Jim Ellis and Dave Smith are recipients of the Rick Russell Memorial Membership Award for the year 2023. The Legacy Magazine came up with an intriguing angle on the story. How about if both men told “his story” about the pathway from a youngster to a man honored in his circle of men. Below is the story from Ellis, MDI member since 1998.
For over 10 years Jim Ellis has been the driving force behind our main public facing communications platform, The Legacy Magazine. What started as an “in-house” newsletter has grown and transformed into a professional online publication accessible to anyone. Published every month, Legacy Magazine contains relevant content, articles, and stories that share the work we do in MDI. Ellis has built a team of scouts to gather those stories and works tirelessly with his team to make sure Legacy Magazine is valuable and entertaining, reflecting our Mission and Vision. And it is on time! Ellis was able to join us virtually in Atlanta where he was the second of two men presented with the Rick Russell award. Again, the award speaks more to who and how the man is in MDI, versus his accomplishments. To be clear, Ellis has accomplished a lot, but he has also shown patience, commitment, creativity, accountability and service above and beyond Legacy Magazine. Ellis has given MDI a voice for the world.Ian Kennard
There was this kid.
Jimmy was his name. Still is I guess, on some level. Some deeper, foundational level forever shared by those who would call him by the name during his younger years. Yeah, that’s me: Jimmy, James, Jim. It’s been an evolution of sorts.
I grew up on Cambay Lane in Huntington Beach in a family of five – mom, dad, Mary Lynn, Kathy and me – and with a bunch of other kids destined to be part of this cast of characters who would “go outside and play” as my mother used to dictate. Hide and Seek, Red Light Green Light, Pickle, Kickball – you know all the games that have now been replaced by iPhones, Nintendos and PlayStations. Let’s see … we had the Lappins, the Ewalds, the Meades, the Fehners, the Woodcocks.
But none of the kids on the block were closer to me than my best friend Jamie Jordan. That’s him in the picture sitting on his heels with the one peace sign held over his head. That’s me standing right behind him in the light blue shirt.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Jamie was a lifeline to all things male. The friendship I had with him was my connection to what could be known as the “masculine principle.” Of course, I wouldn’t know that then. I was a kid.
Though we had our fights – the doozy after he spit water in my face on my porch was the worst – Jamie and I were mostly inseparable. We’d do stupid stuff like jump into mud puddles, light firecrackers too close to the wick, strand his mother’s car in the middle of the street after attempting to back it off the driveway / basketball court, put on theatrical skits for the neighborhood folks. We learned about life together. Somehow, with Jamie around, I knew I had a buddy, a partner, a comrade, and “a brother.” It’s what I needed when my family of mostly females couldn’t provide for me that unnamable spirit that only comes from males and from the outrageous adventure of being a boy.
With Jamie in my life, I could swiftly discard any lame slights or fights with a younger sister and pretty much blow past any toil or trouble in observing my father’s disregard or indifference.
Without Jamie … I didn’t know how it would be.
Sadly, I found out. Jamie Jordan and his family moved in the Summer of 1975 to Irvine. Though that’s only 15 miles or 25 minutes away, when you are 11 years old, it might as well have been the moon.
With the loss of my connection to Jamie, I didn’t seem to be able to replace that lifeline to masculine adventure and freedom. I felt I lost something that can’t be easily be approached. It was something beyond words.
A Young Man Lost
After 1975, it appeared my life sort of spiraled downwards. Perhaps that’s a function of teen years, acne, braces, really really bad haircuts, and the emerging challenge that was school, grades and the opposite gender.
Or maybe it was a function of facing all of those alone.
Yes, my father was physically there, and an amazing provider, doing all the right things that providers are designed to do. However, for whatever reason, there was not that bond that made life a fun and exciting adventure. There was the lack of it, which made the world scary, overwhelming, burdensome, and the terrifying unknown.
I made my way through school though – doing well with grades, moving along with this emptiness that told me I was on my own in facing all challenges. Isolated. I felt like I was dropped from the sky – a stranger in a strange land – trying to figure out life and the impossible quest of dating and mating.
I was definitely a late bloomer.
After journalism school at Long Beach State, where I found my first love Kelle, I would move away to San Diego and away from everything I knew. Here I was guided into a spiritual program designed to heal unresolved emotions and belief systems from the past. Here I faced and transformed much of my childhood fears and pain into opportunities for growth. Here I cleansed my soul.
However there was still a missing piece. I dealt with the past of a wounded boy. But what about the present of a real-life man? For so long engulfed in the feminine environment of inner discovery and emotional healing, I had forgotten completely about the other half of the gender equation. What about males? Well yeah – what about ’em? I would think to myself, “Men are nothing; so one-dimensional, so closed off. Men are boring!” But wait a minute – if I am a man, and I think nothing of men, then ….
Yeah, something definitely was missing here.
It was probably no coincidence that every one of my intimate relationships ended in some sort of heartbreak. My heartbreak. I learned how to deal with emotional pain. But could I stop creating it?
The most devastating pain I experienced came after a breakup with Kris in late 1994, as we parted only four months after moving in together in a small home in Ocean Beach.
How could a breakup bring such a torture that I couldn’t shake?
It was a mystery. The loss and the pain was unbearable. It felt like I had lost something so valuable to me. It was something I couldn’t name. It went beyond words.
Adulthood – A Way Back
Lugging around such a heavy heart after Kris’ leaving, I knew I could dissolve the pain, but I had to also find the cause of the pain so this would not happen again.
The journey back included me taking a second look at this concept of “what it means to be a man,” and what would come to be known as “the man I want to be.”
My first search for a “men’s group” was unfruitful. One was closed to members only. Another was not returning my calls. And a third was available at my “feminized” church at the time … but it was being facilitated by a woman.
Finally in late 1997, a man from my healing group said he had a men’s team from which I could find much benefit. I asked no questions except for “when and where?” Instantly at that first meeting – from the setting of high standards to the in-your-face tough love to the outrageous game of “feet charades” – I knew I had found something I had lost before.
That first team meeting led to a Sterling Men’s Weekend in November 1997, where I sat dumbfounded at my own dumbness in not realizing or acting on what I actually already knew deep down.
- With the turning away from my dad, I had lost my identity as a son honoring a father.
- With the loss of Jamie, I had lost “my boys.”
- With the experience with Kris and other painful relationships … I had lost myself.
I had lost myself.
Getting myself back looked like a ton of menswork – leadership on men’s team, acting as S1 at the division and international levels, point man leading new men, Division Coordinator in San Diego, Shaman at a Legacy Discovery, guiding Facebook guests as an Online Introductory Program leader, and communicating all this great shit as an editor of MDI’s online Legacy Magazine.
Along the way I learned about identifying, maintaining and standing up for my terms as a man … so I wouldn’t break my spirit as a man ever again.
It’s been a great ride, one I now share with my wife Jennifer, as I live the life I’ve wanted – as a creative writer, journalist, and filmmaker.
The cherry on top came in January when MDI President Ian Kennard invited me to present an update about the Legacy Magazine to the leaders gathered at the Internationals meeting in Atlanta. I would join them on Zoom. Though I figured something was up (maybe a “Starbucks $10 Thank You Card” or the like), I was ready with an update. As I started to provide my presentation, I was interrupted by Kennard. Oh here comes the Starbucks card, I thought.
No. It wasn’t that.
As soon as he said the word “Rick Russell” I was taken aback. Literally, I think I fell towards my left.
I couldn’t believe that this honor would come my way. Receiving it was doing more than honoring the work I had done over the years. It was erasing years of feeling invisible as a child. It was a reunion with my father whom I thought always neglected me. It was the obliteration of the narrative I had been writing in the back of my head as an overlooked, not-that-important creative person. It was raising up the boy who once believed he was meaningless.
At first, when Kennard spoke, I was speechless. Like any time my mind is blown, I didn’t have any words to say.
I did accept the acknowledgement, humbly I hope, thanking those who contributed to the magazine and to my growth.
In hindsight, I imagine I can give thanks for everything I’ve been through this go-around in life. The losses, the wins, the ups and downs, Kelle and Kris, the pain and the wounds, the comeback through emotional healing, the discovery of a men’s weekend and a men’s circle, and all those places in-between.
And about the award?
I’ll say it’s an award that belongs to the timeless masculine. It belongs to “Jimmy” and Jamie and all the games on the front lawn of Cambay Lane. It’s an honor that belongs to everyone who has helped shape this world of mine … in a mysterious and wondrous place … beyond words.