Healing The Masculine Soul: How God Restores Men to Real Manhood
Gordon Dalbey (Nigeria 1964-1966)
2003 (first published in 1988)
$12.70 (paperback), $ 4.99 (Kindle)
Reviewed by Michael Varga (Chad 1977-1979)
There’s a tear in the western masculine soul and many men struggle with how to make themselves whole, given this wound. Gordon Dalbey draws on a ritual he witnessed during his Peace Corps tour in Nigeria to suggest potential solutions. Based on the “calling out” ceremony of the Igbo tribe, a male initiation rite, where a boy is required to leave his mother’s hut and join the men of the tribe, Dalbey asserts that in western societies most men never have a clear-cut opportunity to bond with men, often including their fathers. They remain tied to their mothers, and thereby often never mature enough to have satisfying relationships with other adults.
In his work as a pastor he draws on that basis to counsel various men in re-making their relationships with father-figures. Once they get a better handle on what it means to be masculine (loyal, patient, willing to take risks, show initiative and compassion) in today’s world, they can improve their relations with women, children, and colleagues at work. Dalbey’s construct, however, relies on faith in Christianity and a significant relation with the Father God through his son, Jesus Christ. He implies that trying to repair the wound in the masculine soul without that connection to the Christian God is doomed to fail.
Dalbey offers some intriguing analysis about why some men develop addictions or become “soft males,” always avoiding confrontations and responsibilities. He traces these behaviors to a failure to grasp clearly the role of a male in a household, attributing an absent father as the reason a boy grows into an absent adult: separate, aloof, detached from the larger community. Church often cannot help the struggling male since the entry points for men to engage in church-centered activities are limited.
Some of Dalbey’s assertions seem glib and out of sync with modern thinking, as when he writes that a boy faced with an absent father and the impossible demands of a mother will turn to homosexuality as the easier solution to his conflict. He says “simple acceptance of homosexuality fails to recognize spiritual disease.” Most gay men would quarrel with such facile statements.
There’s a study guide at the end of the book to allow men’s groups — ostensibly meeting under the auspices of religious organizations — to use Dalbey’s points to encourage discussion about masculinity, femininity, and the meaning of gender roles in our larger society. The book can be a useful tool for such groups. In the end, what is clear is that communicating about expectations of the roles we perform for each other remains the key in understanding behavior. Being clear with each other about what we need is at the heart of repairing the wounded soul.
Reviewer Michael Varga served in the Peace Corps in Chad and has published a Peace Corps novel, Under Chad’s Spell. In the book, a Peace Corps Volunteer is compelled to participate in a tribal initiation rite. Varga is a retired diplomat, who served primarily in the Middle East. Learn more at michaelvarga.com