“Guys need to be able to get together, take our armor off, put salve on our wounds, and then put our armor back on to do what [society] wants us to do to take care of our families,” shared Nat Turner, 60 of Ellicott City, MD.
He was speaking with two other men he’d never met in front of a live national audience at the invitation of his daughter Briscoe.
The three men opened up about their relationship struggles, challenging family histories, and shared longing for authentic connection with other men in their lives.
But this wasn’t a conversation on male vulnerability or even a program on redefining masculinity in the 21st century.
This was a Living Room Conversation.
Briscoe Turner, 22 a University of Maryland student and member of Living Room Conversation’s Youth Council, co-hosted this live conversation with Becca Kearl, of Utah, managing partner at the organization. The event was designed to encourage connection across generations during a holiday season hamstrung by COVID.
Three father – daughter pairs came together for a virtual conversation using Living Room Conversation’s Good Questions for Great Gatherings: Connecting Across Generations holiday resource. Each family selected one question from the guide to pose to the group.
Brialle Ringer, 26, of Atlanta, responded to the first question, “what’s been your experience with forgiveness? Who have you forgiven and why?” She told a story about confronting, and ultimately forgiving, a young man who sexually assaulted her in high school, immediately cranking up the voltage of the conversation.
By taking agency and confronting her assaulter, Brialle created the conditions to heal her trauma. No longer a victim, she became the hero in her story.
Yet for every brave woman emboldened to share her survival story in this #MeToo era, there’s a father stomaching a hidden heartbreak. For every daughter assaulted in the bedroom or the boardroom, a father is reckoning with a culture labeling him a failure for not protecting his child.
Brialle’s dad Gary Ringer, 45, of Detroit, trying to forgive in the face of his powerlessness, the path forward is murkier.
“I’ve just recently gotten to the point where I could listen to [Brialle’s story] out loud without getting infuriated,” Gary admitted. “I appreciate Bri for providing me with the courage to address my own moments of trauma and begin to forgive others.”
Men offering exquisite care
The other fathers in the conversation honored Brialle’s courage, then quickly turned to Gary.
“I can’t even imagine what that was like for [Gary] to go through that, and still go through it,” Bill Lawler of Utah began. Nat echoed him, “as a Dad, I appreciate the calmness you sit with now, Gary, and imagine what it took to get there.”
Soon the two fathers moved beyond empathy to acknowledge their own struggles with forgiveness.
Bill described how hard it was to forgive his mother who abandoned them when he was just five years old.
Nat shared his disappointment in his oldest brother who often shirked family responsibilities. “When our sister was dying, my brother showed up for her. He said, ‘I’m standing in for you, Nat.’ I said ‘No, I’ve been standing in for you all these years.’ We both cried. I felt free and light.”
The three men formed a web of solidarity through their storytelling. They didn’t try to fix or save. Just by sharing burdens, they lightened each other’s loads.
This conversation highlighted what exquisite care men can offer each other.
Bringing intimacy into public life
Living Room Conversations are designed to create conditions for our caring instincts to emerge. A formalized structure with searching questions, a warm invitation from someone you know, and conversation agreements that provide guard rails all set the stage for deep sharing. By starting with such a vulnerable story, Brialle, too, helped invite responses in kind.
But the fathers acknowledge that bringing more intimacy into public life is challenging. These muscles must be continually strengthened through the practice of conversation, and that’s not something any of us can do alone.
As a Black man, Gary says his world is “hyper-masculine.” Conversations like this, and groups like the B.O.M.B Squad (short for Bringing Our Men Back) in Detroit, help him “rebuke those old social norms and live a more authentic life.”
Meanwhile, this conversation highlighted for Bill that he’s missing deeper connections with other men. “I play ball with men, but we don’t talk about real stuff. I am going to seek out places I can dive deeper. I want to meaningfully communicate with men to support each other. That wasn’t even on my radar before this conversation.”
Surprising impact for conversation viewers and participants
There are unexcepted ripples from these conversations. After listening to her dad, Becca was prompted to check in with her husband about his needs. “I asked whether he also felt a need to be in conversation with other men, and how I could support that.”
Brialle felt inspired to change the narrative for her family’s next generation of men. “I’m eager to find ways to bring these opportunities for authentic sharing and listening to our larger family gathers, [to benefit] my little brother Gavyn who’s 9 years old.”
With more than 90 comments on the Facebook feed alone, the impact of this conversation, which can be viewed here, wasn’t limited to the participants. Viewer Beth Raps commented, “Wow, Gary’s statement describes my father, ‘physically present, emotionally absent.’ There are so many benefits to this conversation for [us] listeners.”
“I love all the honesty and vulnerability as well as the mutual respect,” echoed viewer Esther Zanovitch. “This has been a truly beautiful and inspirational experience,” added Nicole Dolan. “Thank you all for sharing from your hearts.”
Our ability to meaningfully connect across generations, race, or most any substantial difference has atrophied. And not just for men.
So much in our common lives has grown parched and brittle. But this moment of reckoning offers us an unprecedented opportunity. Structured conversation brings the intimacy and care we long for back into the public square and helps us reimagine a future alive with possibility.