Insight on the modern male experience as told by Emmy nominated Hollywood actor Greg Ellis (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, STAR TREK, TITANIC). Greg set out on a journey to explore the condition of the modern male experience via his brand-new video podcast, The Respondent. This show explores positive masculinity, family law, parenting, sexuality, men’s rights and more with celebrity, author, and expert interviews.
One of the core themes of The Respondent is family, and more specifically how and why families have become so torn. As a divorced father with two young sons, Greg has become increasingly concerned about the effects the family court legal system is having on families. Greg discusses how men are considered defective if they talk about their feelings and when it comes to the dwindling importance of fatherhood, and a legal system that practically promotes family dissolution, something has gone completely haywire.
The idea behind the journey
What prompted you to take this in-depth look into the struggles of modern man at this time?
Over the years, despite my achievements and all the trappings of professional success in Hollywood, I increasingly became immersed in superficial pursuits, wrestling with the shame I carried from my family of origin. Eventually, feeling as though I was drowning in emotional dishonesty, I committed to re-aligning my moral compass and living with more purpose and meaning and set about creating aspirational projects that might ‘give back’ and be of service to others.
Perhaps the gravest indicator at the root of American’s torn familial tapestry is marriage and family breakdown. Social ills and public policy stem from the health and well-being of relationships and family formation.
Yet these days, our society seems to undervalue the importance of the family unit, the significant role a father plays in the developing minds of young boys, and with such negative messaging – masculinity, the patriarchy, and men in general being vilified – it’s no wonder boys are suffering at school and at play.
And with our current education system failing our boys, an extra burden is being placed on fathers, on men, on ‘masculinity’ – to pick up the slack with more immediate remedial interventions to help stem our boy crisis.
The general lack of motivation being instilled in our younger generations of boys by an educational system that is not paying much attention to what boys need is disturbing. Boys need motivational curriculums. Why then, are we not asking more men what boys need? After all, men have been boys… and boys will become men.
As a society, I believe we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions about the ever-diminishing valuation we are placing on fatherhood and family.
If masculinity is being targeted, fatherhood lies in the bull’s-eye. As society has rightly opened up the institution of family to be more inclusive, the traditional role of a family patriarch has been severely denigrated. For 30 years, the virtuous and binding thread that fathers have served as in a healthy Western society has increasingly been pulled out of the modern tapestry, thanks to a consistent drum beat of modern feminism, pop culture stereotypes, and a broken family law system.
In my book ‘The Respondent,’ I explore the realm of fatherhood through the lens of my personal story.
As a father of two beautiful boys I’m always mindful of learning new ways to improve and expand my parenting arsenal – I call it my ‘emotional toolkit.’ Striving to thrive to become a better man, father-figure, and role-model, not just to my sons, also to the younger generations of boys. Whatever situation I’m in – coaching the lads on my AYSO soccer team, mentoring younger men I work with, coaching aspiring artists – I believe we are all response able – and all of us have a moral obligation to work harder to become less reactive in our interpersonal relating – particularly during a pandemic – and become more responsible. How can each of us, individually, repair the ruptures of our familial relationships with better communication skillsets? In a way, we are all The Respondent.
One of the core themes of The Respondent is family, and more specifically how and why our familial tapestries seem to have become so torn. As a man and a father, that is my life lens, so I approached the project with a primary focus on fatherhood and family.
One of the complex joys of fatherhood is how best to prepare our sons for the challenges of manhood. In an information ‘Ice-Age of Unreason,’ with young men and boys being bombarded with misandrist messages of ‘all men bad,’ ‘toxic masculinity,’ and ‘smash the patriarchy,’ todays younger generation of boys need encouragement and advocation now more than ever it seems.
So how might we fathers better shepherd our sons through adolescence to learn more self-discipline, responsibility, self-reliance, so that they can be better prepared for when they leave the family home? And why are there so many fatherless children?
In 1960, eight percent of children lived in a home with only their biological mother and today more than 23 percent do. According to dozens of official sources, these children are at a greater risk of having more difficult lives according to just about every measurable metric. They are more likely to misuse drugs, experience abuse, or go to prison. Children are twice as likely to drop out of high school and live in poverty. Kids are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen. Children who grew up with fathers in the home have stronger cognitive skills, better health, more confidence, and—contrary to the story we’re fed—more empathy.
But perhaps our ambivalence to the importance of fatherhood is best exemplified by the instruments society has put in place to prevent men from taking on their rightful role and participating in fatherhood in the first place. I’m talking about paternity laws.
Consider this fact. Currently it is an accepted fixture of modern Western society and perfectly legal in just about every region in the Western world for a mother to conceal from a biological father that he is a father at all. A mother can give birth without ever communicating a thing about it. It goes even further: A mother can knowingly or mistakenly drop another man’s name onto the birth certificate, and even if, after a few years, a paternity test scientifically overturns the mistake/lie, the biological father cannot reverse this manufactured reality and gain his rightful status as the true father. He has no right to even see a photo of his child—ever. And a child grows up not knowing their biological father.
If you’re like most people, you shrug at this. After all, you might think, there are good reasons, chief among safety for the mother in a sliver of situations. Yes, there are exceptions. But this reality of life is a tragedy for eager and would-be fathers and betrays our callousness and indifference to men, their emotional lives and biological parenting instincts.
When the testosterone in boys is not channeled well, boys become destructive.
If fathers are not present in the family home to instruct, boys destruct.
Testosterone is not channeled well, boys become constructive.
What is your definition of modern man, as you see it?
Big question. No easy answer. There are many characteristics that I think make up a ‘modern man’ and I’m evolving my ideas as I move through working on ‘The Respondent.’ If I were to pick a few words I’d say stoicism, courage, empathy, and vulnerability. That last one bit can be a hard one for men. The traditional male role is to project strength and to hide vulnerability. Men fall victim to the canard that we should avoid discussing the emotional shrapnel that comes from traumatic events and ignore the aftershocks that reverberate long after. Stoicism and machismo, both of which have their place and shouldn’t automatically be considered toxic, nevertheless can block us from exploring the pain that comes from life-changing crises, leaving one confused and adrift.
This diminishment of the father has metastasized into an emotional exigency for our children demanding urgent attention. Only since doing my own personal recovery work. Only since becoming more adept at getting out of my own way. Now I am becoming more fully wake and alive. After a lifetime of struggling for restful sleep at night and sleepwalking through too many hours of the day.
At first, this intense focus on bettering myself seemed gratuitous and narcissistic. But, in fact, it is a loving act. Because only when we come to know ourselves more completely, can we help lift everyone around us up to a higher plain. After all, isn’t intimacy ‘knowing and being known?’ So how can I allow someone else to know me better when I hardly know myself?
You mention relieving device dependency, toxic masculinity, #mentoo in your trailer. Do you feel these are the defining obstacles men face today?
I think we need #MenToo in the conversation. There’s a saying: Speak up and risk something. Remain silent and risk something else. Pick your poison.” I think it’s time for men to speak. Men need to stand up and explore the nature of the modern male experience in this era of deteriorating respect for family. To sever ties with #ToxicMasculinity and serve up #TonicMasculinity. What are we going through and what is our future? Men and fathers need to be the authors of their own stories of pain and struggle for redemption. They need to defend and celebrate the positive side of masculinity. And they need to advocate for the changes necessary to make life better for everyone.
A key point in my book The Respondent is that we need to become better acquainted with our emotions. This includes our rage—albeit, in an effort to refocus it into beneficial channels. The deep hypocrisy in our current gender conversation is infused with a cycle of shame and rage. Men are being browbeaten with stale stereotypes about toxic masculinity. And a growing chorus of writers is urging women to physically assail anyone who does them wrong. How does advocating this type of behavior help our familial relationships?
The reverse psychology embedded in the algorithms of our technology and the devices we rely on so much in this age of information overload are creating chemical imbalances and dopamine addictions. Where the device becomes more important than the human to human interactions. This disturbing trend is causing mental health issues. Particularly with our younger generations. Whereby people are exercising with the eyes down, rather than exercising from the neck up.
What has surprised you about fatherhood?
How challenging, meaningful and rewarding it is. My boys are the meaning of my life. There is always a space between who you perceive yourself to be and who you are. I hope I’ve done enough work on myself so the more positive aspects of masculinity so I can instill it in them. Not by telling them what to think, rather, teaching them how to think. Preparing them for individuation as they mature into becoming their ‘own men.’ And learning from them. I’ve learned so many lessons through my experiences as a father.
Little Boys play with different toys than girls. They fight with clenched fists not sharp finger nails. When boys run to climb a tree and play, their mothers have concern at the possible dangers involved. Whereas dad sees it as a necessary adventure of boyhood learning.
How the matriarch and patriarch negotiate these differences of opinion is vital. The child needs the most opportunities to take risks, but not risks that will kill or severely injure him.
I remember the first time my sons squared off to fight physically. I reassured my wife it was a necessary rite of passage. As our youngest needed to experience that prideful moment of taking his ‘elder’ brother on. (And maybe even teach him a lesson in the process). Her distress was obvious as I led the boys to an imaginary boxing ring in the back garden.
This sort of balanced parenting cannot take place if the father is not present. There must be a balanced “Spirit Level of the Sexes” in order for boys to become more fully formed. To grow into self-actualized young men, with a deeper more ingrained sense of healthy boundaries. Eventually they alone can begin these rites of passage. To start to ‘think like men’ (responsibility = reward) and ‘feel like boys’ (risk taking = ambition).
Advocating fatherhood is not about diminishing motherhood.
Look for part two of Greg’s interview in the September issue of Houston Family Magazine.
In the meantime, check out his podcast at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-respondent/id1519524161
Other interesting reads: