From Man-Boy to Real Grown-Ass Man in 7 Years

Man up, son. Subscribe by email so you never miss another post. Sign up now!

To hear my female friends tell it, there’s a plague on the dating scene.

Man-boys are everywhere.

The man-boys are afraid to call rather than text to set a date. They’re unclear about their intentions and string women along. They visually assault women they haven’t even met with unsolicited dick pics.

(BTW, is there such a thing as a truly solicited dick pic? If so, text me.)

The plague is so bad that most women have given up using the word Men to describe us these days. Instead, they use the word Guys.

You’re letting us off the hook ladies. You’re not challenging us to live up to our potential.

And neither is society. Instead of preparing boys to provide as men, we’ve developed a culture of taking man-boys who move from mom’s bosom to girlfriends’ bosoms to wife’s bosom.

Sure, most of us can earn a paycheck. We can pay our bills and cook something more impressive than ramen. But can we give back to our communities, mentor the next generation, and meet our loved ones’ emotional needs? Or are we too busy playing Call of Duty and looking at porn?

Take. Take. Take.

For what it’s worth, there’s also a plague of woman-girls. These are females who are so afraid of confrontation that they’d rather ghost than decline a suitor’s interest. Or they’re so afraid to be rejected themselves that they lose themselves and parrot their partner’s behavior.

Don’t believe me? For the latter, just look up the “cool girl” speech from Gone Girl.

But this post isn’t about woman-girls. After all, I don’t really know much about them. If I did, I’d see the signs and not go on so many second dates with them.

This post is about man-boys. I know a lot more about them. I used to be one.

From Boyhood to Manhood

Seven years ago, I was a boy. A 29-year-old child.

skinny man-boy

I was a skinny 29-year-old man-boy in August 2009.

I didn’t know how to care for myself, let alone others. I was a taker, rather than a giver. I took from women. I took from family and friends. I took from the world and gave almost nothing back.

Then I found my way into a group of Men who changed my life. At 29, I was almost always the youngest person at the table. (Sadly, even at 36, I’m still almost always the youngest person at the table.)

And these were Real Grown-Ass Men. Respected community and business leaders. Strong fathers and husbands. Patriarchs. Providers.

I learned to be a Man in their company. I learned to be vulnerable, to share my emotions, to live in alignment with my values, to be a giver rather than a taker of spiritual energy in the world.

It didn’t happen overnight.

For example, my Timehop app recently reminded me that January also brought the fifth anniversary of the day I picked myself up from my engagement’s end. After neglecting the basics for four months after our split, I finally bought a bed online, hired a housecleaning service, and shopped for actual groceries at Trader Joe’s – all in a single morning.

A man living in a house that hadn’t been cleaned in five months, sleeping on a borrowed twin bed, and scrounging up food at the office is hardly a man. And he’s certainly not a Real Grown-Ass Man.

It was exactly seven years ago this month that I began to look to this group of Men for mentorship and guidance. Today, I’m a mentor to younger Men. I’m a provider of energy back to the broader group. And, of course, I’m still a (sorta) humble recipient of guidance from my elders. It’s been one hell of a journey.

Masculine Rites of Passage

These Men were my guides from man-boyhood to Real Grown-Ass Manhood. There wasn’t a formal ritual marking my transition, but there was definitely a coming of age.

Coming-of-age rituals were commonplace before the Industrial Revolution. Elders took a boy from his mother and prepared him – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – for adulthood. (It’s kinda like when Obi-Wan ushered Luke away from Tattoine for training.)

Now what’s left? Frats have induction rituals for 18-year-olds man-boys, but they’re more about indoctrination and machismo. They’re not about learning to provide for the tribe.

There are also holdovers of the old rituals. A bar mitzvah is an ancient tradition. However, a modern 13-year-old doesn’t emerge from his bar mitzvah and begin courting and joining his dad at the office.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think a 13-year-old Jew or an 18-year-old frat boy needs to be ready for Manhood in modern society. The crop will still be harvested without their contribution.

I certainly wasn’t ready at 13 or 18. It took me until well into my 30s to get there.

At 36, I’m not perfect and I’m pretty sure that I never will be. I mean, it was less than a year ago that I was still drinking too much.

Even today, I act out of my old man-boy self from time to time. I allow the dishes to stack up and my hair to get too long. Or I swipe right on women who are clearly not a match. Or I think with the wrong head.

I even get too busy or lazy to call a woman and I text her instead. But I swear that the text never has contained and never will contain a picture of my dick.

Now that’s the sign of a Real Grown-Ass Man.

You’re welcome, ladies.

Man up, son. Subscribe by email so you never miss another post. Sign up now!


Lewis and Clark National Historic Park

In honor of a seven-year journey, here’s a throwback to the seventh national park of my first Meander.

Damn, girl, your brain looks great in those yoga pants

Last weekend, I attended a private traveling exhibition presented by the Smithsonian Institute. The lobby of the Viad Tower was filled with high-society types (and me) and lined with tables manned by scientists and researchers from Washington.

My favorite was a paleontologist specializing in prehistoric whales. He had recently returned from Chile, where he oversaw the excavation of a huge whale burial ground unearthed during freeway construction. To hasten progress, his team digitally mapped each specimen in Chile then used 3-D printers to create scale models back in the U.S. How cool is that?!

As I strolled from table to table, I couldn’t help but think how much my ex-girlfriend Mulva* would’ve loved the event.

How to turn on a sapiosexual

Hey girl. What's that book you're reading?

Hey girl. What’s that book you’re reading?

If you’re a regular reader, you likely know that I was in an off-and-on relationship with Mulva for most of the last year-and-a-half. Sadly, we took Facebook’s “it’s complicated” to a whole new level.

When I returned to Arizona in September, my counselor asked me why I kept going back to Mulva.

My initial answer: Because I’m a sadist?

Then I got serious. Beautiful. Outdoorsy. Educated. Minimal. Spiritual. Sure, that was all there.

But it wasn’t until today – a full week after the Smithsonian event and well over a month since my counselor broached the topic – that the deeper truth struck me.

More than perhaps anyone in my life, Mulva possessed an intellectual depth and broad inquisitiveness that drove me wild. She read books. She attended lectures. She stopped at every goddamn turnout and scenic vista on drives through national parks. She had an open-minded passion for life that exceeded my own.

In short, the girl knew how to meander through the world. And I loved that about her.

Unfortunately, I’ve found this quality to be in short supply on the dating scene. Maybe they’re distracted. Maybe they’re comfortable. Maybe trying something different has never occurred to them. Hell, five years ago, it certainly hadn’t occurred to me.

Whatever the reason, far too often in the last few years, I’ve been underwhelmed and uninspired by my choices.

Friends with benefits (but no sex)

Fortunately, I’ve made a handful of valued friendships that fill my soul in the absence of a partner. I may not see these people often – certainly not as often as I’d like – but I know I’ll be inspired when I do.

What book are you reading? What’d you learn on your last adventure? What are you working on in counseling? The answers always deliver the goods.

As I’ve read Where Men Win Glory, the biography of Pat Tillman by Into the Wild author Jon Krakauer, I’ve been struck by Tillman’s passion for his life, deep intimacy with his friends, and love for his wife Marie.

Of course, I’ve heard all this before through ASU’s cult of Tillman, but it strikes much deeper when reading his own journal entries and letters. Tillman detailed one visit with his wife, brother, and childhood friend while on a short leave from the army thusly:

“The hours the four of us spent were not in a whirlwind of action, drinking, or traveling. We simply drank loads of coffee, ate coffeehouse treats, and talked for hours on end. We just ran for hours without a break, or a dip in quality.”

Substitute the coffeehouse for a campfire and that’s my kinda evening. Mulva would’ve dug it too.

Alas, in my experience, such meetings don’t come along often. And, five years after my engagement ended, I’ve decided romantic opportunities of the type are equally rare.


* Of course her name wasn’t Mulva.



After the eruption: From devastation to serene beauty

In over two months on the road, I’ve heard a lot of questions. One of the most common is, “What is this trip all about?”

Well, on the surface, I think it’s fairly obvious.

My month in California was about eternal things like oceans and redwoods and the Sierra Nevada. My month in and around Oregon was about volcanoes and their impact on the landscape. Devastation, like Mt St Helens. Rebirth, like Mt Lassen. And eventually serene beauty, like Crater Lake.

If you know me, you know that surface-level answers are rarely enough. So, let’s go a little deeper.


The Devastation of Mt St Helens

When Mt St Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, the devastation was complete. Whole forests were wiped out. Spirit Lake halved its depth and doubled its surface area. Fifty-seven people lost their lives. Devestation of Mt St Helens

I erupted in the winter of 2008-09. I had just got engaged. I was deeply stressed from grad school and a career change. I was experiencing incredible financial insecurity from the combination of home remodeling debt and the recession.

And then. Boom.

When I exploded, I took forests and lakes with me.

I’ve always liked an analogy from George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air. In discussing his minimalist ways, he said he had to remove everything from his backpack before deciding what to put back in.

Within months of my eruption, a lot had come out of my backpack. Old friends. Fantasy sports. Softball. Meat. Alcohol. My job at Insight. And, eventually, my engagement. The devastation was complete. The landscape of my life was as barren as the wasteland around Mt St Helens in 1980.


The Rebirth of Mt Lassen

While not as devastating as Mt St Helens, Mt Lassen did its share of damage to the California countryside when it erupted in 1915. Today, nearly 100 years later, life has returned to the landscape. In fact, it’s beautiful. Waterfalls. Wildflower-covered meadows. Even baby pine forests. Rebirth of Mt Lassen

The rebirth is so complete that my friend and I debated whether Mt Lassen should retain its national park status now that its once-devastated landscape is essentially recovered.

Interestingly, in the rush to repopulate, life overexerts itself. There’s competition as new life floods into the wasteland. It takes time for nature to find the right balance of trees and floor cover, predators and prey.

And so it’s been with me over the last few years. To return to the Up in the Air analogy, I’ve spent the years since my eruption deciding what to put back into my backpack. Unlike Clooney’s character, I’ve tried not to cloud my judgment with alcohol and womanizing.

I’ve tried a bunch of stuff – from church to to Tempe Leadership. Some things have stuck with me. For example, I love yoga and hiking and gardening. Some things haven’t. I doubt I’ll return to sand volleyball or soccer or obsessing over HBO.

I’ve decided which friends to keep and which to let go. I’ve found a career path that makes sense for me. I’ve created a spiritual life essentially from scratch. Yup, things are looking pretty good these days.


The Serene Beauty of Crater Lake

Mt Mazama erupted 3,000 years ago and left a swath of southern Oregon as barren as that around Mt Lassen 100 years ago and Mt St Helens today. Over the centuries, its crater filled with rain and snow melt. Today, Crater Lake with its still blue water is recognized as one of our most beautiful places.Crater Lake

The eruption of Mt Mazama was over in days, but the transition to the serene beauty of Crater Lake took centuries.

Maybe that’s what this trip is all about. It’s about hitting fast forward on my evolution. It’s about creating space to do little more than think and reflect and journal and grow.

I’ve made tremendous strides recently. One area of focus has been visualizing and setting intentions for my lifestyle back home. Another has been reversing my mistaken belief that there’s a scarcity of suitable partners for me in Phoenix.

Progress has not always been easy. Some breakthroughs have actually been quite painful. But I seem to have hit a point of diminishing returns. In fact, on my most recent hikes, I haven’t thought. I’ve just connected quietly. I’ve walked in peace.

I’ll admit that I’m kinda ready to come home. So, perhaps I’ve done what I set out to do.

Don’t get me wrong. The view from Mt Simpson ain’t perfect. There are still some jagged lava rocks lying around. But that’s OK. As far as I’m concerned, a few lava rocks add character to a landscape.

My Bodhi tree is a Coastal Redwood

I’m sitting inside the hollowed base of a very tall tree. How tall? I don’t know. Maybe 200 feet? Its circumference is at least 25 feet around the base. I know because I just tried to spoon it six times.

My Bodhi tree is a Coastal Redwood.

My Bodhi tree is a Coastal Redwood.

They say you can’t see the forest for the trees. When you get lost in details you miss the big picture. With a tree of this size, it’s all about the details. Why? Because you can’t get far enough away from a Coastal Redwood to see the whole thing.

At Yosemite, I tried to photograph a Giant Sequoia. I failed. Then I figured out panorama mode. I failed again. I’d try again today with a Redwood, but I dropped my camera in a tide pool earlier today. Oh well. There’s no chance I’d capture this entire majestic Redwood in a single shot.

The base is massive. The bark is moist and springy to the touch like a very dense sponge. Inches deep wrinkles run the vertical length of the ancient trunk. The air inside these crevices is musty and old.

Each chunk of bark and each deep winkle is an ecosystem unto itself. Moss and funguses cling to the surface. Small spiders call the crevices home.

And when one of the giants falls, countless plants – including new Redwoods – grow from its corpse as it decomposes slowly over the decades.

You look up. The green branches don’t start sprouting for at least 40 feet above the forest floor. And then the tree just keep going and going, reaching toward a sun that’s obscured by dense fog from the coast.

The trees grow in such tight proximity that their fallen needles and their skyscraping tops mingle to enclose the space between a cushioned floor and a dark canopy. The trees are so overpowering that they not only block cell service but they also block consumer GPS signals.

There’s no sound. Redwoods are impervious to insects, so even the chirp of birds is rare. Occasionally, you hear water dripping down the sides of ravines. That’s about it.

To me, it feels claustrophobic. After an hour or so in the forest, I’m ready to retreat to the sunny meadows. The Redwoods are truly a force. A force of nature. And, for me, a force of spirit.

The oldest Redwoods are 2,200 years old. That places their birth sometime around 200 B.C. – right in the spiritual sweet spot that spawned three of the world’s four largest religions. Buddha was born around 550 B.C., Jesus around 4 B.C., and Muhammed around 570 A.D.

(Hinduism, the world’s third-largest religion, doesn’t really have a founder.)

Often, we nature-loving folks are lumped in with atheists or agnostics or stamped with’s ridiculous spiritual not religious designation. That is unless we live in an aboriginal culture, in which case we’re dumped into the folk religion category.

I propose that nature-lovers are given our own category. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, and the Hudson River School painters will be our apostles. The Redwoods will be our prophets.

Redwoods are bigger than hoodies.

Redwoods are bigger than hoodies.

Got a question about my trip? I’m compiling a mailbag to commemorate one month on the road. Leave your question in the comments!


One dead duckling and my choice to be vegetarian

I crushed a duckling with my car yesterday. At least, I’m pretty sure I did.

Driving the two-lane freeway past Clear Lake on my way from Nevada City to Mendocino, the car in front of me swerved right.  The car in the opposite lane swerved left. Between them was a terrified duck. You could see her confusion as she was caught between the two vehicles.

Geese at Donner Lake.

Geese at Donner Lake.

No problem, I thought. The road wasn’t busy. As soon as I passed, she’d complete her trek.

I swerved right too. And that’s when I saw the trail of ducklings behind her. I tried to pass over them, but there were too many. A quick glance in my side mirror left me fairly confident that at least one had been killed.

I was devastated. My first impulse was to turn back. Clearly there’s nothing I could have done. I spent 30 minutes on the verge of tears. I calmed down as I wrote this blog post in my head. Hours later at the Mendocino Botanical Garden, I welled up and called a friend to discuss my feelings.

I know. I know. It’s just a duck.

It’s hard for me to think in those terms any more. Just an hour earlier, I saw two deer grazing in rolling yellow hills. The day before, I swam with geese in Donner Lake. At Yosemite, I pulled over to watch deer and marmots and a coyote and I swam with trout in the Tuolumne River. In Big Sur, I delighted as I watched the silhouette of a sea lion darting past in the blue-green surf.

These were all beautiful incarnations of life. Just as my duckling was. Just as much of our food is.

Coyote at Glacier Point.

Coyote at Glacier Point.

For me, vegetarianism is a personal moral choice. It is not a moral absolute. I do not judge meat eaters, just as I’d ask that vegans don’t judge my consumption of eggs and dairy. However, I do challenge those who eat meat to go kill an animal or at least watch an animal be killed.

Many of us are so far removed from our food sources that we’re incapable of making a conscious decision about our diets. Instead, we hide its animal nature by frying it, or cooking it well done, or covering it in seasoning or cheese or ranch. (And don’t get me started on KFC’s chilling “I ate the bone” campaign.)

Deer at Tuolumne Meadow.

Deer at Tuolumne Meadow.

My old coworker Casey is one of the most voracious carnivores I know. He’s also an avid hunter. He knows exactly what he’s doing. My parents have hunted and fished and raised animals throughout their lives. They’ve made a fully-informed choice to eat meat and that’s fine by me.

In 2011, Mark Zuckerberg recently made a yearlong pledge to only eat meat he personally killed. As he told Fortune, “I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat. So my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have.”

Bravo, Zuck.

I too have been close to the source of my food. I’ve wounded dove and then finished the job by removing their heads with my hands. I’ve had animals in my backyard one week and on my plate the next. For me, today, meat cannot be an option.

That said, tuna has been a bit of a staple on this trip. It’s an easy source of protein on the go. I have six cans of tuna in my car right now. The next time I meet a group of backpackers, I’m giving the cans to them. I’m finally fully forgoing fish to go all in with my vegetarianism.

The tuna are beautiful manifestations of life too. Just like my duckling.


Got a question about my trip? I’m compiling a mailbag to commemorate one month on the road. Leave your question in the comments!

Sink your roots in the granite-filled crevice you’re given

Olmstead Point is a scenic stop along the Tioga Road, which cuts across the Sierra Nevada high country north of Yosemite Valley. The view south is marked by long, smooth sheets of granite shaped thousands of years ago by glacier flows. Beyond the glacier fields, one is offered a clear view of Half Dome and snow-tipped Cloud’s Rest.

Jeffrey pine at Olmstead Point

This Jeffrey pine has a front-row seat to Half Dome. Not too shabby.

It’s a beautiful view. It’s also darn near inhospitable. The weather at 8,500 feet is unforgiving. And, clearly, plants can’t set down roots in solid granite.

But, to quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, life finds a way.

Across the granite fields, there are occasional cracks filled with just enough crunchy granite and other bits and particles of loose soil to give life a chance. Think about the cracks between slabs of sidewalk.

Tough, leathery little flowers and scraggly Jeffrey pines take advantage. They sink their roots into the smallest cracks and stand in defiance of a meager foundation and harsh surroundings. And they grow – tall, proud, beautiful.

I feel a connection to these trees, just as I feel a connection to the tough shrubs and cactuses that cling to the sides of Camelback and Piestewa in Phoenix.

I didn’t start with the strongest spiritual foundation. This is not a complaint. In fact, I’m grateful for it. I received a clean palette on which to explore and improvise.

Some people are born into the Nile Delta of spiritual soil and grow their beautiful tree from there.

I sunk my roots in the granite-filled crevice I was given. I weathered frigid winters. I grew tough bark and a sturdy trunk. I stretched resilient branches toward the sun. With the help of others, I turned a meager spiritual foundation and harsh surroundings (of my own making) into a fertile little patch of soil with a front-row seat to Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.

Given the view, how could I possibly question the foundation I was given? I know the scrappy little Jeffrey pines do not.


Note: I dedicate this post to Christine Thomas, my yoga teacher who I thought of often while in Yosemite. She’d love it here! And, yes, I had to resist taking a selfie in tree pose for this post.

Another note: As always, you can see a photo per day of my Meander here: