This article by Earl Hipp was previously published on the Man-Making Blog, and is reprinted here with permission.
We all know boys need good men in their lives, but where is the “good men” factory, and what does that have to do with fishing for Walleyes?
In my home state of Minnesota, Walleye and Northern Pike fishing opener is May 12th, and it always has the ‘land of 10,000 lakes’ gearing up for the event. That’s why when a Man-Making Blog reader, Kai B., pointed me to an article in the local StarTribune newspaper’s online edition, about a group of men friends going fishing, it really caught my attention. It’s a story about “reel” friends, men who started fishing together as teens and who are still going at it fifty-five years later.
The article describes some tall fish tales, stupid teen stories from the men’s early years, and lots of very funny things that happened along the way. But these guys also have grown up together, evolved through normal men’s lives of profession, marriages, and kids. They’ve even lost some of the original crew and supported each other through the death and dying of their friends. Through it all, they have become profoundly close.
At its heart, this fishing story is really a tale of how, through their shared activities, common guy humor, and the life challenges they have faced together, they have come to love, trust, and depend on each other. You could think of the hanging out together, the time sitting side-by-side in the boat and talking, playing cards, laughing at each other’s jokes, and facing difficulties together, as a kind of factory that makes good men better.
Without question, I can say my masculinity has been shaped in a similar guy factory and that my life is also anchored by good men. There have been lots of men with whom I’ve shared outdoor adventures, had lots of laughs, and spent comfortable hang time together. There have also been many men, who have sat across a circle from me in different men’s groups, and who are able to hang in there for each other when hard times need to be faced, or in those moments when deep and personal truths need to be shared. They have been the kind of men who can listen big by letting me talk till I can unwind myself, not judge me, and not try to fix me when I’m done. They are the men who accept me, in spite of my quirks, and love me anyway. I’m blessed and kept sane by these gloriously imperfect “brothers.” They are men I’ve come to really know, trust, and love. Without any doubt, in their company, through their example, and from their stories, I’ve been made into a better man.
Without any doubt,
in their company, through their example, and from their stories,
I’ve been made into a better man.
It wasn’t always that way. I spent the first thirty-five years of my life as “human tumbleweed.” I was a guy who was smart, fun, creative, even engaging, but a man with little emotional vocabulary, limited capacity for real intimacy, and a distinct aversion to personal vulnerability. I was, in truth, a man who kept up the shield of, “I’m doing great,” and was a master of small talk, from the scores of the latest sports game, brands of beer, the latest jokes, and yes, even the weather. I wasn’t rooted in any community, my relationship life with women was a disaster, and in those early years, I wouldn’t have been able to even tell you what it meant to have real men friends. I was a guy who had a thousand connections to people, all an inch deep. I was surrounded by people, but behind my facade my truth was I felt lonely, defective, and disconnected.
As the result of some relationship-oriented therapy, I was referred to my first men’s group. The experience of being in that first male circle, without question, began the search to find “me,” my manhood, and my male community. In men’s circles, I have found solid masculine ground to stand on, and a core of self-love and self-respect that helps me to be a real friend, loving husband, and contributing member of my community.
Men need other men as dependable companions, sounding boards, playmates, co-adventurers, and supportive allies. That’s why the fishing story about “reel” friends touched me so deeply. When these men got started as a pack, they were just teen boys fooling around. To be sure, fifty-five years ago the idea of a men’s group wasn’t what they had in mind, nor was the notion of a men’s group even in the public imagination. Today, men’s groups are getting easier to find. They may become more important for men as the challenges facing men, young males, and our communities are becoming more complicated.
—-Photo credit: Mykl Roventine/Flickr