NCFM Adviser Francis Baumli, Some Men Have Balls

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For me, the year 1980 marked the end of an era. The era of hippies. There remained those people called “old hippies.” Some were affectionately (and perhaps accurately) called “retired hippies.” Others were disparaged (accurately) as “burned-out hippies.” Many continued to act somewhat like hippies. But “somewhat” is the crucial descriptive here. Seeing a true hippie was rare: a man, or woman, wearing beads, flowers in their hair, sandals on their feet, a leather jacket, the men with scruffy beards, the women wearing peasant skirts, their facial expressions a mix of watchful paranoia and relaxed bliss, paisley prints the preferred pattern for clothing, having a lot of casual sex while casually dismissing VD as “shared karma,” plus dropping in unannounced, staying the night uninvited, then disappearing for days. All that, by now, was virtually gone. The clothing was more conventional, and if there were traces of the old hippie attire, they were indeed that—traces. Accoutrements. Maybe a necklace with a “P E A C E” medallion. Maybe an old McGovern political button worn to a party. Maybe a “MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR” bumper sticker. But the lifestyle had changed. People pretending to be hippies had jobs during the day. Gone were the simple (cleaner and safer) days when the drugs of choice were marijuana, LSD, and speed. Now they smoked less marijuana and did more exotic, expensive, and dangerous drugs—like cocaine and heroin. They might still mooch a meal whenever they could, but now they weren’t picky. Baked goods with white flour were acceptable, as was meat and store-bought prepared foods. They made car payments. They got married and if they sometimes had affairs they didn’t try to excuse them as “free love.” Now they were secretive affairs.

Yes, without a doubt, the era of hippiedom had withered on the vine.

Despite my long hair and always being a working musician, I had never been a true hippie, so I wasn’t sad to see hippiedom disappear. I had never done drugs, I didn’t take long road trips that had no particular destination, and I was always working more than one job to pay my way through college. I have said to more than one person, “I was too much a workaholic to ever be a hippie.” There was much truth to this. Doing drugs meant you had to spend long evenings being idle, getting into the mood, being stoned, staying blissed out after you were stoned, and not worrying about what you had to do the next day. But I couldn’t sit with a bunch of hippies smoking dope because I was too tired from working all day, or, more likely, was still working. And I didn’t indulge in casual sex. I rarely took the attitude that, well, if it happens then that’s good vibes and if it doesn’t happen then it wasn’t supposed to happen. When I went after sex, however fun and enjoyable the chase, reaching the goal was a grim pursuit and usually I got what I went after. Did the hippies, because of their casual attitude, get laid less than me? I’m not sure. I am, however, quite sure that I enjoyed sex much more than they did because I often joked with the men about their sexual trysts. In this banter I would almost always pose the jocular question, “So how was she?”

Almost always the answer went something like, “I don’t know. I was too stoned to really care.” Or, “I don’t have any idea. I was too drunk to remember.” Or, “We were both so stoned it was the pot, not the sex, that mattered.”

Maybe I am wrong, but my view is if when you have sex you are so polluted you can’t remember it afterwards, then there couldn’t have been much pleasure during it.

There were, however, a few “hangers on” still wandering about aimlessly in 1980 even as the era of hippies was fast ending. Being a hippie wasn’t their central identity or lifestyle. But they indulged in fads. There were healing crystals, psychic readings, astrology, organic gardening, a return to exotic and foreign religions, romantic rhapsodizing about anything Celtic, a veneration of Native American beliefs, and during this uneasy hey-dey of withering hippiedom there were gatherings—usually at quasi-communal farms in the country—where these has-beens would come together to pretend they still had hippie blood in their veins and hippie purity in their souls. During the summer of 1980 I participated in one such “last gasp” of hippie nostalgia. It involved a gathering of “old hippies” and curiosity seekers and New Age experimenters and political idealists at a kind of communal farm about sixty miles north of Columbia, Missouri. I wouldn’t even have known about it were it not for the fact that my best friend was going and wanted me to go too. A mutual friend was also going. This mutual friend, a woman, had sexual designs on me which were never going to come to fruition. My friend, Bob, seemed mainly interested in going because a woman he vaguely knew, who was from another state, would be there and he had sexual designs on her. He did reap some fruit with that intent, although she returned to Tennessee to be with her fiancée, who was returning from Scotland. So for the lovelorn Bob this trip would be, as they so eloquently say, the end of that.

What was supposed to happen at this conference? I don’t think anyone was sure. Not even the conference organizers. There would be a workshop on anger management. A workshop on what people then were calling co-counseling which was a method of providing conflict resolution (along with immersion in other emotive baubles) that was so vapid I will not disgust myself here with an explanation. There would be chanting, singing, celebration of the earth goddess, exploration of the inner self, explorings of sexism (against women, of course, not against men), communal cooking, a strong lesbian presence, and a strong but unspoken expectation that new opportunities for sexual exploring, conjoining, and exultation would be rampant.

The three of us—Bob was driving, Sue (with designs on me) was trying (and failing) to sound profound as she delivered a soliloquy on the importance of honoring the sun, and I was in a bad—albeit polite—humor because even though I had chosen to do this for Bob since he wanted me to come, I was already convinced it was going to be a boring waste of time.

We drove in to the grounds—a big farmhouse surrounded by a vegetable garden, with much space for parking—and Bob nosed his car in amongst the other twenty or so vehicles that were there. We saw standing about maybe thirty adults, about half of them men and half women, and one young boy whom I would guess was about five years old. No sooner had the three of us gotten out of our car than the young boy ran up to one of the men there and hit him hard right in the testicles. The man doubled over, the other adults rushed to the little boy, and there was a clucking of tongues with voices saying, in the mildest tones possible, “Now that’s not a very peaceful thing to do,” or, “You can’t treat people like that and hope the world will be a better place,” or, “What is upsetting you so much that you have to act out like that?”

These words fell on deaf ears of course. The boy saw Bob, rushed up to him, and threw a punch at his testicles. (Why don’t I just say the more accurate—and appropriate—word? He threw a punch at Bob’s balls.) Although Bob pretty much parried the punch it still got him and hurt.

There, beside us, were two huge benches made from someone having split the long trunk of a big tree in half and bracing the two halves so they wouldn’t roll. Knowing I might be the next target, I moved over to one of those huge benches, sat down, leaned forward with my elbows on my knees, and waited for the assault. Sure enough, I was next. The little boy rushed at me, saw that his target was well-protected, stopped in front of me, glaring, and yelled, “I DON’T LIKE YOU!”

I calmly looked back at him and, in a firm, steady voice said, “I don’t like you either. So you stay as far away from me as possible for the next few days, and we’ll get along just fine.”

The boy, named Dylan I would later discover, went blubbering back to his mother while all the other adults remonstrated with me: “That’s not a helpful thing to say!” “You didn’t teach him anything but fear! How is that teaching him to be peaceful?” “Do you realize that all you did was bring yourself down to his level and alienate him?” And one comment which made no sense at the time, and still doesn’t (although perhaps I am handicapped by having a Ph.D. in philosophy), was launched sternly: “That sounded existential instead of mystical!”

Still sitting down, now with even more reason for being in a sour mood, I wasn’t going to argue. I simply said, “I suspect I’m the only man here he hasn’t hit in the balls at least once. I think that should tell you what works best and what doesn’t work at all.”

They said more words, which I ignored, then they drifted away. I got up to take a walk and work the stiffness out of my legs after that long drive.

The boy did his blubbering, the rest of us got busy preparing supper, and I ignored him then and for the next three days. But what is important here, even crucial: For the next three days, I don’t think that little boy took his eyes off of me for even a minute except when he was sleeping. Two afternoons we all went swimming in a big pond. He sat on the bank and watched me. He stood in a corner and watched me while meals were being prepared, also while the pots and dishes were being washed up. He watched me as we sat around a campfire chanting, singing, and as one old fellow so eloquently put it: “rapping.” At workshops (all stupid) which I attended, he was always lurking on the periphery, watching me. When I went for a walk in the woods alone, he followed at a distance, thinking I was unaware of him. He watched me when I stepped into the woods to relieve myself. He watched Sue fail at her sexual designs on me, and he watched me succeed in my sexual pursuit of a comestible named Anne. (Which was consummated several times after dark while Dylan was sleeping in a tent with his mother.)

Most salient about his watchfulness was the obvious fact that if he seemed to have some fear the first couple of hours, this soon gave over to curiosity, and then to something else. I knew what it was, and I am not boasting in calling it respect. I had stood up to him, and unlike all those other wimpy, simpering men who were addicted to peacenik ideology and soft voices and vacuous platitudes, all the while shuffling when they walked and making sure to act shy and deferential, I was walking erect, I spoke directly to other people, and I was arguing with some of the workshop leaders and in a few cases was shamelessly deriding them. And all the while that little boy, Dylan, was watching me with respect.

We had arrived on a late afternoon. Then there were three days of aimless rituals, two vigorous nights with Anne who would (she declared, with a defiance that sounded more sad than sincere) go back home and return to her lesbian lifestyle, and then the next afternoon people would leave after thanking the owners of the grounds by weeding the vegetable garden for a few hours. I resolved that I would approach little Dylan, have a firm but conciliatory talk with him, and try to make it so he could turn what he had observed about me into something like self-respect.

I absolutely was not going to help with weeding that garden. People were already busy at it, they all were talking idly, and I knew I could not stand to work while listening to all that chatter. So I got busy straightening the bricks that lined the sidewalk, using a trowel to set them straight in the dirt, aware that Dylan was watching me. At some point I became aware that people had moved well away from me. Now would be my opportunity for talking to Dylan. I looked around, didn’t see him, and at that moment saw a car pulling out. Dylan’s mother was at the wheel, and as the car drove away, Dylan was in the back seat, perched up on his knees, staring at me through the back window. I gave a small wave, wished I could do more, but then they were gone. Soon other cars were pulling away. I even had the honor of hearing a woman yell to the occupants of a departing car the profound hippie platitude: “Have a nice life!”

Soon Bob, Sue, and I were headed back to Columbia. Sue was in a sour mood because she hadn’t succeeded in what she had wanted with me. Bob was in a sober mood because now he was having an affair (or so he thought) and would have to tread lightly to keep his woman back in Columbia from finding out. But I was in a very good mood. I was glad to be away from that rabble of pseudo-hippies. I had spent many hours during two nights with a woman of gorgeous face and perfect body indulging in some of the most satisfying love-making of my life. Now I felt both very sleepy and very vigorous. It is a wonderful combination to feel both peaceful and powerful.

But most of all I was thinking of that little boy. His fear had turned to curiosity, then to respect, and I now realized the little fellow probably felt something like veneration toward me.

Poor little fellow. There wasn’t a father in his life. I had learned this from something the mother had said in one of the group-grope workshops. As for the men at that gathering, they had all been cowed by him at first, and then had done their best to stay away from him. I had pretended to ignore him, while all the while being fully aware of him, and I also felt sure that he knew I was aware of him. I suspect that even though I made no overt display of this awareness, he knew that even as he was watching me I was watching him. And in this way I gave him a small taste of something he desperately needed: The attention of an older man. A role model. A man he could look up to. A man he could someday maybe imitate.

After our encounter on the afternoon of that first day, he hadn’t once hit another man in the balls. Instead he got busy learning that something can be gained by paying attention to a man who has the balls to stand up to someone else.

All that happened more than 35 years ago.

Little Dylan would be a grown man by now. I think it quite possible that, at this stage in his life, he is capable of dealing not only with a combative little boy but also with just about any belligerent man or woman. And I am sure that, like most of us, he has learned how to deal with most of life’s practical and emotional difficulties.

Surely I can be forgiven if I commit the sin of pride in allowing myself to believe that I played a small, but crucial, role in helping little Dylan grow up to be this kind of man. Grow up to be a real man. A man with balls.


national coalition for men

NCFM Adviser Francis Baumli, Some Men Have Balls