The Big Question

Earl Hipp

Earl Hipp had a nice life. He was happy, content and making a good living. Then an unexpected question from an unlikely source penetrated his heart and sent his life veering off into uncharted territory. Earl’s story was so compelling that I interviewed him and wrote it up.

Can you imagine your own life changing so quickly and so dramatically? Change is a demanding but well-intentioned teacher, for a life of comfort too often degenerates into stagnation and unfulfilled promise. In the deepest part of uncomfortable circumstances stands the gateway to self-awareness and personal power.

Here is Earl’s story.

With one request, a Sudanese refugee named Ojulu Agote changed the course of my life. As a volunteer for the sponsoring organization that brought Ojulu and his family to the U.S., I was meeting with him to help him settle in and get the things he needed to make it through a cold Minnesota February. Ojulu had experienced the horrors of tribal warfare and the abuses of a refugee life. He and his family were living in a cockroach infested one-bedroom apartment and were facing a mountain of practical needs. When I asked Ojulu how I might support him in his new world, he immediately responded, “I want you to teach my son how to be a man in your country.”

I was shocked by Ojulu’s request. He literally had nothing, yet at the top of his priority list was finding a male elder who could guide his six-year-old son toward manhood. He felt that if his son did not make a successful crossing into manhood, everything he had fought for in getting his family to this country could be lost. I don’t remember my exact reply, but I do remember feeling embarrassed, strangely inadequate and unsure about accepting the responsibility to mentor his son. I had no children myself and had never played an intentional mentoring role in any adolescent boy’s journey into manhood. Still, his words touched something deep within me.

For guidance on how to respond to Ojulu’s request, I began talking to my men friends and even started a research website to solicit stories and suggestions from men from around the world. I also began examining my own adolescence and unearthed old feelings of anger and sadness. I saw how desperately I had needed, wanted, and deserved the adult male involvement and support that was denied me. While I did well by societal standards as an author and conference presenter, I never felt I had acquired that mysterious collection of male skills, knowledge, clarity of life purpose, or the core confidence that makes up a realized, mature and upright man.

As I ripened to the idea of honoring Ojulu’s request, I realized that his question had started me on the path to becoming the man I wanted to be. That was twelve years ago. My journey of self-discovery has profoundly changed my life and touched many others. In 2004 I launched the Man-Making blog. In 2006 I published the book, Man-Making: Men Helping Boys on Their Journey to Manhood. I have repositioned my speaking, training and writing to be in the service of connecting good men with boys. Ultimately, Ojulu’s question, which emerged out of ancient tribal wisdom, marked the moment when I shifted my career goals from making money to making meaning.


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2 Responses to “The Big Question”

  1. Kerri (Knox) Luecke Says:

    Great piece on Earl Hipp Phil…ready for this? Ask Earl about working for Group Health’s MH Department. I worked at Group Health, (now known as Health Partners) back in 1983, I was very pregnant with Michael, Earl worked there by the Como Clinic. He was always such a kind and gentle soul. The world continues to shrink…miss you.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    A small world indeed, Kerri! Thanks for letting me know!

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