Three years ago my wife, Cate, decided to leave her $30/hour secure job in the fitness industry to start over. Completely. Her heart spoke loudly. Four years later and having made the successful journey herself, she desired help other women through their struggle towards a healthier and more fruitful balance of family responsibilities and professional aspirations. Shortly thereafter she enrolled in the renown International Coaching Federation training program. After two years and hundreds of combined hours that included course work, practicums, and seminars Cate had become a certificated life coach. Unbeknownst to us things in our family (and our lives) were about to change…
The benefits of self-employment are multiple. An important one for Cate was that she could operate a home-based business with strong history of entrepreneurship in her family as support, and still be the primary support and go-to for our three young children. With her personal practice steadily growing with individual clients, Cate made a move into the corporate end of the life coaching business. Could her fundamental belief in the power of mindfulness and the growth mindset be develop within local organizations? Could she empower greater change at the institutional level? Everything appeared to be set in motion with her discovery of and enrollment in the Search Inside Yourself leadership training program.
As Cate’s career trajectory advanced, I galloped along a wide gamut of emotions including pride, envy, sadness, joy, and shame (to name some biggies). Indeed, my feelings of insecurity and vulnerability became common dance partners. My morning meditations became focused on bringing mindfulness and opportune reflection about changing roles in our family. Another elemental agent brought even less (yes, less) clarity: my membership in a men’s circle.
Week after week many of my brothers-in-circle shared stories of inadequacy, of not being ‘good enough’, questioning their own purpose, lacking passion, struggling as a first-time father, and worrying about new-found disconnections with partners. Many had female partners that were in the midst of career or personal change (i.e. new job in a different city, strong desires for children, etc.). Slowly, a pattern emerged. Many of these men (present company included) seemed to be mourning something. We used terms like ‘inferior’ or ‘less than’ or ‘not good enough’ when describing our relationships with our main partner. But less than what I wondered? Good enough for whom? Is there a common link underlying these shared stories? An inability to reckon with previously held ideas of what it meant to ‘be a man’? A fear of loss to one’s sense of a masculine identity? A concern about what their partners thought of them as their relationship evolved and changed?
(Here I go running that spectrum of emotions, again.)
So, what does it look like for a man who desires to offer unequivocal support to their partner wanting to think, grow, and become bigger moving forward to join the pack? How does a man move forward himself being secure in themselves and the relationship? How does a man run with a woman who is very focused, resourceful , influential, and powerful?
Running with the Wolves
In her 1992 New York Times Best Seller, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Jungian psychoanalyst and poet, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, analyses myths, fairy tales, folk tales and stories from different cultures to uncover the Wild Woman (animus) archetype of the feminine psyche. The notion of the archetype is associated with the work of Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. According to Jung there exists identical or common psychic structures which are inheritable and influence the way all humans experience the world. The animus, one of several main archetypes (trickster, mentor, father, child, shapeshifter, wise old man, and shadow to name a few) represents the image of the masculine that occurs in women. Analogous to Jung’s animus is the anima or the unconscious feminine qualities that a man possesses.
Estes encourages women to get in touch with lost, feral/wild/natural instincts in order to become more ‘genuine’ people. Estes’ running with the wolves metaphor is a call for women to follow their instincts and their heart and to be “more vital, vivid, and instinctive.” Whatever pack that might be. It is somewhat akin to Jung’s animus; a natural drive for many women to often enter a competitive field or career dominated by white, Eurocentric man. In the pack one wolf becomes the dominate or alpha member of the group. In western culture obtaining alpha status may be akin to the obtainment of something of societal value like wealth, fame, prominence, and/or notoriety.
For me, Oprah Winfrey is the archetype of a women running with the wolves. Without question, she has become an alpha (if not the alpha) in the competitive multinational world of the mass media.
Graham Seeks His Own Path
So, how does a man like Stedman Graham, writer, entrepreneur, educator, and of course, probably best known as Oprah Winfrey’s longtime partner, keep up with the royalty-like deity as she runs with the pack? How does Graham support Oprah as she continues to change the world? What does it take for men to support women who run with the wolves? Self-sacrifice? Humility? Trust? How do men married to strong and confident women survive their vulnerability, fear of not being “man enough” as the big time bread winner in the family? How do men feel about sharing the stage or even playing the supporting role to a women flourishing and thriving in her professional life? Is there an actually a supporting role?
I’m not sure that Graham is an anomaly, but his approach to their relationship might be rare. Even as Oprah’s climb to the top of the media world was well underway by 1986 (the year they met in Chicago), Graham could have rested on her royalty-like laurels. But, he didn’t. Not even close. Graham, a former professional basketball player, took to the speaking circuit, delivering motivational speeches about the importance of identity and self-awareness; founded S. Graham & Associates, a management and marketing consulting firm specializing in corporate business and education; and authored 11 books on achieving personal and business success. He remains deeply involved in his early work with young boys needing mentorship and positive male role models. “And so I’m not threatened by her fame, or her success, or her money, or all of that. So, that’s who she is. It doesn’t have anything to do with how I define myself.”
More importantly, Graham recognized the important role he played in Oprah’s success. In a 2011 interview he shared that “[w]e want each other to succeed. And, you know, I want her to succeed and be as successful as she possibly can. So I encourage that. That’s not always an easy thing to do,” he admitted, “when you’re the man in a relationship with a very powerful woman.” And over their thirty-two year relationship Oprah has left no doubt that Graham was (and still is) her rock recently adding that he has learned to effectively navigate the pressures of her fame and “that takes a confident man.”
Indeed, it does.