it, nurture it, love it, be fascinated by it and let them teach you with it. You know, and give them that experience of teaching you that kind of stuff.
I’ll tell you a quick story. This is from my daughter. My daughter has done a better job at teaching me than anybody, because she and I are as much alike as oil and water. We live in different universes, completely. So, everything she ever says to me and anything we ever do together is this massive learning curve. She was a huge athlete, volleyball player, and she was really good. And I used to go to all of her games which was on one hand an enormous undertaking, because she’s loved this damn sport from the time she was twelve. She got a scholarship to Georgetown with it but never ended up playing in college because she got knee surgery from playing it too much. It was her freshman year in high school. Whether her team won or not, which it almost always did, largely depended on how she played. She was their star defensive player. So, they play this game and they lost, and she sucked. It was like one of the worst games she’d ever played. And I’m dying, watching this thing. After the game, they finish their meeting and she’s coming over and she’s in such a scowl. I was like, oh man, oh man I don’t want to talk to her. And I’m trying to be nice and supportive, all that. I said, “Shawn it’s okay, you played all right.”
Dr. Barbara: And she knew she hadn’t. How dare you say that to her!
Glennon: She looked at me and she said, “Dad, that’s bull!” She said, “I sucked and you know it! Don’t you ever tell me that again!” And I said, “I’m sorry you sucked, you really sucked.” She said, “I know, I can’t believe it.” She was like that her whole life. Everything, anything, she was so good at teaching me stuff, so good. Children are a gift if you let them be, but you have to be engaged in their lives.
So many people today, they think, they want to raise their children well, they think they’re raising them well. They’re giving them all the things. You know, buying stuff. Buying stuff and giving them soccer lessons and they are taking care of them, cleaning and nice clothes. They do some organized activities with them, spending quality time. In the whole gamut of things that people do with their kids, almost the only genuine really good time they have with them is when they read them books, because it's one of the quality time things that actually works. Everything else that they do is just junk, it’s worthless. The problem is even while reading books is a great thing, it doesn’t allow you to find out about them. It doesn’t allow you to do the most important part, which is to find out who they are and then dive into what they are and support who they are. Nurture that part of them and get excited about it so that they get excited. So they think, “Oh, I’m cool, I must be cool. My mom and dad think I’m pretty cool.”
It is how things oughta be, but you know what I have learned is, the better you get at really hearing very clearly all the messages you are getting, and paying attention to them, the more all of this is just natural. You know because the universe is always trying to work that way. It’s constantly trying to bring people into the right place, at the right time, to do the right thing.
Dr. Barbara: It’s like earlier today, Hezekiah was getting upset because… well I don’t know why, I don’t know what set it off actually, but he wanted Marcia to come play with him this morning. He just got into that all of the sudden and I was in the middle of cooking. Dr. Dan walked in at that moment, luckily, and I said, “Well, we could get in the car. I think she is over at the Moon Valley Ranch – someone said she was taking a bath. We can go to the ranch, knock on the door, and see if she is there. We can see if she’ll come out and play…
Glennon: ..can Marcia come out and play?
Dr. Barbara: Dr. Dan picked up on it and said he’d take him. They got over there and Marcia said, yes, she’d love to come play and that she was going to walk over. So they came back and said that she was walking over and I said, “Well you know what happened, Hezekiah? What happened was that Marcia was probably thinking about you the same time you were thinking about her and you just didn’t know how to interpret it.” He just sat with that for a minute then he said, “What does that mean, interpret?” It’s like preparing him to be a whole adult, now, when it counts most, teaching how to interpret the connections between people…
Glennon: and when you feel that thing, think about what it means..
Dr. Barbara: Yeah, it’s when you can’t interpret it that you, we, get upset. Teaching how to interpret vibration opens the door to understanding. It starts early, and it’s just such a pleasure to have young people around. We teach people of all ages and it’s a pleasure wherever you can turn on a light.
Glennon: Kids have the natural tools. They haven’t been socialized out of them. Their hearing it’s extremely acute, yeah extremely acute… and that’s why..
Dr. Barbara: They hear everything. We call them sponges.
Glennon: It’s true. It’s really true, and that’s the way in which my kids really completely changed my life. Because I knew who I was, I knew what I was supposed to be doing before they came along. But I didn’t realize that I was getting messages on a regular basis until they started reporting to me stuff that was going on. It was like “Whoa! Ok, I’m not listening very carefully.” Just by engaging them, just by going into their world, it brought me back to the place. It became such a natural honed skill that it’s the same as hearing with your ears, you know? It’s extraordinary, really extraordinary.•
Glennon: One of them, I don’t know if it’s even available anymore. I hope it is. It’s a very poorly written book, by a woman named Dorothy Dinnerstein. It’s called The Mermaid and the Minotaur. And essentially her premiss is that an awful lot of the pathologies and neurosis that takes place in this world can be traced back to the fact that children are raised exclusively by their mothers, and that the fathers have almost no involvement. It’s a fascinating book, absolutely fascinating. There’s just a ton of truth to it. What happens is that when children have no real contact with the father when they’re growing up they idealize their father. He becomes solely the center of everything good and powerful. Whereas mother, who has witnessed all of their failings, becomes the center of everything negative. It’s the root of misogyny. It’s fascinating, an absolutely fascinating theory.
Thresholds: Is the book a case-study textbook or is it a myth…
Glennon: No, that’s why I said it’s really poorly done. It’s hard describing it. This woman has brilliance. She has a very brilliant mind, Dorothy Dinnerstein. She would start to write – it’s prose, a non fiction piece – and then she would get off on a subject. Instead of just doing an aside, she realized it was an aside, so she put it in a box. The whole book is that way. There is maybe 250 pages in the book, and there’s 200 boxes. It’s a great book, an extraordinary book in terms of the concept, ground breaking kind of conceptual stuff that she did.
Another book is by Ken Wilburn and I can’t remember the whole title but something like “sex politics in ecology.” You know this book?
Thresholds: No, but I know his name.
Glennon: It’s a big book. You definitely should read this book because he is one of the most brilliant minds that I had ever run across. Ken Wilburn’s brilliant. His capacity for holding things, holding information and then unfolding it in a really articulately incredible, accessible, conscious way is just extraordinary.
This book is about what you are doing here. It’s about the Universal Laws. It’s about mindfulness, it’s about consciousness, it’s about evolution. I think it’s one of the probably best books written in the last thirty or forty years. It’s extraordinary. It’s not an easy book to read, not because his writing isn’t excellent, but because what’s talking about…
Thresholds: …is a challenge to digest…
Glennon: yeah, it’s like you read a sentence and it’s like wow! ok..
Thresholds: …let me think about that for a while…
Glennon: Yeah, exactly! In the very first chapter he starts talking about whole ins, and the world being a whole ins within whole ins within whole ins. It’s like yeah, that makes sense! That’s really good. Then he starts to explain “why relationships?”, how if you look at nature the history of evolution is such that the most evolved aspects of nature are the most complex and incorporate all the pieces from down below. But being the more complex, they are also the more fragile because all of these things could survive in places and in areas where these (other things) can’t. You can take the oxygen off of this planet and many things will remain, the dirt, the rocks, you know fundamental. Put the oxygen here but make the temperature too high and you have a whole other world but we (humans) disappear. He just sort of dives into this in an incredibly, incredibly rich way. That’s a stunning book.
He wrote another book because his publisher, bless his heart, said to him “Ken this is brilliant stuff but most people aren’t gonna get through this thing you know. Can’t you, simplify, make it really accessible?” And because this guy is so brilliant, he figured out a way that he could. He wrote a book called A Brief History of Everything, a little paperback, about 200 pages. It essentially takes the core of what he’s talking about in that book and puts it in really, really accessible terms. It’s great, it’s one that you could give to…
Thresholds: (Thirteen year old) Briana? That’s exactly what I was thinking!
Glennon: If you get a mind that’s ready for it, it really opens things up, an amazing book. What else? You were talking about fairy tales earlier…Bruno Bettleheim…
Thresholds: never heard of him…
Glennon: …very famous psychologist. Another really extraordinary mind. He wrote Theories of Enchantment. In the ‘70’s, there were people who said “fairy tales are too scary, you shouldn’t be telling kids these scary stories.” People started trying to write nice fairy tales, and Bettleheim said, “No, no, no, you don’t get the point here! This is what their lives are like at that age. There are monsters in the world, there really are.” You start thinking about when you are that size yes, everything is bigger. Everything is mysterious and dangerous. There is danger lurking out there. You know if mom and dad disappear, what are you gonna do? A kid’s world is a fairy tale world. Bettleheim says this is about their lives, the tales. This is about their reality which is why the stories are so timeless. He takes some classic fairy tales and breaks them down showing the different components and why they’re such powerful helps, powerful aids for kids to feel okay.
Thresholds: Classics are are also very sound in what we call the Universal Language of Mind…
Thresholds: And you know, you take them into the context of what they’re reflecting back to us as whole selves. The tales are the conflict since the Garden of Eden, the knowledge of the tree of good and evil. Where I’m headed now is with the tree of life, immortality, being as Gods. What’s needed is a whole construction of stories that will reflect the new, greater awareness children are now capable of. People read these stories to the kids and that’s where I’m realizing more and more the power is. It’s not even in writing for adults, it’s in writing for kids! I’d never would have come upon it without having a child, which I know you understand.
©2001 School of Metaphysics, Thresholds Quarterly Vol. 19 No. 2
©2002 School of Metaphysics