These filmmakers offer two emerging and inspiring models of fatherhood along with insights into modern masculinity.
Scott Ben-Yashar and Joseph Culp, co-writers and producers of the upcoming film Welcome to the Men’s Group, see a new “father story” beginning to emerge.
In this film, loosely based on their own experiences with men’s groups and offering a window of vulnerability into the fears and dreams, both ancient and modern, that men deal with—often in isolated silence—has themes of father stories, father wounds, and growth and healing woven all through it.
These stories and themes create the framework for a new father archetype—one that these two men have explored within their own lives as well as in their art.
Kent Sanders, editor for The Good Men Project, and I had the opportunity to speak with Scott and Joseph at length about Welcome to the Men’s Group and what they set out to accomplish when they wrote the story and brought it to life.
Joseph Culp (Mad Men) not only helped to craft the story and produce the film, but also directed and plays the part of Michael. When I bring up the father archetypes referenced in the move he goes back to what his character says when he suggests that the men explore their father wounds, “Listen, our fathers were not bad men. But all of us carry these wounds to some degree.”
The Michael character tells the ancient stories of Ouranos and Kronos, the archetypes for the father who is always absent and unavailable and the father who seeks to belittle, confine, and limit his children. An animated sequence of the mythical characters plays out over the men’s unfolding realizations of their own wounding—growing up with fathers who were never present or fathers who were overbearing.
I asked Joseph and Scott why they chose these two archetypes of fatherhood and what they might consider to be a more positive, modern archetype that fathers could aspire to today.
Says Joseph, “Why did we choose to show these not so positive archetypes of fathers? It’s about male wounding. The wound that a father gives his son in particular. It’s not about positive or negative image of a man. It’s about ‘wounding happens.’ It’s a fact. Some say there is no way to have an initiation into manhood without a wound. Which is to say that life is painful, and you have to work to avoid that pain or deal with it.”
Scott had another layer to add to that. There are two positive archetypes, he says, that a father can choose. One is the man who can be “both mother and father. Who can be the strong initiator into manhood but who can also acknowledge the power of women, of the feminine, of showing emotion.”
That archetype was the one Scott feels he was fortunate enough to grow up with, and while he knows it wasn’t, and isn’t, common in his generation, it was a positive influence in his life.
The other archetype is one he is himself working to create for his own children, that of a father who is present. Traditionally men have gone to the factory, the field, the office, because they had to work to provide for the family. So they were not there for their children because they didn’t have the time or the financial flexibility to do so. There is now a movement, they point out, where men are saying, “I want to spend more time at home to be with my kids doing activities with them.”
These two archetypes—the ever present, involved father and the father who can embrace the feminine, are not yet fully accepted. Men have challenges and conflicts about stepping into these roles, but they are accessible to the modern man.
Brilliantly, the character who illustrates this new archetype is also new to the group. The character, Tom, has somewhat skeptically accompanied Michael’s character to the group meeting, but he clearly plans to be the observer rather than the participant. As he gradually, and sometimes grudgingly, opens up, we find that Tom has consented to be a full time father as his wife’s earning power at this time is greater than his own. He recounts his challenges—both the internal doubts and resentments and the external pressures and prodding he gets from mothers on the playground as well as his peers. It is, as Joseph says to us, a “changing landscape” and they’ve used the character of Tom to introduce it and explore the other men’s reaction both to his role as the full-time parent and to his own conflicts about that role.
The film doesn’t shy away from any of the fatherhood themes—from extra-macho Eddie who has just learned he is to be a father and is both terrified and resentful of the expectations now put on him as a man, to Larry whose gorgeous young daughter has reached the age of consent and who is now resigning himself to the realization that he can no longer control or protect her.
Looping back to Tom and his conflicts over being the non-breadwinner in the family is the theme of father as provider. Larry, the character who hosts the men’s group, has a new home—just short of opulent—that we learn he is able to afford only because of fraudulent SEC filings. Carl, who is a serial failure as a schemer and entrepreneur, is ridiculed for not only failing to provide for his family but for “borrowing” heavily from his wife and her family.
The pressure to provide is, Scott and Joseph agree, at the heart of the greatest fear men face today—the fear of not being able to provide for themselves and their family.
“A real man,” Scott says, “makes a regular income, a weekly income, a monthly income … A man’s one job, for thousands of years, has been to provide for his family.” There is a kind of insanity, both he and Joseph believe, that is pointed out in our current economic model. And that insanity is felt deeply by men, who as fathers have been conditioned to believe that their value is rooted in their ability to provide.
That is explored too in the luxurious setting of the movie, a home that belongs to the character of Larry who is risking not only his company and financial security, but his very freedom, by doing something that is illegal in order to provide the home in which he hosts this men’s group. It’s a temptation inherent in the cultural pressure to provide not only the basic life requirements but status and luxuries as well.
All of these characters and plot lines highlight the point that Scott and Joseph share during our interview, that every generation of men has had to pass this initiation, to choose to hide or heal the wounds, to become their father or to evolve beyond what their own father could imagine. “Because of course we are trying to evolve, it’s on us to evolve further.”
Men put so much into differentiating from their fathers, partly out of the fear of becoming exactly what they didn’t want to be. But maybe, Joseph and Scott suggest, one of the bravest things men can do is to embrace how like their fathers they really are even as they evolve into a better version of fatherhood.
“These are the questions that this community of men is acting out,” says Joseph. “How much different than my father must I be to be a good father?” and “Is it OK for me not to work, but to provide for my family in a different way?” And deeper questions like, “Can we talk honestly? Can we help each other spiritually solve problems? Can we be encouraged to be more of who we really are?
“Let’s face it,” he goes on, “men are frightened. We’ve never been trained to talk about our fear. We’ve been trained to ignore it. But to the extent that we ignore our fear, that we pretend it isn’t there, is the extent to which we act it out in possibly negative ways.”
To overcome those fears, to embody a new paradigm of masculinity, and to fully birth a new archetype of fatherhood into the world, will require community. And it’s this kind of community that this film explores and illustrates so beautifully—men who are afraid, but who are going there anyway.
The Good Men Project will be hosting an exclusive Panel Discussion with the writers and producers of Welcome to the Men’s Group. For updates and an invitation to the online event please register below.
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