Letter From a Sterling Institute Ex-Friend

Thanks to Hank for writing in about how his friendship with a longtime family friend changed as a result of the Sterling Men’s Institute (Hank’s comment originally appeared here):

I’m a veteran of men’s gatherings ala Robert Bly’s “Ironman” and was invited by a longtime family friend to participate in The Sterling Men’s Weekend (for $900.00). My friend cautioned me NOT to look at anything on the web about Sterling…which only lead me to do just that: research the “Weekend”. Frankly, I was totally turned off that Arnie Rabinowitz (or whatever) changed his name to “Justin Sterling” and that he got plastic surgery to improve his appearance. LOL! Arnie has been through one or two nasty divorces, too, and relies heavily on volunteers to do the Institute work while he takes in the dough and reportedly lives a million-dollar lifestyle. Yeah. This is just the kind of group I want to get involved with…NOT!

So I told my friend what I’d found out about Sterling and he quickly ceased to encourage me to do the Weekend. In fact, he doesn’t say much of anything about it to me anymore although he’s been involved with Sterling and subsequent Sterling-esque splinter groups for several years now. I’ve met a few of his Sterling buddies (or as HE refers to them: “his men”) at bonfires he has in his backyard and I can’t seem to shake the impression they give off as being “losers” of a sort. My friend’s marriage has been shaky for many years (he’s a gay man in a heterosexual marriage but his wife knew that when she wed him…) and the Sterling men I’ve met at his bonfires seem to either be divorced or on the verge of it.

Another particularly annoying characteristic that my friend has taken on since getting involved with Sterling is answering his cellphone IMMEDIATELY at all times. This means during dinners (where he and Mrs. are our guests), in the middle of concerts (and talking loudly to the dismay of those around him) and while supposedly spending time with me/us. His cell phone trumps everything else. It’s weird.

Last summer he had planned to go camping/hiking with “his men” to a large mountain in the northeast. It just so happened that a once-in-thirty-years reunion with his old friends (me included) was also happening that same weekend. When the forecast predicted high winds and driving rain on the mountain, he opted to change his plans and attend the reunion. From what he told me “his men” berated him repeatedly for failing to live up to his commitment even though extremely poor weather was forecast and actually happened. I’m sure they had a lousy time up on that mountain and they managed to prove the old adage “Misery loves company.” LOL!

Lemme see, what else. I know he has a 5AM conference call with his men every Sunday. Five-friggin-A-M on a Sunday. I’ve certainly noticed that he helps out with domestic house chores WAY more than he ever did and, I get the feeling, that he’s learned to do that so that he can go away on his Sterling jaunts and not have to answer to his wife. He’s been unemployed for quite some time and there doesn’t seem to be any job on the horizon YET he seems to invest plenty of time in Sterling stuff. Yep! He’s always there for His Men!

He’s invited and cajoled a number of other men in our circle of friends to do the Weekend. Most have declined but one did take the bait and I’ve noticed that he’s not around much either because HE now has commitments doing things with HIS men.

Whatever!!!! Whatever floats your boat, I guess. IMO, steer clear of scam artists like “Justin Sterling”. Unless, of course, you want to help ol’ Arnie Rabinowitz keep up the masquerade AND support his comfortable lifestyle.

Letter from a Sterling Institute Ex-wife

Thanks to Karen who wrote this lengthy account in response to this post on the Sterling Institute. Readers: if you’ve had any experience (direct or indirect) with the Sterling Institute, feel free to comment below.

Karen, over to you:

My ex husband attended a weekend. Supposed to improve his relationships with all people, including work/management relationships which is why supposedly his employer was paying for it (no way they’d pick up a $600 tab on the little and convoluted info provided). Of course at the time I was as yet unaware of how compulsively his lying issue was.

It was supposed to make him a better man, better at relationships. After the weekend they broke off into “teams” which met once a week (and they had to call each other once a week – but no one wanted to leave a name or any info…. an elusive, secret group). They had meetings that started at 9 p.m. at the beach on a rainy night. Or 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. on a Sunday. Not allowed to reveal where they were or have cell phones. Found the sword/dagger hidden under coat in trunk of car. You better your relationships through all this SECRECY? That was part of the beginning of the end.

Oh, and then there was the day that he left the papers with their team “rules” and ordinances on the counter which I quickly copied. hmm. His group named themselves
The Gay Poodles. Gay poodles, fighting to be seadogs….
Now if that wasn’t telling I don’t know what is. Oh yeah, the book he’d allegedly found from college and was getting rid of a few years before but somehow found its way to be hidden deep in his nightstand drawer, by a famous gay author, on a gay teenage boy finding his sexual self with salcious passages about he and his partners.

Yeah, Sterling really helped my ex become a man. He’d been cheating for years before (with who/what gender) and never stopped (with who/what gender?) Of course it was MY fault the marriage ended when, disgusted with it all and his recommendations to the kid that they throw mom out I finally crossed the line (well tried to) and metup with the (straight) man I was SUPPOSED to have married. Reread your Gay Poodles/Sterling rules dear, when your wife stops respecting you, she’ll find someone else.

Sterling did NOTHING to help this “man” (male person in adult size body) earn/keep respect. Or get the guts to come out of the closet he was stuck halfway in.

And I am quite sure I’m half the $600 plus half the six figure equity line he ran up secretly the poorer because of this gutless loser…….. Sterling can’t fix everyone.

Three Men Walk Into a Bar. One says “I’m a member of a minority about which the stereotypes are indeed true. I am male.” The second one says, “I live with a monkey.” The third says, “Join my nation of men.”

Dear CF,

The main questions of the Polanski case seem cut-and-dried and I don’t have much to add while Hollywood dons its queen’s necklace and conservatives and feminists strike an extremely uneasy alliance.  It’s all interesting enough, and it’s been rewarding to watch the public try to adjudicate between principle and genius, but what interests me more is how Polanski’s defenders shiver off the rape itself as if it were something bug-like that will land again, and again, and again. They know it’s there, they know it’ll land eventually, but there’s some baser circuit of alliance and sympathy, some more instinctive imperative at work.

Given the comments on our Sterling Institute post and in anticipation of some thoughts on Mad Men and Flight of the Conchords, I’ve gathered three very different explorations of this problem of evolutionary or “instinctive” or “authentic” or “animal” manhood which all investigate Johnny Cash’s “The Beast in Me,” and (by extension, I think) the root of that impulse to sympathize with Polanski.  Which isn’t, by the way, exclusive to men but which seems to partake of some older evolutionary view that makes Polanski so fit a Darwinian and the victim so obviously (and intentionally, it’s implied) vulnerable (dropped off by her mother, etc.) that rape is sort of okay, according to a totally unacknowledged set of principles.

The explorations that follow don’t all succeed. Some will go down in the annals of history and some will go down its near-homonym, and to atone for that awful pun I’ll jump right into our

First Man: The Geek

In his book The Trouble with Testosterone, excerpted here, Robert takes on the myths and facts about biological manhood. In this excerpt he addresses the conundrum that arises when (in connection with Ezra Pound) “good poets do bad things.” He  anatomizes the “creeping empathy” the geek within might have with a Ted Kaczynski (or, I submit, a Roman Polanski):

There is a wonderful Russian story that takes place at the gates of heaven, where the newly arrived are judged. A dead murderer is on trial, fresh from earth where he was shot by the police after his umpteenth murder, the strangling of an elderly woman for her money. A panel of deceased judges sirs in session. And where does God fit on the scene? Not as a judge, but as a required character witness. At some point in the proceedings, he shambles in, sits in a magisterial decrepitude born of the weight of infinite knowledge, and in a meandering, avuncular way, does his best to defend and explain the man–“He was always kind to animals. He was very upset when he lost his favorite top when he was a small boy.”

Sapolsky calls for awareness of this process and promises a (surprisingly psychoanalytic) way to take measures against it.  “There is the danger,” he says, “of a certain empathy creep, the transition from recognition to understanding and then to something resembling forgiveness. And thus, the remainder of this piece must be about the reassertion of our superegos.”

Second Man: Is Tired of Just Being a Man

Charles Siebert lives with a monkey named Roger. This odd little essay in Salon is part of Siebert’s larger quest to come to some sort of affective and transspecific understanding of animals. It starts with Siebert trying to impose a humanoid motivation on Roger’s activities and veers off into a reflection on his reasons for searching for Roger, who in the end occupies very little of the piece. He can’t occupy much of the piece since Siebert is trying to protect him from his (Siebert’s) impulse to narrativize everything, even evolution, even when surrounded by a group of Christian college kids in Africa.

He reviews the history of mythic and actual chimp-human relations. Apparently at least one primatologist let his pet chimp “mouth his penis,” Stalin wanted to breed a superrace of chimp-human Orcs, and there’s a bit of a tradition of women being gladiatorially raped by drunk baboons.

Roger, whose status as a “chimp entertainer” is one of those sad cases where he’s more at ease with humans than conspecifics, almost comes to function as a doppelganger for Siebert, who titles the article “I’m tired of just being a man” and revels in the pointlessness of his endeavor as much as Roger seems to like stacking cups of nothing in the air.

Third Man Has Strong Male Qualities and is a Hero and Reigns with Strong Male Character and Experiments with the Concept of “Tribes” and is Male and Strong and a Man

I give you the Nation of Men, who are “not feminized, politically correct men, though our members exhibit varying degrees of civilization,” so don’t even think it. Civilization is for sissies (though there’s a fine port proviso). They’re the Sterling Institute’s kid brother but with (according to one commenter who has done both Sterling and NoM) less pressure to “sell” new recruits. And boy o boy are they a barrel of laughs! For example, they have a Heroes Team. (I am not making this up.) Also a “Team of Teams”! And an illustrious prehistory which is extremely long and detailed and long and which notes that the Nation of Men was once upon a time, before the name stuck, a community of men and women. Luckily, Masculine Mark was there to keep things from getting out of hand:

Mark always demonstrated strong male qualities in meetings. This was very important since there were many more women then men showing up at meetings. Mark’s strong male character ensured that the community was not a strictly feminized version.

The feminizing menace mightily neutralized, NoM developed and grew and eventually Tom Antolin and Steve Crowe took over. Who are they? you ask, bewildered, and I’m so very glad you did. Here is all you need to know about Tom and Steve: (Did I mention the prehistory was long?)

Tom Antolin and Steve Crowe … were called Master Blaster after the Mad Max Thunderdome movie. Steve was the Master with the brains, Tom was the Blaster. Tom was short in stature but, he was extremely strong physically and in presence. During their reign, we experimented with the concept of “Tribes.”

Then, like America, or perhaps like the Indians, they decided to break away from Justin A. Sterling—King George III in our analogy—and his repressive rule! The Founding-Father-Master-Blaster-Heroes-Team met to discuss their Tea Party in a meeting that “became known by NoM men as “Bloody Sunday.” Men and their teams found themselves divided, physically and spiritually. Many felt a loss of trust and pain in their hearts.”

‘Twas a sad state of affairs. Brother fought against brother, Master against Blaster, and all that remained was the great yawp of a ravaged and tattered community. Someone once said that time heals all wounds, and by time, they meant port. Fine port. (Or Reconstruction, in our metaphor for a Men’s-Only America).

It was time to stop crying and to organize a new men’s organization. That night, over a pool table, drinking fine port and smoking cigars, we agreed to form the Nation of Men.

It’s a moving story. Suspense, conflict, hopes dashed and rebuilt, and the result is a nation of men that, like Macduff, is not of woman born. Hurrah! You couldn’t ask for a more American utopia.

(Well, I guess you could. But it would be about a nation of men and women in which compatibility doesn’t have to be oppositional. Where a man doesn’t necessarily need to look at a woman he admires and make himself her opposite. And where manliness as a concept can emerge from the weak and defensive position it’s taken up so that even if it wins and becomes a nation all its own, all it will ever be is “not feminized.” )

You’ll be pleased to know that the Nation of Men has a “humorous” piece on color, a list of Teddy Roosevelt quotes which are well worth perusing, and a Links page that ought not to be missed. Sample links include “Abuse-Excuse,” a website dedicated to defending men against false allegations of child and spousal abuse, MensFlair, a quite chi-chi and serious online publication on men’s style, MenAlive, an intriguing site on Irritable Male Syndrome and Male Menopause, and The ManKind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure.

The Nation of Men, like MILF Island, 30 Rock’s reality show, is—all joking aside—comedy gold. It’s a Family Guy subplot. It’s a rip-roaring parody of the American Dream it thinks it champions. It could be a chapter of Huck Finn. Trouble is, it’s not a reality show; it’s real. And when people defend Polanski, it’s suddenly not that funny.

Yours in manliness,


Introducing The Sterling Institute Men’s Weekend

I think I’ve found the grown-up version of Calvin and Hobbes’ secret club, G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid of Slimy girlS): it is called The Sterling Institute Men’s Weekend. It seems to share genes with Robert Bly’s Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, but it has certain things that make it all its own animal.

First, it’s Purpose:

To engage in the process of locating the source of your power and discovering and dissolving the barriers between you and manifesting that power so that you experience total freedom as only a man can and with that freedom be the man you always wanted to be.

I found out about “the Institute” from an old friend, “Sam,” who has always embodied for me what “mild-mannered” means. He’s Clark Kent without Superman: gentle, generous, helpful, polite, goofy—maybe a little easy to take advantage of. As of his 27th birthday he has never—with one recent exception—had a girlfriend, though he’s worshipped certain people from afar, even buying one woman plane tickets home for Christmas so she could be with her family. (This while the woman dated someone else.)

Something was off as chatted. I asked him what was new, and he proceeded to tell me—via online chatting—about something that changed his life. He asked if I had ever wished for some higher purpose. Uh-oh, I thought.

It turns out he’s taken to driving two hours each way on Tuesday evenings after work to volunteer at “the Institute.” He sounds like he’s in a cult. He tells me that friendships are merely ways of modeling the person you really want to be with, and what if he smoked pot all day and played video games, would I want to be with someone like that?

Stymied, I visited the website to see what had happened to poor Sam. Why was he talking about cavemen hunting deer? Why did he keep telling me that women are infinitely superior than men—because they “create life and infuse it into anything and everything they do,” so that even when women fix cars they bring their “whole selves” to the project, and why did he insist, bizarrely, that “without women, men would run out of things to do”?

Its Function:

The Weekend clarifies the conflict between modern society’s expectations and our ancient masculine biological and emotional foundation. Participants learn to integrate, rather than reject, their masculine instincts, resulting in success, power, and contentment. The Weekend has a profound and far-reaching effect on men of all ages and backgrounds. For many, it has been a defining moment in their lives.

Who leads it, you ask? One A. Justin Sterling, an “acknowledged relationship expert” whose “expertise and familiarity with the innermost thoughts of women, [sic] has given him the insight and perspective to teach men to be better relationship partners by being more masculine, more honorable, and more disciplined.”

I, for one, would like nothing more than to meet A. Justin Sterling and learn about the innermost thoughts of women. I propose therefore, that you and I dress up as men (surely there are appropriate wigs) and infiltrate one of these weekends.

Men who are not ready for a long-term relationship will find good advice on how to manage their emotional well-being in romantic endeavors, while men who are considering marriage and family will find much needed guidance on self-preparation, choosing the right mate, and staying on the path to a thriving marriage.

Perhaps most hilariously, we are reminded that The Men’s Weekend Is Fun:

The Sterling Men’s Weekend is a chance to let your flag fly, whatever it might be and enjoy the acceptance and camaraderie of men. There are no political correctness police here, and good-natured vulgarity is suitable for the occasion.

Here is the thing: I think I am being courted by this friend under the Sterling-approved Caveman model of Relations Between the Sexes. On the one hand, I cheer for him—he needed something like this, I think, to usher him out of Doormathood. On the other hand, it troubles me that he has taken this so to heart, ascribes his whole life’s direction to it. He believes he knows exactly What Women Want (in a nutshell, someone with Drive and Energy who will provide for them and their children. They don’t have to a Basketball Player or anything. What matters is the Drive. A sense of Purpose). When I told him these ideas were the sort that make women like me run screaming in the opposite direction, he suggested I try the Sterling Women’s Institute.

I declare the birth of an Experiment. I’m going to see if, in future conversations, I can’t deprogram him a bit while leaving the broad strokes—the confidence, the newfound “power” that apparently accompanies his newly-discovered masculinity—intact. Do you think this is possible? And what do you think of A. Sterling himself?