After years of hearing the term “toxic masculinity” tossed about, authors Leonard Syzmczak and Rick Broniec believed it was certain behaviors that are toxic, not masculinity itself.
To correct the notion and guide men on a better path, the two joined together to create a blueprint for healthy expressions of masculinity in their new book, Power Tools for Men: A Blueprint for Healthy Masculinity—just in time for Father’s Day.
The two authors met in a men’s group where they became close friends. Syzmczak, a psychologist and Dana Point resident who has authored seven books in total, had been looking to write a men’s book for years before partnering with Broniec for the new book, released April 28.
“Rick and I went out for breakfast, and I said, ‘Rick, you know, I’d like to write a book. Would you like to write a book so we can collaborate and write a book together?’ And Rick jumped right on and said, ‘Yes, absolutely,’ ” Syzmczak said. “And so that was the beginning, and we started meeting every week, for almost six years.”
Broniec had two books published before Power Tools for Men, both on the subject of men’s issues.
When writing Power Tools for Men, Broniec said the two noticed men were in crisis in the world. Broniec and Syzmczak recalled that around 2016 the political climate gave men permission to be more violent and angry in public.
“Last year, there were approximately 750 mass shootings in the United States; this is by Mass Shooting Tracker,” Broniec said. “Ninety-eight percent of those were perpetrated by a male; most of them are White men and most of them are younger men … that says something about the state of manhood and the state of violence that we carry.”
Syzmczak added that in seeing this rise in violence, the two authors wanted to collaborate to create a blueprint for healthy masculinity—though Syzmczak took issue with the term “toxic masculinity.”
“Rick and I believe that masculinity is not toxic at all,” Syzmczak said. “There are some of our behaviors that are toxic, but to say masculinity—it’s like saying relationships are toxic.”
Both Syzmczak and Broniec grew up in Chicago, noting that in that environment, they were expected to keep their emotions to themselves and remain stoic.
“I realized some of these really did not serve me, because I shut down my emotions. I did not value femininity and a lot of these qualities,” Syzmczak said. “I think that really does us a disservice.”
Syzmczak added that men these days seem to be in conflict with feedback they are receiving about masculinity.
“We’re taught to be strong and tough but also now gentle and caring,” Syzmczak said. “We’re taught to be protectors but also caregivers. We’re taught to be strong, and then we’re also taught not to be overcontrolling. We’re getting these mixed messages, and men are confused.”
The aim of the book, Broniec chimed in, is to allow “men to create a range of expressions, a range of being—instead of just being in a little tiny box: this is the only way we can behave.”
“We don’t denigrate some of the older behaviors like being strong, independent, self-sufficient, serving our families and the world, our communities,” Broniec continued. “These are beautiful qualities, and we have many noble and wonderful men in our lives that lived by those qualities, but we also wanted to open up the opportunity for men to be more feeling, to be more caring.”
In Power Tools for Men, Broniec and Syzmczak came up with the “CLASSICS” model as a blueprint for readers from which to work. The acronym CLASSICS stands for “Connection, Loving, Authenticity, Spirituality, Sexuality, Intention, Community, Sovereignty,” Broniec explained.
The book also includes stories from Syzmczak’s and Broniec’s lives, as well as Syzmczak’s experience as a psychologist interwoven throughout.
Broniec added that if a reader can take away one positive behavior from the CLASSICS model in Power Tools for Men, he would be thrilled. Broniec highlighted one positive he’d like men to take away in particular: talk and connect.
“If men can learn not to isolate anymore, learn to connect with other men, learn to go to men’s groups, go to men’s circles, I don’t care if it’s in a church or a 12-step program or men’s organization, group at work, it doesn’t matter,” Broniec said. “Sit with other men, get honest, speak your truth.”
“What men find out over and over again—this surprises the hell out of us—is, I’m not alone,” Broniec continued. “I’m not the only one that feels this way. I think women know that because they talk to each other more, they’re more willing to open up and share what’s going on in their lives.”
Broniec added that men tend to isolate themselves and feel that they’re alone in what they’re going through. When he got divorced, Broniec noted, his men’s group helped to support and challenge him.
“It was phenomenal the level of support I got from those brothers, and I’ve done the same for them over and over again,” Broniec said.
Syzmczak added that another takeaway he’d like readers to glean from their book is to be inspired to share more of their lives with their loved ones.
“I want men to read some of these stories and be inspired to share more of their lives with their loved ones, with their partners, with their children,” Syzmczak said. “I am very committed to helping men become the best fathers men can be.”
“We have Father’s Day coming up, and I want men to be phenomenal fathers—means that they’re invested, committed to their children,” Syzmczak continued. “They’re not going to abandon them or neglect them, that they’re going to be there and raise healthy children.”
Broniec noted, however, that one cannot show up for others without working on themselves, which in many cases means healing their own relationship with their fathers.
That’s the No. 1 issue that men raise and deal with in men’s groups, Syzmczak added.
“In fact, it’s so important, it’s given its own name; it’s called the ‘father wound,’ ” Broniec said. “Most men really don’t know their fathers, never got witnessed by their fathers in a really loving way. They weren’t told they were valuable, precious and so forth, and so they carry this gaping wound.”
The way that many people look to unhealthy coping mechanisms to handle their “father wounds” is not working for society, Broniec continued.
“We want men to get connected and start healing,” Broniec said.
The book is available for purchase on the Power Tools for Men website or on Amazon.