inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #0 of 57: Hal Royaltey (hal) Mon 22 Jan 07 21:48
Please welcome David Hafter, our next guest in the Inkwell.

David N. Hafter is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over
twenty years of experience working with teenagers, young adults and
their families.  He lives in Davis, California with his son, Noah and
his wife, Pamela Delaney, also an LMFT.  Some Well oldtimers may 
remember David under his old user name of "wooly".

Leading our conversation is David Adam Edelstein.  

David is a former young man and current father of a six-month-old 
daughter, which suddenly has him eyeing young men with suspicion.

Welcome Davids.  Let's begin ...

inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #1 of 57: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 23 Jan 07 07:43
Thanks, Hal.

David, maybe the best place to start is with a bit of an outline.
"Growing Balls" is a great title; can you tell us a little bit about
what the book is about?
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #2 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Tue 23 Jan 07 14:57
Sure. And thanks for having me here in this format.  It's a privilage.

Let me begin by referring you and all other participants here to my
website(  There you will find a few paragraphs
from each chapter, some great artwork from the artist who worked with
me and a music video of a song I wrote for the book -- at my son's
urging -- in "youtube" format.  A few minutes on the site will help put
this coming conversation into perspective.

The book began with a conversation I had with another guy my age (late
40's) about the challenges faced by boys and young men nowadays.   In
subsequent discussions with other men, I came to the conclusion that a
little book full of the mentoring we would give to a young man if given
the chance was in order.

This book gives me the unique chance to leave the "treatment box" of
my usual role as therapist for awhile and talk about prevention. 
Prevention of what?  Prevention of guys entering into the roles of
husband and father before they are ready to do the jobs well.
Prevention of domestic violence; prevention of substance abuse and
addiction; prevention of guys paying huge prices for avoidable mistakes
with girls and women.

In my work I see kids having kids, huge divorce rates and boys growing
up without mature male mentoring from either their fathers or other
healthy men in their lives. Boys are thrust into the shark-tank of
adult life with very little preparation. In more traditional societies
with established rites of passage into adulthood, it is someone other
than the father who ushers the boy into manhood.  Growing Balls allows
me to play a very modest such role in the lives of guys I am unlikely
ever to meet, either professionally or personally. 

In my therapist role, I help people to explore their problems or
symptoms and come to their own conclusions and decisions about what
they want to do. Soap-boxes are not ethical for therapists. I can offer
some guidance, of course, and I do.  However, the role of writer is a
much looser one than that of therapist and I relish the opportunity to
say exactly what is on my mind in just the terms I want to use.

As for the title, it is meant to be a grabber, of course.  The "balls"
metaphor is actually for courage and integrity, two under-valued
qualities in our culture today. People tend to talk about a guy having
balls meaning audacity, gall, nerve or "chutzpah". I prefer to use the
term for courage and integrity -- a young man growing into his maturity
to the point that he is able to "do the right thing because it is the
right thing to do."  That is the level of maturity  required of a man
who wants to be a good husband and father.  

I better stop here or I'll end up re-writing the book...

inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #3 of 57: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 23 Jan 07 22:34
Don't do that! We want people to read it, of course.

In your book you talk about 25 being the age at which most young men
are ready for these kinds of responsibilities.  I confess I thought
that was a little late until I realized that I got married exactly a
week after my own 25th birthday, and I certaintly wasn't ready before

Would you say that 25 has always been the average age when young men
"grew balls"? Or has that age changed over the years? 
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #4 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Wed 24 Jan 07 09:30
I think it has changed.  In our father's and grandfather's day (and
generations before them) social expectations were different and
socially acceptable choices were fewer. For example, sexual pressures
pushed some early decisions back then as couples could not live
together unmarried as they so commonly do today.  Moreover, only a few
decades ago one income at a standard job often enough to support a
family, society was set up to accommodate new couples aged, say 18 to
21. Obviously, this is not the case today.
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #5 of 57: Michael Zentner (mz) Wed 24 Jan 07 09:41
Great subject, thanks. My son is almost 18 and I wonder what I've been
able to teach him. NOT becoming a parent early is one of them. 

One day I think he was a sophomore in high school I showed him where I
kept the condoms and told him he should never, ever be without one
just in case. His response: "Thanks dad, but they hand them out at

My cousins in Texas and Louisiana all got married in their very early
20's, which I just couldn't believe! I was thirty one, and I'm still
not sure I was ready.

(As I age, I think about issues confronting boomer males in the youth
oriented society we created. Maybe I'll write a book called "Shaving
Your Balls.")
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #6 of 57: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 24 Jan 07 14:44

(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments may send them to
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inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #7 of 57: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 24 Jan 07 15:38
That's a pretty enlightened school! I don't think we talked about it
at all in my school.

David, your answer sounds like you're saying that society has changed
more than males have -- that guys were getting married younger because
they had no choice, not because they were neccessarily any readier
then.  Is that the case?

Have you seen that change happen over the time (two decades!) you've
been a therapist? Or has it been a longer scale than that?
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #8 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Wed 24 Jan 07 20:20
That's a pretty good question there, Dave...

Actually, I have had a few older guys (60's through late 70's) read
the book and give me feedback.  Interestingly, some of their initial
reactions have tended towards the negative, being defensive and
somewhat offended at the idea that their marriages, which took place
when they were in their late teens and very early 20's, were ill
advised.  I encouraged them to note that I am writing to the modern
young man and in fact stated in the book that things were different in
past generations.  For the most part, once their blood pressure dropped
a bit, the feedback got more positive with remarks like, "I wish this
had been around to read when I was younger."  This leads me to believe
that it is the times and circumstances of being young today that is the
issue, not so much males in general.  

In the last 20 years, I have seen less mentoring going with young guys
(and girls)on as families struggle to make it financially, working
longer and harder.  There are fewer sports and music programs available
for kids (where mentoring used to happen) and fewer kids are working
on developing areas of expertise (arts, sports etc) as they get caught
into the addictive and fantastic machinery of games.

One more thing:  The artist who did my drawings for me, Pierre Pobre,
lives in the Philipines. (Again, check out the website:  There is a link to his website there, as well
and it is worth checking out.) He asked for a copy of the book in order
to get a better sense of what I was looking for in terms of visuals. 
After reading GB, he told me that he had not expected to relate to it
since it came from western culture.  In fact, as far as he was
concerned, it translated very well cross-culturally. 
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #9 of 57: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 25 Jan 07 17:13

Wow, that's gratifying.
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #10 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Thu 25 Jan 07 18:29
You know, it really is. As I wrote this book, I was conscious of a
desire not to "leave anyone out".  How would what I was writing go over
within this community or that? Would a gay kid be able to translate
the material from the language of a straight orientation and get
benefits from the book nonetheless?  Would it make sense to a variety
of racial and ethinic groups?  The jury is still out, of course. But
the more I tried to be ever so inclusive, the more the writing suffered
and the messages became diluted with political correctness.  

Meanwhile, I got positive feedback from a couple of African American
readers, none of which complained that what I said was off base or
particularly ethnocentric. I hope to get further feedback from a
variety of readers over time.  On my website, each chapter snippet is
set up for blogging so readers can chime in with their opinions.  I
hope they do as my greatest desire is for GB to start conversations. 
To be agreed with would be great, but not necessary and with
controversial topics like these, widespread agreement is not even a
reasonable hope.
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #11 of 57: Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Thu 25 Jan 07 20:40
David, looks like you have hit all the main points. I particularly
like the absence of psychological jargon. In a way, you are reminding
people of things they already know when they take time out from
cultivating illusions left over from childhood. 

A breath of fresh air.
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #12 of 57: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Fri 26 Jan 07 06:57
That seems to be one of the paradoxes of this advice -- which I think
may be inherently paradoxical, not because the advice is flawed -- that
until young men have grown balls, they may not be ready to hear the
advice in the first place. 
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #13 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Fri 26 Jan 07 09:59
"A breath of fresh air..."

Thanks for that.  I just took a deep breath myself.

The paradox mentioned by David is true.  At the end of the book I talk
about the fact that GB is written directly to an audience that is the
least likely to read it.  Nonetheless, I refused to write a book
*about* young men instead of *to* them.  I do acknowledge that it may
be adult men and women who read it most, and that is really okay with
me, as long as they act on what they read.  I want them to get that the
young men in their lives, their sons, brothers, nephews, cousins,
boyfriends and so on both need and deserve positive male mentoring.  I
really hope that GB catches on, for example, with single mothers
raising sons alone. It will be a help all by itself as a paper-mentor
but may also inspire these moms to remember to look for opportunities
for their sons to get mentoring in the extended family or from guys
teaching/coaching through community activities.

One way I have heard GB being used to get it into the hands of those
who need it is the following strategic move: Some friends of mine,
after reding the book themselves, tried to get their 16 year old son to
read it.  After a cursory glance through a few chapters, he decided he
had balls a-plenty and didn't need to read the rest. His folks let it
go, not wanting to push.  Then, he got over-involved with his
girlfriend, dropped some in his grades from too much IM'ing and not
enough studying and finally got busted for lying to his parents. One of
his consequences was to read the book one chapter at a time, followed
by a conversation with his parents on what he got out of each chapter. 
He quickly saw many of his behaviors within that relationship as
errors that lessened his personal power in other areas of his life.  

Pitter-patter goes my heart... 

I also recently received an email from a mother who bought the book
for her 21 year old son whose heart was had been broken in a painful
relationship melt-down.  She wrote that her son had read the book and
had genuinely benefited from it, feeling empowered and in a position to
begin moving on. Forgive me if I seem to be tooting my own horn too
much here, but that kind of story makes the whole effort worthwhile for
me right there. 

One last thing:  If anyone got a kick from the song on the website, I
perform at the Border's Bookstore Cafe in Davis, CA every month,
usually on the 2nd Friday from 8 to 10pm. I have moved it to the first
Friday for Feb (the 2nd, next week) because I have tickets to see the
phenomenal Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel on the 9th.  He's at the
Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on the 10th, by the way). 
Anyhow, if anyone ever is in the neighborhood, come on by.  Also that
pariticular Borders stocks the book. Otherwise, you have to buy it from
my website or from or ask your local Borders to carry it
(it is in their system to do so).
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #14 of 57: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 27 Jan 07 09:02
Hah, making the son read the book a chapter at a time is great.

Although the subtitle of the book mentions marriage and fatherhood, it
seems like a lot of the essential lessons are applicable to all young
men, whether straight or gay -- that it's broadly about learning to
have successful, long-term relationships.  Would your advice be any
different to a young gay man?
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #15 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Sat 27 Jan 07 12:01
No, it wouldn't.  I would probably suggest that a young gay man look
for mentoring in another gay man, one who is older and wiser, when it
comes to negotiating the more unique challenges society puts before gay
guys.  However, a straight mentor would also have plenty to offer in
terms of the common areas all young men face.  I'm glad you see those
areas covered in the book. 
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #16 of 57: John Payne (satyr) Sat 27 Jan 07 14:26
It seems to me, not having read the book, that the message described here
is one that will be particularly hard for young men growing up on mean
urban streets to hear, since they are so often under pressure to project
unassailable masculinity - a position from which it's likely difficult to
consider that they might need to grow some balls.
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #17 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Sat 27 Jan 07 20:59
It depends what they consider to be the definition of balls; in my
book, having balls means having courage and integrity -- the
willingness to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Having balls means having personal values and living by them. The first
chapter establishes that understanding from the start and serves as
the foundation for the rest of the book. 

I'm not sure what you mean by "unassailable masculinity".  Young
people living in urban settings do have some pressures on them to put
across to others that they are not and will not be anyone's punk (to
use their word)-- but this is true of both boys and girls. So, if I am
reading you correctly, and I may not be, I am hesitant to call what
they have to project outward to their urban world as masculinity.  It's
more like a willingness and ability to be aggressive when necessary. 
I don't want to equate masculinity with aggression.

I have worked for many years with these urban kids. In LA, the group
homes I worked in had serious and sometimes outright scary, gang kids.
For five years, I also ran mandatory counseling groups for  offenders
with at least two DUI's and these guys tended to be from poorer areas
(the rich guys got their tickets fixed).  I developed some of the book
from my work with them.

I currently work with kids from the roughest, poorest parts of
Stockton.  Some of the kids are in gangs.  However, I have also worked
with the kids from the richest families in America.  I ran a program in
far north Idaho where fortune 500 families paid some 60K per year --
cash -- to have their kids chop wood, clear their heads and pour out
their hearts in all night rap sessions. I found that despite the
cultural and economic differences, all these kids had much in common. 
They all needed to feel heard and understood.  They needed respect and
wanted to feel loved and appreciated. All these kids recognized
bullshit when they saw or heard it and responded well to people with
integrity and a genuine interest in them.  They needed to learn how to
recognize and deal with their feelings about themselves and others in
socially acceptable ways.  They all had crosses to bear.  
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #18 of 57: John Payne (satyr) Sun 28 Jan 07 13:59
Point taken.  Perhaps 'unassailable self-possession' or 'imperviousness'
would have expressed it better, since it applies to both sexes.  Either
way, it's my impression that city kids are under intense pressure to
behave in what they see as an adult manner from an early age, and it 
would seem to be difficult to consider, from that position, that their 
maturation might be incomplete.
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #19 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Sun 28 Jan 07 20:17
Well, that' an interesting notion. I'm sort of stuck on the idea of
them being under intense pressure to act like adults. Is it really that
they are forced by circumstances, to start acting in an adult manner
or is it simply more difficult for these kids to act in what we, from
the outside, might consider to be a normal child-like manner? 
Kids/young people adapt to their environments and a norm is established
according what it takes to make it while living there.

Meanwhile, while I am not sure what you mean be acting in an adult
manner since that is not my experience of most of these kids, I have
seen parentified children (kids who, for a variety of reasons, end up
taking on more "adilt" responsibilies that what we would consider
normal or desirable for that age) in families from every economic
strata.  And the pressures on them are indeed intense -- whether their
parents are addicts/alcoholics, seriously depressed or otherwise
mentally ill, absent etc.

When you connect with these kids and they feel safe with you, the
desires and needs they have are pretty standard, like those I mentioned
in my last response. In my experience, young people in general are
pretty capable of recognizing their own limitations.  They are hungry
for someone to give them some a reality check as well as to validate
their experience of the world. 

This doesn't mean they necessarily go out and behave responsibly as a
result -- but seeds do get planted.  We therapists, especially those of
us working with young people (often already in trouble), have to
accept that we often do not get to see many of the changes we are
trying to nurture.  But we do get those phone calls six months or six
years later from young people keep us going. 
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #20 of 57: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 29 Jan 07 22:10
You're probably bound by professional ethics to not talk about those
phone calls, but I'd love to hear about them if there's some way you
can tell those stories in a general enough way.  It seems such a
struggle from seeds getting planted, as you say, to becoming
functioning adults.

It sounds so movie-of-the-week, but do you think that some of these
kids just need someone to open their eyes once?
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #21 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Tue 30 Jan 07 00:03
Right.  I can't go into any details... but what generally happens is
that when kids finally "get" what we were trying to do, a few of them
want to reach out and let us know they got it, and express appreciation
for our efforts.  They may acknowledge how tough they were to work
with  and may cop to all the impediments they threw in front of us to
test us -- and see if we were worthy of their trust. 

Learning who to trust is a skill we all have to master as we grow up
and we all make mistakes in that arena.  The kids we are talking about
here have often had significant betrayals in their young lives, so
trust doesn't come easily -- nor should it. However, when it happens
that you gain such a person's trust and they subsequently benefit by
going on to have healthier relationships than they might otherwise have
had, well, it's a wonderful thing.  Gaining a kid's attention, let
alone his or her trust, is no simple task so any success is worth

Actually, one reason I wrote my book in a politically incorrect style,
one that would catch the attention of the young reader but would also
create some barriers to the book's marketability, was that I wanted to
talk *to* young men, not just write about them.  To speak to them meant
to speak from the heart as well as the head and young people have
great bullshit detectors. It also meant speaking their language, at
times, which I'm comfortable doing since I have spent so much time
talking with young people.  Much of the book, to me however, maintains
a pretty adult tone. But that works, too, because the voice in the book
is really my own and I don't talk down to or patronize kids. I'm not
trying to be cool to them, but I acknowledge that cool is important,
especially at their age.  

I have already had an educator at a continuation high school (a
program that specializes in kids who have been in trouble or have
specific behavioral difficulties at a regular campus) tell me she
struck out with her principal in trying to put GB on the curriculum.
She argued unsuccessfully that GB is exactly the type of book these
kids need to read.  And while the principal also read the book and
understood her point, she also could not handle the language and so
took a pass. 

I'm not upset; I understand. It's disappointing, sure, but I know I
could have written the same material using only polite language and
imagery but I didn't think that book (let's say I used GB's subtitle:
"Personal Power for Young Men" instead of "Growing Balls" for the
title)would have had the same impact on guys reading it.  Meanwhile, I
have written a group counseling curriculum that can be used by
therapists, school counselors, group homes, teachers and the like that
does focus on the Personal Power theme and avoids all language
testicular...  I sent it to this teacher and encouraged her to try it
out since she said she was determined to take messages out of the book
and somehow get them across to her students.  That sort of passion is
inspiring, isn't it?
As to your question, David, do these kids just need to open their eyes
once?  That *is* kind of a movie of the week image and a very
attractive notion -- but no, it's not too realistic.  The troubled kids
that straighten right out after a deep conversation with a wise elder
are definitely off the pages of a script.  Young people with serious
issues don't turn their lives around overnight, although those with all
their faculties intact can certainly have epiphanies.  In my
experience and those of many of my colleagues, kids don't often share
those moments with anyone, especially not at the time.  Later on, in
those lucky phone calls you might hear a kid recalling the moment when
he or she first saw the world from a slightly wider perspective and
that moment was the start of significant change, when puzzle pieces
started to come together. (Geez, now *I* sound like a cliche').
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #22 of 57: Credo, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Tue 30 Jan 07 04:04
>Young people with serious issues don't turn their lives around
overnight, although those with all their faculties intact can certainly
have epiphanies.<

This might be generalized to "people with serious issues .........


inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #23 of 57: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 30 Jan 07 07:40
Heh. Certainly I didn't do that, although there were a few key
*periods* in my life, if not moments, that got me on the path to
figuring things out.

And (speaking of politically incorrect chapter titles) "What to do
with your dick" would certainly have been good reading for me before

I suppose the next question I have -- especially regarding that
chapter -- is whether you think that just reading advice, no matter how
direct, can really keep young men from screwing up?  "Don't have sex
with crazy girls" is terrific advice, indeed, but I'm not sure I would
have even been able to read that sentence when I was 18, let alone
follow it. 

Isn't part of the process of growing balls about learning from dumb
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #24 of 57: David Hafter (davidhafter) Tue 30 Jan 07 08:06
Yes, sure.  There's no substitution for the maturation you get from
direct experience; I acknowledge that in the book more than once.  But
even though your kid is going to touch the hot stove, don't you still
warn him that if he does, he's going get burned?

Is the written advice enough?  In most cases, probably not. But maybe
it helps the reader avoid repeating the same mistake. Or, if a guy
reads GB and later on has an experience that rings a memory bell, he
might go back and read through it again.  Other advice might have a
better chance of sinking in the second time around.  He may also get
sensitized to the material watching his friends make mistakes that he
recognizes from the book and is therefore able to steer clear of that
trouble for himself.
inkwell.vue.291 : David Hafter, "Growing Balls"
permalink #25 of 57: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Tue 30 Jan 07 12:30

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