In the last five or so years, the word “bromance,” that is, a close, non-sexual friendship between men, or “bros” in pop parlance, has been added to our language. One movie, 2009’s “I Love You Man,” is actually described as a “bromantic comedy.”
However, for psychologist Ed Adams, there is nothing comical about the subject of deep connections and a sense of intimacy between men. The Lambertville resident, who practices in Somerville, says it’s hard to tell whether such movies are helping or hurting young men who desire more than a superficial relationship with other men.
“These movies make sure that they’re being satirical and funny, and that by itself shows a discomfort about men having friends,” he says. “There was a time in our country when the prevailing cultural standard was that male friendships were very important, and there was no homophobic fear in this. (Our founding fathers) valued close friendships, and correspondence, sharing ideas, thoughts, and feelings were welcome and seen as an important part of (our nation’s) fabric.”
In addition to his private practice, Adams is a coach, an accomplished visual artist, and the founder of the men’s group, Men Mentoring Men (M3), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping men live full and satisfying lives. Marking 20 years in existence, M3 is hosting a screening of the film “Five Friends,” Sunday, November 13, at the Westin Hotel in Princeton Forrestal Village. After the movie, there will be a discussion with Adams and Hank Mandel, who co-produced and is the central figure in “Five Friends.”
Based in Somerville and Lambertville, but pulling in men from the surrounding towns, M3 is dedicated to the sharing of a man’s unique experience in a complex world. The group is bringing “Five Friends,” a groundbreaking documentary about authentic male friendships, to central New Jersey to offer a revealing look at how friendships increase happiness in a man’s life.
Beautifully shot in locations from southern California to coastal New England, “Five Friends” is a wake-up call about the value of male friendships, the story of how each man’s relationship with the other influenced their lives.
Exploring issues of importance to men and women, the film captures the relationships of Mandel and his five friends as they support each other in good times and bad. The title comes from a quote by early American author and philosopher Elbart Hubbard, who wrote, “My father always used to say that, when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, you’ve had a great life.” “Five Friends” is the story about how one man sought to live that life.
Adams says the screening and the discussion with co-producer Hank Mandel are intended to explore the issues of success, conflict, marriage, divorce, fatherhood, children, and death with a central New Jersey audience. “We are also thrilled to be able to offer a discussion with Hank, whose relationships in business, marriage, childrearing, and aging are the focus of the film,” he says.
The feature-length film opens up these topics, as few have done before. The five friends talk at depth about things we rarely hear or see men discuss, at least in pop culture. At one point, Mandel movingly speaks of his late father, how defeated he seemed by life, still going off to work at age 72. We see a photograph of this man, with such a kind face that we tear up along with Mandel.
Adams, who strongly encourages women to come to the screening, reflects on the “unwritten rule” that it’s difficult for men to talk about their feelings in our culture. “Just as women grow up about with unwritten rules about what it means to be a woman, it’s the same with men,” he says. “One of those rules has been that men solve their own problems, they grin and bear it. Our culture says ‘don’t be a sissy,’ ‘just deal with it.’
“Studies have shown that many men in our culture view any display of affection, vulnerability, or emotional closeness with another man as non-masculine,” he adds. “These behaviors are construed as potentially ‘gay’ or ‘girlie’ and are believed to be taboo. Yet, there’s an evolving change in masculinity. Younger men are feeling at ease talking about their feelings. But that unwritten rule is still in existence.”
A Connecticut resident, Mandel has several New Jersey connections. As a teenager, he worked at Hudson Guild Farm and Camp in Lake Hopatcong, and he earned his master’s in social work from Rutgers University. He went on to work at Yale University Medical School in the department of psychiatry, and the Yale Cancer Center, and also had a long career in banking and human resources consulting.
“Women are light years ahead of men with their rewarding friend relationships,” Mandel says. “We should be inspired by women to gain that special form of closeness one can only get from a same-sex friend. When men connect with their emotional integrity through male friendships, they can experience a ripple effect that brings them truly closer to the significant other people in their lives — especially their children.”
Co-produced, written, and directed by Erik Santiago, the film touches upon the concept of men growing their emotional intelligence, showing an ability to speak deeply about emotions and feelings, showing vulnerability, and breaking through the unwritten rule that men have to always be in control. “Five Friends” broaches the idea that men shutting down their feelings wasn’t always the cultural norm (as Adams points out), but evolved through the Victorian era, when men went out to work in industrial and business settings. Women’s roles were to be at home, to be the emotional guardians, to tend the children and be the “angels of the house.”
To this day, as is noted in the film, the iconic male workplace is competitive, a place where control of emotions is of utmost importance, and certainly not an atmosphere of trust.
Interestingly, as more women come into the workplace, especially in management and senior positions, they might be taking on these circumscribed masculine traits, according to Adams. “That’s the risk that women have moving into more male-dominant roles, to make sure they take with them the best traits of masculinity, not the worst,” he says. “But that’s still in process, and women are going to have to figure this one out.”
Adams is a native of Trenton. His father was a truck driver and a World War II army veteran who survived the battle of Guadalcanal. His mother owned and operated a beauty salon. For grades nine and ten, Adams attended the former Mother of the Savior in Blackwood, then went to Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville. “I thought I wanted to be a priest,” he says. “It was there that I first saw men who were creative and scholarly, as well as athletic. I really experienced the range that men can have, and that was a big influence.”
Adams earned his bachelor of science and master’s degrees from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio (1967 and 1973), then attended Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP), earning a doctoral degree in professional psychology in 1979. Among his many influences and mentors, he names Arnold Lazarus, now a professor emeritus from GSAPP Rutgers, and executive director of the Lazarus Institute in Skillman.
Adams, whose fairly unusual specialty is in dealing with men and masculinity, also names archetypal psychologist James Hillman and author, poet, and leader of the mytho-poetic men’s movement Robert Bly as influences. Until just a few years ago, Adams owned and ran the Adams Gallery in New Hope, and he continues to receive commissions for his paintings and sculpture.
“Art has been a very important part of my life,” he says. “It’s a passion.” One of the most interesting commissions he received was to create a bust of Oskar Schindler for director Steven Spielberg, to thank him for making the movie “Schindler’s List.” In 1993, one of Adams’ paintings was reproduced on the cover of “American Psychologist,” making him the first living psychologist with a work of art on the cover of the prestigious journal.
He lives in Lambertville with his wife, author Marilee Adams, whose book “Change Your Questions; Change Your Life,” was an Amazon bestseller. Son Zak Adams is an attorney for Patton-Boggs in Washington, D.C., practicing litigation and administrative law.
Reflecting on more than 30 years of private practice, as well as M3, Adams says, “It’s been a journey. I think for every man, as you grow through life, you’re raising the question, ‘what does it mean to be a man?’ I wanted to pose that question to other men, so I started a therapy group for men, but soon figured out that the benefits were because of the relationships with each other and the atmosphere of trust. Of the four current M3 groups, three are peer-led, and all of our leadership comes out of the group itself.”
About 80 men from north, central, and south Jersey, as well as Bucks County participate in the groups, and the age range seems to be expanding. “We have men coming in who are in their early 20s, and our oldest (participant) was in his 90s,” Adams says. “The young learn from the old and vice versa, but we all share the male experience.”
Film Screening, Men Mentoring Men, Westin Hotel, 201 Village Boulevard, Forrestal Village, Plainsboro. Sunday, November 13, 1 p.m. Screening of “Five Friends,” a look at male friendship, and a discussion with producer Hank Mandel to explore the issues of success, conflict, marriage, divorce, fatherhood, children, and death. Buffet will be served following the screening and discussion. www.fivefriendsmovie.com. Register online. $15 at the door. 908-707-8118 or www.menmentoringmen.org.