Monday

THE IRONMAN - PREFACE

It was a dark afternoon in early December, less than a year ago, when Mark came into my office and plopped himself down in the chair in front of my desk.

We'd scheduled a meeting to go over some production numbers, but Mark seemed distracted, on edge, down. Knowing he would never bring up a personal problem on his own, but looking so blue I could not overlook it, I asked, "What happened?"

"Ah, nothing," he replied in typical Mark fashion. I'd known Mark about two years at the time, during which he'd been consistently loyal, uncomplaining, and strong. There was nothing he couldn't get done, no matter how late he had to work, no matter how impossible the assignment. He never let his personal life interfere with business, never once used a cold, or a kid's track meet, or a previous engagement as an excuse. I mean, this is a tough guy. A brick.

In addition, Mark never badmouths other people, whines about work, crummy weather, or his favorite teams when they're going through a losing streak. In short, Mark is an Ironman who accepts the realities of life...has made up his mind that complaining is boring and a waste of breath...and understands that to get things done you just have to go out and do them.

Accepting his answer that nothing was wrong, I pulled out my charts and we began going through the numbers, trying to figure out how to improve our department, give raises, hire great new people — all while trimming our budget. A daunting assignment but one, nonetheless, that Mark usually approaches with an attitude that says, it can be done ~ nothing's impossible.

But this afternoon was different. Every time I looked up I noticed that Mark was barely paying attention. He kept checking his watch, leaning back in his chair in the way people do when they are trying to hear if the distant phone ringing down the hall is for them.

"Hey, Mark," I said, "What's up? Something's not right."

He looked down at his hands, his face screwed up as if wanting to come clean but not quite knowing where to begin. As I said, Mark's not the type to unburden himself lightly.

"Ah, shit, Eric," he said, as if cursing himself. "I can't believe I'm acting this way."

"What way?"

"Well, Liz said she'd call this afternoon and I haven't heard from her yet. We were supposed to have dinner and catch a movie."

Liz was the beautiful new woman he was dating. I was surprised at Mark's anguish. He's a ruggedly good-looking guy who makes well over one hundred grand a year. He's a simple, classic dresser with his own home and a new forest green Jeep Cherokee. Divorced about a decade ago, Mark seemed well beyond the romantic agonies of men in their early twenties.
Furthermore, ever since I'd known him he'd dated a succession of classy, intelligent women who, from my vantage point anyway, pursued him far more ardently than he them.

Women adore Mark, all sorts of them, because he's kind, civil, not a gossip or a wise guy. They sense they can trust him, and that he'll be there for them.

"She's making a nutcase out of me," he went on. "She says she'll stay over and then fifteen minutes later she decides she's got to go home. She says she'll call, and then I don't here from her for a week. She tells me she loves me one day, and then the next seems cold as ice, totally uninterested." He stood up. "If you don't mind," he said, "I better go give her a call. Otherwise, I'll never be able to concentrate on what we're doing."

I couldn't believe my ears. As I said, Mark never lets his personal life get in the way of work. Furthermore, I was stunned by his nervousness, the aura of forlornness about him. Here was a guy who was about to call a woman because he was afraid she was falling out of love with him. I couldn't think of a better way to make her fall out of love.

Maybe it wasn't any of my business, but this was a subject I knew a bit about. In fact, it was one I was immensely interested in. Over the past decade I'd seen at least a dozen successful, talented, smart, mature men, men of good character, men in a strong life position, go to pieces because a woman was giving them a hard time.

"Don't call her, Mark," I said. "You're the Ironman. You're holding all the cards."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"You're good-looking, you make a good living, you're healthy, you're a nice guy, you're not a womanizer, a drunk, a wife-beater. Your kids are grown and no longer financially dependent on you. You have a hell of a pension plan, a good portfolio of stocks, and you own a couple of rental properties. You're one of the best catches in all of Chicago, and here you are letting a divorcee with two kids still in high school make mincemeat out of you."

Mark smiled and slumped back down in his chair. "Look at me," he laughed. "I'm a mess. I'm like a high school girl waiting for the phone to ring."

"Mark," I said, "you've got to be the Ironman. Don't call her. You have no idea how much power you have."

"Yeah?" he said. He looked skeptical.

"I guarantee you in two weeks you'll have her eating out of the palm of your hand."

For the first time, Mark looked more hopeful. "You really think so?"

"I know it," I said. And I wasn't bluffing. Because if there's one thing I know in life, it's that a crisp, clean, good-looking heterosexual 42 year old male earning a terrific living has many more options than a 36 year old female with two kids and a part-time job as a computer programmer — and I don't care how good-looking she is.

So, like Odysseus lashed to the mast in order to resist the Sirens, Mark consented not to make the call. We didn't have a particularly productive meeting that evening, what with Mark's mind elsewhere. But at least he had the strength to keep from picking up the phone.

"Now swear to me," I said, as we headed for our respective homes, you're not going to call her until you hear from her first."

"I swear it," he promised me grimly.

The next morning he arrived at the office, all smiles. "Eric," he said, "you won't believe it. I stopped for a pizza on my way home and had a couple of beers, so I didn't get back to my place until around eleven. There were about a dozen messages on my answering machine, all from Liz, wondering why I didn't love her anymore. This is amazing."

All of a sudden Mark had religion. It was as if he understood, in one fell swoop, how completely he had ceded this woman all his power...and how absurd it had been of him to think that it ever was really hers. From that moment on he began exercising his power again, not in a crude or bullying way, but in a manner that made it unmistakably clear that it really was he who was in control, not Liz.

And when you know you're in control, that you're the boss, you certainly act in a different, more commanding way. Which is precisely what this book is all about.

I maintain that the man of today is every bit as much in the driver's seat in male/female relationships as the man of fifty years ago — simply because he is a man!

Mark's story, in many ways, is the genesis of this book. I believe too many men, perhaps brainwashed by the popular thinking of our time, have come to believe that old-fashioned masculine traits are no longer valid. It is my belief that these traits — strength, honor, bravery, inner toughness, a striving to be successful, accomplished, to live by a code, to avoid gossiping, whining, backbiting — are as appealing as ever, even more so. And I would also assert that women of today find them as attractive as ever, even more so, although few women will want to admit it.

The truth is, life hasn't really changed all that much at all. Women are still attracted to strong men making good livings. Women still want to quit their careers after their second kid is born to spend more time nurturing their families. Men still want to become presidents of companies and champions at whatever sports they compete in. Women still want to live in nice homes in good neighborhoods and to send their kids to good schools.

A single male is still viewed as a rogue bachelor. A single woman quickly is seen as a spinster.

I'm not saying any of this is good or bad. It just is. It's in our genes. And although society's norms ebb and flow, the basics remain. Women are drawn to strong, accomplished men who will help take care of them.

The upcoming passages you'll see here over the next weeks will be from my book, The Ironman, designed to help you become the kind of strong, accomplished man nature has always intended you to be. And to whom the women in your life will be drawn.

Happy New Year everyone.

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