This is Chapter 3 in its entirety from Real Life Interviews.
Jay is in his late 70’s but doesn’t look a day over 50; he has a healthy vibrant vitality that emanates from his being.
There is certainly something special about Jay, although confined to a wheelchair, he has an amazing positive outlook upon life.
Jay has been an inspiration to many people, and as you listen in on our conversation, you can tell that his attitude has made an extraordinary difference.
Russ: Where does your challenge begin?
Jay: My actual journey began on June 10, 1937 – which was the day I was stricken with paralytic polio – an event that was to have a major impact in shaping my life. That was the beginning of my feeling different, looking different and being treated differently. I just did not seem to fit in anywhere.
R: What happened?
J: Eight to nine months later I wound up with both legs totally paralyzed with a major curvature of the spine. I was fitted with long leg braces and crutches which I still use today.
My parents were regarded as really fine, hard working farmers who struggled to survive during those tough depression years. On one hand my mother trained me to be independent; I could do anything I wanted.
I just needed to apply myself and go for it. On the other hand, it became very clear that Dad could not deal with my handicap – he could not accept it.
Why was that?
I was supposed to be a strong farmer and begin helping him with the chores at age eight or nine just like he had done with his father. I was at that age and while this subject was never discussed in my family, I knew Dad had feelings of disappointment.
How did that impact your life?
I know today that my need for a positive male role model in my life was not my father. He did provide a model which did not show any love or acceptance, all of which meant “rejection” to me.
How did you deal with that rejection?
In retrospect, I know today that I began to create my own male role model, which of course was a fantasy. While this composite fantasy took a few years in the making, it became an unrealistic view of a “Real Man”. The “Real Man” embraced all of the following characteristics:
- Always very tall, dark and handsome.
- Always in control of himself and his surroundings.
- Very courageous and had no fear.
- Enjoyed defending himself (fists if necessary).
- Could never admit or show any pain.
- Regardless of his feelings inside, he could never cry in front of anyone or privately either (a major show of weakness).
- Was always the aggressor with women and felt he had a right to sex anytime.
- Was always regarded as a fantastic lover, great virility and heavily endowed.
- He provided the living while the woman’s place was to raise and discipline children and be a homemaker.
- He wore tight blue jeans, cowboy boots and smoked a Marlboro cigarette.
- Would never blow-dry his hair or heaven forbid wear pink boxers.
- Would never eat in a tearoom, or touch quiche or finger sandwiches.
- Could not only drink but could really “hold his liquor”.
- Could stand alone and be self sufficient, that a Higher Power seemed unnecessary.
- Would be made of steel and not flesh.
Wow, you really did put a lot of thought into what your idea of a “Real Man” was… and how did you fit in then?
It goes without saying that I could never come remotely close to “The Real Man”. I didn’t fit. From the time I had polio, I felt inferior and my father’s rejection further compounded those feelings.
These same feelings were further confusing during puberty, twelve to fifteen, during which time I was sexually abused by men who were eight to ten years older. These attacks led to a conspiracy of silence, which fostered shame, guilt and the constant fear of people finding out.
That had to be difficult to cope with…
My entry into high school was a major turning point. I focused all my energies into excelling academically and perhaps through some miracle maybe I would be liked and respected by my peers. I actually achieved those things beyond my greatest hopes.
It was during this period of achievements that I buried all those feelings of inferiority, guilt, shame and rejection deep into my central vault and began covering those up with intellectual superiority, arrogance, self centeredness, over confidence, too independent, aloof, a putdown artist and other inappropriate characteristics. I only realized the above in retrospect some years later.
How did those traits show up in your life?
In my profession, my compulsive behavior was directed toward moving up the corporate ladder and to become a company president etc. I did achieve my professional goals and realized that my self-esteem was tied to the job and my wife and children became secondary.
It was during a successful presidency that our company was sold. I had a major personal accident the day the company closed and the new owners came into my hospital room… and fired me. And on the same day, I was told I’d never walk again.
You were suddenly confined to a wheelchair and unemployed? How did you react to that?
I was unemployable and felt completely useless around my family. My self-esteem crashed. It was during this period that
I was introduced to alcohol for the first time in my entire life.
My drinking career lasted about eight years, until 1980 when
I hit bottom physically, mentally and spiritually and did something which was very unnatural for me…
I reached out in desperation and asked for help.
Who did you ask?
From my own locked bedroom I called an intergroup hotline and asked where I might find a 12-step meeting. Of course, I needed to impress this person by telling her that I lived in a very affluent part of the city and wanted to attend an affluent meeting!
Through God’s grace and His angel that answered the phone, I never found that exact meeting but instead found a meeting room which was perfect for this self-centered alcoholic.
What was it like, then?
They were so friendly and warm. They said I was the most important person there and to keep coming back. I was impressed. This bunch had recognized my great importance quickly.
With my keen insights, it was obvious that the chairperson that night was a real trainee because the meeting was so disorganized. With all my college and corporate leadership skills, I knew I had been ordained to share my vast talents with these people, all of whom seemed happy yet so scattered.
So you felt like you had a purpose again?
Initially, I attended about one meeting a week and made rapid progress in my view. I was really in control of my changing life. After a few months, I was real concerned that no one had asked me to be their sponsor. I asked an old timer about these oversights and he ever-so-calmly replied, “Son, if you had anything anyone wanted, they’d ask you for it”!
How did you respond to that?
Well, I didn’t like that man for quite a long time. I know today that was my first great and profound truth: you can’t give away what you don’t have. This was a major ego deflator to me.
How was your family responding?
My journey hit a major milestone when my son faced me and said “Dad, I’ve been bothered by your physical condition all my life. My friends asked questions and I was always embarrassed. You couldn’t do so much like play ball or go camping but you didn’t do the things you could have done either. I now know that you couldn’t help your handicap and it’s alright now, I understand”.
Wow. That was some powerful insight. How did you take it?
My son had accepted what my father and I had not been able to do. My own acceptance process began that day. During my recovery from alcohol abuse, I was able to totally accept God’s forgiveness for all that guilt, remorse, shame and resentments for the things I did and also those things I had not done, i.e. be a good father, a good husband, a true friend, etc. It was then that I knew a new freedom and was free to love myself.
Ah, so you had been seeking freedom, but freedom from what?
It was so obvious that almost all my character defects could be traced back to my childhood. I no longer regretted the past and my entire outlook on life had changed. While my body was still short, my legs paralyzed and I had a deformed back… my new attitude said: It’s what you have, not what you don’t have that really counts.
You must have felt like a new man or a new creation.
It was during a 12 step men’s retreat that I was able to openly share more of my “real stuff” and with real men. These God-loving men accepted me exactly like I was and some even said they wanted what I had.
So, sharing honestly with others made a huge difference.
Yes. During that Sunday morning meeting, God worked another of His miracles in my life and I felt warm, exhilarated and whole. Those old feelings that had wracked me since seven years old were totally gone. They had been completely replaced with acceptance, love, forgiveness and a new concept of self esteem.
What was that like?
Those oppressive feelings of inferiority were gone forever. Free at last, thank God… I was free at last. There were obviously some deep-seated residual feelings of inferiority, which God chose to heal in His own time.
What happened to your concept of what a “Real Man” was like?
These and other events of my journey allowed me to take my fantasy of the “Real Man” and bury it together with other fantasies. It was a huge new freedom and peace of mind for me. And I will share some of those new characteristics which make up the “Real Man” as I am coming to know him:
- Each day he asks his Higher Power for help and has faith that guidance will come.
- It is OK to quit hiding behind that false macho mask: to admit the need for affection, gentleness and warmth.
- He learns that crying is as important at times as laughing.
- He carries the message of his own experience, strength and hope to those that suffer.
- He realizes that his ultimate serenity and peace of mind is to know that “God is in charge”.
- He will listen to what his family members say and feel and to show love, caring and compassion to each.
- He feels comfortable to let go and not manage, manipulate and control his relationships with all family members as well as others.
- His need to control is replaced with “there is one authority, a loving God as He expresses Himself in the family conscience.”
- He knows that his real manhood is inside (his appearance and what he wears or eats do not count).
- He finds that his real sexual prowess is more in tune with tenderness, gentleness and intimacy and not size.
- He can openly get on his knees and communicate with the God of his understanding.
- He can hug other men and tell them he loves them without the fear of being labeled.
- He knows that his real self worth is measured by his personal growth, acceptance and honesty (not his income).
- He is comfortable in sharing his strengths and weaknesses with others.
- He can promptly admit he’s wrong.
- He knows that his great ego and sick pride must yield to humility and the desire to know and do Gods’ will.
- The real man has enough fear to not take that first drink, the courage to accept “I can’t do it alone” and the wisdom to trust that the best is yet to come.
Thank you, Jay, for your wisdom and honestly sharing your experiences. That was a very powerful transformation you made. I am sure other men will be able to identify with your story.
Although Jay has been wheelchair bound his entire adulthood, it hasn’t prevented him from experiencing life at its fullest.
Jay is still an active member of his 12-step group and has made a huge impact on others by sharing his own insights on being
self- forgiving … a breakthrough discovery of acceptance to many.
Though Jay may be short in height, he is a spiritual giant.
Since I first met him, he has always been approachable and very charitable with his time and counsel. He has certainly made an impact on my life and I am grateful to have him as a mentor.
Jay celebrated his 80th birthday in 2009 and over 110 people turned up to surprise him with a birthday party. He was overwhelmed with gratitude to be surrounded by so many friends that he cried like a “Real Man.”