The "Embers" of a Man's Life

Paul Dobransky MD's picture
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The "Embers" of a Man's Life

I don't know if where you live is tropical or temperate, or whether you have been truly, truly cold in the middle of a winter storm. One of our coach moderators from the other side of the planet sent me this amazing photo of a storm front rolling into Capetown, South Africa today, and it's mezmerizing. (image:

It's hard to imagine that something so destructive could be so beautiful at the same time, but it is what it is - and it reminds me of something that we need as men when it's incredibly cold outside - literally, figuratively, symbolically, and physically, we must have FIRE.

While the role of fire in our lives is obvious - as a masculine symbol it goes back to ancient times depicted as an upright triangle (∆) - and features prominently in such stories as Shiva burning the universe to the ground so to speak, or in the masculine instinct for invention and discovery depicted in the story of Prometheus that we talk about in the Mature Masculine Power Program.

What I thought we could discuss in a foray into the role of fire in your life is a simple one that relates to being a dreamer, but turning those dreams into a reality.

The symbol of an EMBER.


Really, Really Cold

I've been into the foothills of the Himalayas where it's really pretty cold, but one of the harshest experiences on the planet is moving from a somewhat reasonable environment to Chicago in the dead of winter. This is really, REALLY cold - topped perhaps only by a further roadtrip to Milwaukee to see what that town is all about. Cold enough to make you speed right back to Chicago on a January weekend.

When you feel that lake air make it all the way to your bones, you almost feel warmer just looking at a picture of a fire let alone finding an actual one - where not even an indoor place, under blankets, with a space heater right next to you seems to make the feeling go away.

Five minutes of running to the store or from your house to your car for that matter can seem to be erased by any amount of kerosene, propane or electricity.

Just getting out from under that blanket to rekindle a fire can bring the oppressive feeling right back to you, which makes it an exercise in futility.

I'm sure you know what I'm going to get at soon - that there are times in your life that are psychologically so cold you just can't stand it. When you've moved and have no local friends, or when you've just broken up, or when you've suffered a job loss or financial hard times. It's in these times that masculinity is most challenged, that it's drained from you, or near-depleted.

And that is when you need fire.


"A Cold, Cruel World"

"It's a cold, cruel world," they say, which is to say that the world doesn't care about you, your dreams or you basic welfare. It's neutral and unforgiving, but sometimes offers opportunity if you spot it. And in being "cold" in this way it's much like winter weather, in that it doesn't mean you any SPECIFIC harm, but it does indeed DO you harm - sometimes even after you are prepared for it. That's the nature of the "cold, cruel world."

It is in that experience that some men find their dreams, because dreams are like the embers of a fire that has burned too long and finally given in to the cold. Those of you who have camped in the mountains know that long after the campfire has burnt out, there remain embers that may very well last the entire night through, a relative miracle considering how fragile the former fire itself was - with all the need for maintenance, and more kindling wood.

Which is why so many men are tempted to just keep harboring these dreams - these "embers of a fire" - as if they, themselves, are the same as the fire, and as good as it for cooking and for warmth. When this is not so.

You can't eat a fire ember or cook anything on it, and you certainly won't last the night without blankets and a tent, trying to sleep in front of it. But it REMINDS you of the fire, and in the cold, that seems like the best you can muster, and sometimes even seems to keep you warm even though it doesn't - for it's better than nothing at all but the moon shining coldly on the snow...

...and for those without dreams, it's the coldest world of all.


Choosing What to Ignite

I remember watching so many fires die in my time - from outdoor camping, to beach parties long over, to solitary cabins, libraries, homes and hotels that happened to have the real thing - not gas fires, but the kind that CRACKLE. Those are real fires.

And when they die, the embers are left for a very long time, many of them glowing, some slowly disappearing to gray, white, and cold again, but often one single ember remaining the brightest among them. This is the one - if you were to get up and out from under your blankets - that you could tend to, and blow on with a bellows, or put new kindling wood on top of - struggling and waiting, feeding, until, at long last, a single flame licks upward, and the first crack you've heard in a long time emerges with a flash.

This too, is the nature of your dreams - which will last and last, and persist for a very long time even if you don't maintenance them. But one day, if starved enough for oxygen, they WILL die too like those majority of embers. that is, unless you stoke and feed just one of them - the most important one, the brightest one remaining, or the one which just happens to have survived the cold long enough to still be aglow.

Many men make the mistake of holding on to everything they have with a death grip - like trying to rekindle every single ember in life - when what they should have done all along is to select just one, and baby it, blow on it, place just the right dry kindling in just the right triangular arrangement to reignite it...

...and soon find that with just one robust chunk of burning wood, all the others could just as soon be ablaze again too.

Which is also the nature of your dreams, and the best strategy to use when attempting to start from scratch with your life - when everything is cold in the cold, cruel world.

You will have to choose just one - the most promising one, the brightest one that still has life in it - but then don't be surprised when they all light again one by one.

And the fire is entirely back, ready to cook with, keep you warm, and again become the center of activity, and survival, then progress, then success.

In the Mature Masculine Power Program we talk about how Women, Work, and Worth are the three "pillars of masculinity" - that affecting one of them affects all the others, and like embers of the life of a man, offer a chance to reignite the whole thing we call life.

So don't be overwhelmed, don't be perfectionistic and feel as if you have to solve everything in a day. Just choose one thing, one dream, one ember of life, and start bringing it to life - your potential made real one little piece at a time.



Great article.

Great article.

Focus, patience and self-nurturing.

Thank you for this post, Dr. Paul. Especially timely and encouraging for me.