Daily Archives: July 24, 2005

A meeting of men

A friend of mine suggested the other day that I write about the men’s
group I’m in. “Women would like to know something like that is going
on,” she said. Another woman friend put it more bluntly: “It gives
women hope.”

The group has been meeting every Thursday evening at a church in
suburban Atlanta for the past eight years. Our focus is personal and
spiritual growth, but we are not a Bible study group, nor are we
governed by church doctrine. (It helps that the church where we meet is
a Unity church, an institution that goes light on dogma and ritual.)
Also, we do not beat on drums – although we haves a majestic council
drum acquired by one of our members in New Mexico — we do not paint
our bodies, dance around fires, invoke Robert Bly or restrict ourselves
to “men’s issues.”

Rather, we gather to sort out the complexities of everyday life and
regain our focus as husbands and lovers, fathers and sons, brothers,
colleagues, sinners…men. Our role models, of course, were our fathers,
most of whom grew up in the John Wayne generation. Men who, for the
most part, didn’t talk about their feelings, were not openly
affectionate and grew up in a world governed by a paradigm that was
hierarchical, male-dominated, competitive, defensive and grounded in
fear.

What we’re doing is not criticism of our fathers – they did the best
they could – so much as it is learning from their mistakes and building
on the good things they gave us.

We have had close to 75 men attend at one time or another over the
years. Some came once and never returned. Some stayed a month, six
months, a year, and moved on. Some came when things were good and left
when they went bad. Others came when things were bad and left when it
was good again – the former usually coinciding with losing a woman and
the latter when finding another.

A few times the group was so large – 22 on one occasion – that we
divided it in two. We have a core of about a dozen men, and average
seven to nine per meeting, a size that encourages openness and
intimacy. Our youngest member is 38; the oldest is 76 (and recently
re-married), and we get occasional cameo vists from a vigorous chap of
89.

We have two rules. One: what is said there stays there. This is
essential when asking men to forego a lifetime of programming, drop
their armor and speak from the heart. Even at that, it’s not easy. Most
of us spend a lot of meetings snorkeling – paddling around on the
surface, getting our faces wet but unwilling to go deep. But the months
and years of shared history – not just at meetings, but at coffee or
dinner, at golf or a party, at weddings and funerals – have created a
feeling that the Hawaiians call ohana…family.

In that setting there is understanding, compassion, acceptance, a sense
of belonging and security that is hard to find anywhere else.

The other rule is that we speak from experience. No opinions, no
advice, no stories. Everyone has opinions and advice, but what carries
real weight is the experience of someone who’s been there. On one
occasion, one of the guys had tears in his eyes as he described his
difficulties with relationships. As most women know, when there’s a
problem, men think they’re supposed to fix it. But often all a woman
wants is to be heard.

Nobody tried to fix the problem that night. Instead, each man – there
were nine or ten – spoke about his own experience with relationships,
and the effect was remarkable.
It was as if each contributed a piece to a puzzle, and when the meeting
was over the puzzle was complete – a mosaic that left our friend
glowing with astonishment.

Rubbing his forehead, he said, “That was amazing!”

One of the keys to the group’s longevity has been keeping it from being
hijacked by those (there have been a few) who tried to reshape the
group to fit their own agenda. Great things happen sometimes, but we
are not a therapy group.
Ultimately, what we’re doing is redefining, in a spiritual context,
what it means to be a man. This being the 21st century, that’s not such
a bad thing. It’s about time for a paradigm based on cooperation,
equality, truth, understanding and love.

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