A Man




An interview with Aaron Kipnis

Aaron Kipnis was one of those angry young men who tuned in, turned on and dropped out of mainstream society during the 60s.

Evoking an image from writer Malidoma Some, he described himself as one of the "freaks running wild and setting fire to the village."

He was doing it, however, in a very creative way with "Guerrilla Theatre" on urban streets.

"I was a young man who dropped out in the hippy era and joined up with a group of dancers," Kipnis began. "We used to go to Mother's Of Invention concerts with Frank Zappa and perform outside on the sidewalk."

"Nobody gives you a letter sweater with 'A' for artist."

Creativity is essential in the development of boys growing into men, said Kipnis, the author of Knights Without Armor. As a youth, his creative participation in the dance troupe helped him get a sense of who he was in a community.

"Hooking up with that creative group gave me the thing a young man wants," Kipnis said, "to be seen."

The initiation of a boy into a community cannot really be accomplished with his parents, the writer said. The successful transition is usually with priests, shamans, or in a men's group.

"A boy can't learn from his mother no matter how dedicated or compassionate she is," Kipnis declared. "A boy cannot see a reflection in her face of what he is becoming; he needs that from other men."

Kipnis said he believes if boys don't get that opportunity in a "good way" with a sense of honor and commitment to the tribe, they'll often seek initiation with other boys in a "dangerous way."

"There's a tremendous absence of adult males in our society," he continued, appearing sincerely troubled with the problem. "One out of three homes in this country has men in prison or families on welfare. We are penalized for having men in the family. "

Kipnis expressed even more concern about the growing presence of youth gangs in the inner cities.

"There's too many young men coming up with no adult supervision and if we can't channel that wild youthful energy, they'll seek initiation elsewhere," he continued. "It's disturbing to know they will even seek a violent initiation, rather than none at all, just for a sense of their own identity.

In his "Guerrilla Theatre" days, Kipnis said he experienced his own scuffles. He was undaunted, however, as his "creative crew" was determined to be seen and "show our beauty to each other."

"A lot of guys I knew got through with athletics," he noted, "but nobody gives you a letter sweater with A for artist."

Again lamenting society's lack of community (artistic or otherwise) Kipnis described our cinematic/theatrical experiences as one of the last ritual spaces we share.

The writer challenged men to become "activists" in building "authentic" connections with boys. He spoke of "justice, honor and leading a good life."

"Male initiation boils down to one man of integrity who will help a boy," Kipnis said. "The man is like a soul father who will not exploit the boy but help him develop his true gifts."

The community's job is then to hold the man accountable.

"The boy needs that conduit of one man he can trust and then that one man can engage him in all kinds of initiation," the writer explained. "There is something that can flow into the soul of that boy from that uncle, brother, that foster dad, that big brother, that juvenile justice advocate, social worker, or probation officer."

Again alluding to Malidoma Some's African initiation, Kipnis said a man needs to escort the boy to the banquet after the initiation walk.

"The man walks beside the boy taking him into the unknown and uncertain underworld - and you don't go there alone," he said emphatically. "The man finds himself in the care of that young man's soul and must not abandon him when the boy is tested."

Having started a "Boys To Men" program in Wisconsin, Kipnis is well aware of the struggle to initiate men in a modern society.

"You don't need to replicate any traditions of other cultures," he declared. "It needs to be culturally congruent here and now by teaching a young man how to prepare for the job market, like reading or developing computer skills. He doesn't need to learn how to kill a deer with a knife."

"The U.S. today has more boys locked up in juvenile institutions, jails, prison, and mental hospitals than any other nation on earth."

In his most recent book Angry Young Men, Kipnis shares disturbing statistics regarding troubled teenage boys.

  • Boys comprise 71 percent of all school suspensions and are expelled at even higher rates.
  • Boys drop out of school 4-1 times over girls, receiving more failing grades.
  • Boys represent more than 70 percent of all students labeled as learning disabled.
  • Boys annually receive approximately 3 million applications of corporal punishment at school.
  • More than 3 million boys are being prescribed drugs like Ritalin and Prozac to control their behavior.
  • Males are the majority of the homeless, HIV positives, physically abused, neglected and murdered children, alcoholics and drug addicts, and foster kids awaiting adoption.
  • The U.S. today has more boys locked up in juvenile institutions, jails, prison, and mental hospitals than any other nation on earth.

According to Kipnis, the definitive answer to solving the runaway drug epidemic amongst youth, is to legalize drugs. The drug abuse problem would be better handled out of the public health department instead of the justice department, he said. Kipnis is particularly concerned with young men of color in the juvenile justice system.

"That's where a lot of attention is now, with their extreme rate of incarceration," he decried. "Even Amnesty International talks about the treatment of our adolescence in the United States."

Is it possible that some creative connection could be part of the answer?

"You can't bring community together without soul work," the writer/activist said. "And those who do soul work without action are missing an initiatory beat. Don't forget about the return. The giveaway. You have to give something back to the community."

Kipnis, who has done initiatory work with the likes of Martin Prectel, still believes we can do simple things to help boys in our own culture. Could it be as simple as "Guerrilla Theatre?"

"Older men aren't coming out in droves for poetry, for connecting, for creative cultivating of relationships in a circle with boys," he said. "For the welfare of the community, we need to transform a typical narcissistic, self involved, alienated adolescent - into a man."

Referencing Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, Kipnis said parents need to be careful "how they try to mold their children into people they want them to be."

"Individuals are mysterious and it's hard for any of us to know how another should be; but adults should stand and protect young people," he continued. "It's our job to provide health and safety so they can open their own doors and develop who they really are."

That requires something other than controlling them with a skill most of us aren't that good at. And that's simple listening.

"We're Guardians trying to stay open and pay attention," Kipnis said. "I like that word, Guardian."

Kipnis practices being a "Guardian" by meditating and writing which "helps expel my demons into the world where the rest of you have to deal with them."

Contact Kipnis at his website www.malepsyche.com

© 2005 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.

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