Susan’s Musings: Alpha


My friend Lisa writes a lot about alpha males. And my friend Robin wrote a quickie for Ellora’s Cave about a very dominant man. So much so that when his woman would make a comment he didn’t like, he’d snap into their games and bring her behavior into line.

For a few weeks after I read and loved Robin’s quickie, I kept thinking about the way her male lead dominates the narrator. It’s constant. It bothers me; in my brain, it borders on abuse. It’s so foreign to anything I’ve ever experienced.

Or so I thought.

I’m a mom; most of you know that. While I refuse to be one of those moms who runs her kids from activity to activity with nary a second of free play, the kids do have their things. One of them is the place in which I met Alpha.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I refuse to say a single bad thing about Alpha. I like Alpha, and I was looking forward to getting to know him. On the surface, he’s a quiet, reserved guy, but underneath, he’s got his mischevious streak — evidenced on the day he nailed the Tour Manager with a water balloon — yeah. There. I’m not sure which of the two of us laughed harder, me or Alpha. Definitely not my poor Tour Manager.

Many of you know that I took five days at the end of July and headed off to Cub Scout Camp. It rained four of the five nights, including one really evil thunderstorm that had some of the pack parents convinced that lightning had struck the flagpole outside their tents. It was a hell of an experience for me and my son; we both came back changed.

I knew that camp had had a profound impact on me when Alpha made a rule for the upcoming year’s activities. Some of the parents protested this new rule because it would exclude them from activities, and that upset me. I’d gotten to know these particular parents over the past year. I like them. My son likes their kids. There’s no reason to exclude anyone, especially from a group that you join to be included in.

I might not have spoken up before camp; this rule didn’t affect me in the least. I was quite happy to live by it. Except that it meant that people I like couldn’t be there, and that bugged me.

Well, this is where I underestimated how alpha this man is. Not only did he get upset that we discussed the issue over e-mail instead of calling him, after a few days worth of phone calls and e-mails among his higher-ups, him, us, and the affected families, the dust settled. We “troublemakers” were thrown out of the group and would be founding a parallel one.

Which is fine; I’m looking forward to that. What hurt was when Alpha told the Tour Manager, who has a rare skill for diplomacy in the sticky situations his wife drags him into, even willingly, that Alpha wished we hadn’t spoken up in support of changing this rule. He liked us, loves our kid, sees a lot of potential in my child but because we’d spoken up in support of our fellow families, we were excommunicated. Just for speaking up.

It reminds me of something you’d see on Wild Kingdom. Except we weren’t trying to challenge Alpha’s leadership. We weren’t trying to change the way the group is run. We just wanted to see others have the same chances we were going to have. After all, why be part of something if you’re going to turn around and realize you’re not welcome there?

There is a part of Judaism that calls on us Jews to perform acts of Tikkun Olam — to heal the world. The Tour Manager and I stood up for what we believed was an injustice. We agonized for days over what to do about this situation; what was best for our son?

In the end, with the declaration of the parallel group, it seems to have worked out. That doesn’t mean that from start to finish, people weren’t hurt. Meeting the families involved in the original group will be awkward at best. I wouldn’t be surprised if some encounters are hostile.

Yet I wonder. Did we do more harm than good by speaking up? I suppose that it’s better that this happened now, rather than later, when we were more emotionally involved with the group and Alpha as our leader. And there’s that quote by Dr. Martin Luther King about why we need to stand up when we see an injustice — and this was clearly that.

But still. How can the world heal when the attempt to do so brings so much pain for so many involved? Didn’t we make things worse in our attempt to make them better? And how do you judge that sort of thing, anyway?

I wrestled with this until last night. We took the kids to Temple for Friday night services. And as I was flipping through the prayerbook as we sang — and sang! Oh, it was wonderful — my eye caught one of those little boxes with a meditation inside. I was going to borrow the prayer book so I could repeat it here, but it said something to the effect of: In order to make something new, you have to tear down the old and sew the pieces into something new. That pain is part of the process.

I suspect I’ll always be sad about the way things unfolded. I don’t like ugly endings, and this is probably one of them. But on the other hand, I got a look into what the Tour Manager calls a true Alpha male, someone who will not be challenged by anyone. Ever.

Maybe one day, an Alpha of this type will show up in my fiction. Or maybe, this is just one of those things that I’ll simply chalk up to experience and count it among my acts of Tikkun Olam.



  1. Breeni

    September 8, 2007 10:26 am

    I would imagine this alpha is going to experience a lot of hardship and difficulty along the way due to his stubborness. It’s a shame the things he won’t experience because of his principles. You did the right thing, even if he will never realize it. And your lives will be richer for it.

  2. Susan Helene Gottfried

    September 8, 2007 12:29 pm

    Hope so — the latter part, anyway. I’m excited about what lies ahead for our small little group.

  3. Reflekshins

    September 8, 2007 2:17 pm

    I’m Zeta.BR/BR/Don’t ask me what that is but I like the Greek alpabet — it rolls off the tongue.BR/BR/I’m a big fan of healing the worldBR/BR/michele sent me — enjoyed the post — it reminded me of the lion who chases the other lions away from a carcass. I never would have guessed that I’d ever use the word carcass on the internet

  4. Carmi

    September 8, 2007 3:41 pm

    Beautifully put, Susan. As one who subscribes to tikkun olam in all its myriad facets, I believe that an effort stymied is preferable to an effort not made. Even if Alpha and his ilk prevail 999 times out of 1,000, we still have the satisfaction of knowing that we prevailed in repairing the world just that one time.BR/BR/Which is a better record than we would have had had we not challenged – and failed – so often.BR/BR/Worth the effort, no doubt. It’s how I sleep at night.BR/BR/Michele sent me to wish you a wonderful Shabbat (never mind that I’m using my laptop now, shhhh.)

  5. Jill

    September 8, 2007 7:24 pm

    I hate people who cannot be chalenge and won’t even consider the opinion or the way of another!!BR/It probably would be better on a long run Susan!

  6. cheesygiraffe

    September 9, 2007 12:49 am

    sigh Sorry to hear it happened like that Susan. Maybe something better will come out of all of this.

  7. Bob-kat

    September 9, 2007 1:51 am

    I suspect that ‘Alpha’ saw it as a challenge to his leadership even though it was not meant as one. I suspect he is either a total control freak or that he is so insecure he can’t bare anyone to take a counter stance to himself.BR/BR/Pain is indeed part of the process as I have been learning all to much this year. I find the words you wrote from the prayer book comforting so thank you for that. Good luck with your group and thanks for your lovely words on my blog.

  8. Camille Alexa

    September 9, 2007 1:58 am

    Susan,BR/I loved this rare glimpse into the parts of you that make up all the other parts of you. I have no idea or opinion about the event, but I’m so glad you shared your experience.

  9. spyscribbler

    September 9, 2007 8:31 am

    Sounds like my kind of quickie! :-)BR/BR/I have really been wrestling with this sort of thing, the past few weeks (had to blog about it, LOL). It’s hard when your own principles ask you to do something you really don’t want to do.

  10. November Rain

    September 9, 2007 8:51 am

    I had what we call a redneck which is a special type of Alpha and divorced himBR/BR/My fire is balanced, he has a equal masculine side with his feminineBR/BR/neither of us dominates as a result my relationship is perfect harmony most the timeBR/and never abusiveBR/BR/Sadly in the south women think that men have to be this dominating abusive thingBR/BR/I am glad I broke the mold and came to EuroBR/BR/because men don’t have to be bullies or abusive or controllingBR/sadly women teach thier sons to be just that *sighs*BR/BR/michelle sent me this morn

  11. November Rain

    September 9, 2007 9:11 am

    to answer your.. yes…BR/BR/I designed the character of Danny to be like my father Stern but not abusive (to me and my siblings) but he was semi abusive to my mother and had to go through some helpBR/BR/I ended up with an abusive man and I saw sever abuse from family and friends I have combined these experiences to use with what Donna will have to faceBR/BR/BR/and your right I should correct that and say that some mothers are trying to teach their sons to be better (I am I know but my ex has too much influence)BR/BR/BR/thanks for coming by I will be adding you to my blogroll 🙂

  12. Terra Kent

    September 9, 2007 10:28 am

    This alpha male is too alpha sounding for my liking and usually they are the ones who get the rude awakenings, I hope things will be better now though

  13. rhet

    September 9, 2007 10:50 am

    Are you aware that the Boy Scout movement was founded by a known anti-semite and perpetrator of genocide in the Boer War?BR/BR/Alpha, as you call him, is no Alpha male, but a weak bully overcompensating for his self loathing.

  14. Susan Helene Gottfried

    September 9, 2007 10:53 am

    Yeah, Rhet, I am aware of the history of the Scouts. But it’s such a good program and so much fun. My son’s den has really cool stuff planned for this year. BR/BR/I figure the best way to counteract the history of the founder is to make sure that his hatred is buried under the simple fact that Jews are good people, too. Tikkun Olam, you know.

  15. rhet

    September 9, 2007 1:04 pm

    You are right.BR/Forgive but do not forget.

  16. Amy Ruttan

    September 9, 2007 9:13 pm

    You did the right thing. And bravo for Tour Manager. I am so sorry about the ugly endings. I hate them too.

  17. Nancy

    September 10, 2007 7:23 am

    Good for you for standing up. I know how hard that is and have a hard time doing it. But, you taught your kids an amazing lesson and the next time you or they have to do it, it will be easier. They high road, the right way is never ever the easy way. But, the lessons learned and who you become are all worth it.

  18. carli

    September 12, 2007 7:54 am

    It sounds like despite this control freak’s inability to get along with other adults, at least the kids won’t suffer too much. That’s what’s really important in the end. You are woman: hear you roar! BR/Michele sent me.

  19. Dewey

    September 15, 2007 9:24 pm

    SO HAPPY to hear you don’t do that crazy over-scheduling of your kids which so unfortunately seems to be a huge parent fad these days. I swear my kid has some friends who can NEVER just hang out with him, because they have lessons, games, practices, camp, recitals etc. every hour of every day. When do they get to daydream and imagine and play and read?

  20. Marcia (MeeAugraphie)

    September 29, 2007 12:31 pm

    If we allow an alpha to always go unchallenged he becomes a dictator, empowered by our silence… It is you who are stronger that helps the rest of us who have been quiet… It may be “just” Scouts and not a country, but these kids will grow up to be leaders…. Thanks for starting the dialogue.

  21. Susan Helene Gottfried

    September 29, 2007 12:37 pm

    I’m intrigued by the fact that my experience at Scout Camp has brought so many of you to the conclusion that I encountered Alpha through Scouts. I may have — but then again, I may NOT have. I’d really rather not say. BR/BR/Whether or not that’s where we met, I think that Scouts has had as much of an impact on me as it has on my son. We’re both better people for being involved with them.BR/BR/Hopefully the next time we run into an Alpha like this man, we’ll be better equipped to deal with him.

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