It was a bit of a drive. As I got nearer to where I was going, the engine of my car began to vibrate. I almost hoped the engine would stop altogether. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to arrive at my destination.
When I arrived, I was late.
The opening ceremonies had begun. As I quietly joined the roomful of men, I was confronted by a costumed man performing some sort of ritual. He related that his name was “Bear Who Dreams Walking”, and he was using traditions borrowed from the Lakota Native American tribe to create a scared space for men to gather. I began to wonder if I was in the wrong place.
After the ceremony, the group moved into a large circle. It was explained that it was time for each man to have no more than three minutes to check-in. You knew it was your time to talk when the stop watch was passed to the man standing next to you. You could say anything you wanted to.
Men shared tragic events, epiphanies and everything in between. Many said they had been looking forward to the gathering. I had prepared a silly poem about how I had come to the gathering as an excuse to get out of mowing my lawn that weekend. I was glad when my three minutes were up.
The gathering leaders went over what few rules there were. No alcohol, no drugs, no weapons, no insults, no violence. Don’t give hugs without asking for permission first.
The group met over two nights at a youth camp ground with cabins. Some attendees had prepared workshops on a wide range of topics related to men’s issues. There was a coming together of men who wanted to sit around a campfire and recite poetry. It was called a meeting of the “Dead Poets Society,” but many of the poets were very much alive and gave voice to their own rhymes. There was a dance hour, a talent show, great food and a closing circle. I decided that keeping my penis and the rest of me covered up with clothing would be an additional rule for me.
I ended up attending this bi-annual gathering three times. I want to go back some day. I recited poetry, gave workshops, danced, beat on drums, did stand-up comedy in talent shows, checked in and checked out. I told my inner homophobe to relax. I became more appreciative of my heterosexuality and more appreciative of hugs from gay men.
I was introduced to a man who was known for his joy of hugging trees.
I had previously thought that “tree hugger” was just a label that capitalists used to dismiss those opposed to some project that would put another scar on the land. I didn’t know that they actually existed. What a feeling to hug a tree and feel its rootedness and it’s stretching toward the sun. I had never done that before.
In front of roaring fire, I pointed at a star in the sky and called out, “Twinkle, twinkle little star. how I wonder what you are.” I narrated that this was the first poem that I had for my two sons as they grew.
I did workshops on male sexuality.
I like how men can discuss the mystery of their sexual expression without women being present. Talk of reactions to first ejaculations, best sexual experiences ever, and sexual insecurities flowed.
I wasn’t comfortable at the start of these workshops, the men in attendance took care of that. I had one workshop though that almost went wrong. The topic was men fusing their capacities for sexual expression with their capacities for compassionate loving. My focus on this sublime talk was distracted by the fact that I had thought that it would be fine putting off my urge to take a crap until after the workshop. It was not fine.
As the workshop was winding down a hand of a man sitting at a distance shot sky word. “You mean to tell me that if I am getting off fucking a prostitute that there is something wrong with that?” I stammered and responded that it was not my intent to “should” on anybody and I respected where ever the men gathered there were on their journey to sexual fulfillment. That was the best response I could come up with because I really needed to take a shit.
My mind raced with ways to avoid an argument. The man stood silently for what seemed like an eternity and then said, “Are you talking about experiences like I’ve had jerking off into dessert canyons, where I just feel like I’m part of everything.”
“Yes man, that’s what we’re talking about.” I was relieved. The man smiled.
I decided that I wasn’t interested in attending the workshops where men could confront their hang-ups with their naked bodies. I did attend a workshop where men were asked to pick a body part that reminded them of their father. I chose my cheek, as I could remember the moment when I felt my father’s rough whiskers scratching my cheek as he turned away from my attempt to kiss him before I went to bed. I was about 4 years old. Too old for a boy to be doing that. It was okay for my sister, but not me. At the end of sharing our body part associations, the group leader asked us to pose as a composite man for a group photograph. The man who picked his penis at first thought that the picture was complete enough without him. Then he changed his mind, to the cheers of the men in the group.
I participated in several workshops on “Father Hunger.”
I cried because my Father was dead. I cried because I wished that my Father had an opportunity to come to a gathering like this. I cried for the men whose fathers were alive but might as well be dead. I cried for the men who were able to finally give and get the hug from their father that they had been long longing for.
I learned so much from men who were Gay about being a man. Many of these men knew a good deal about the struggles of heterosexual men, because they had tried so hard to believe that these were their struggles. I admired these men for their courage in becoming honest with themselves and then embracing their sexual identities.
I went into the sweat lodge and heard a man who said he had been going from men’s group to men’s group looking for ways to forgive himself for the suicides of his two sons.
I don’t have the words to describe what the sweat lodge heat did to my head. The part of my brain that thinks about the whys and wherefores of things just melted. I was left with raw emotion. My tears joined my gushing sweat. I have never felt as connected to the alienation of all men from each other. I have never felt a more secure shelter then the one formed by the tarps that formed the walls and ceiling of that lodge, surrounded by the odors of male hormones, sobs, moans and groans.
I never was much of a dancer. The idea of dancing with a room full of men, without a drop of alcohol, was surprisingly off putting. I loved it.
One of my favorite activities was the talent show.
The rules were simple. For the performers anything goes. For the audience, applause and appreciation for all who took the stage was mandatory.
It was the perfect room to do a stand-up comedy routine in. One of my jokes was inspired by the check-in circle. When a man told about some trouble he was going through sometimes such a report would be responded to by one or more men, uttering the syllable, “Ho.”
I didn’t get it at first, but came to realize it was a chorus of affirmation for a man able to share his hurt and vulnerability with other men for support. At this particular check-in a new attendee, laughed snidely and asked what was up with the “ho.” Another group member took umbrage and responded that this was a sacred sound for him, borrowed from Native American culture and he was highly offended by anyone who would dare to mock the expression. A group leader calmed things down in short order.
Later on the talent show stage I remarked how unfortunate it would be if a man new to the gathering thought that group members were saying, “ho” were using a slang term for a female prostitute and were suggesting to troubled men that they could be distracted from their woes by hiring one. I went on to relate that this may be the reason why Santa Claus his so jolly, “hoe, hoe, hoe.” I said that it must be nice for some of the men gathered there who identified as being bisexual to be able to experience, “hoe hoe, he, he, he, hoe, hoe, hoe, he, he.” It felt so good to have the room erupt into ho, ho, ho, he, he, ha, ha, ha’s. I don’t think that there is anything funny about prostitution. There is something wonderful about men having some respite from problems in living, by being surrounded by compassionate, affirming men.
After the first gathering I went to was over, I stopped at a convenience store for a snack and gasoline for the trip home. The person behind the cash register was a women. She was plainly dressed, middle age and a little over weight. She was neither overly friendly or distant. She was just female and it felt so strange to be taking care of business with her.
I never thought that I could get so immersed in the world of men that there would be a feeling of transitioning when rejoining the world wonderfully shared with women.
In these gatherings, I was exposed to men and their issues which were outside of my experience and understanding. I was surprised as to how well I could relate to each male situation described.
Welcome to the Men’s Group
In the hilarious and moving movie, Welcome to the Men’s Group, a monthly, ongoing men’s group is depicted. The depth and breadth of the triumphs and tragedies of masculinity, in all of their uniqueness and similarity, crammed into this video, felt very real.
The men in this movie are doing bad things to themselves and to others. They are shown as foolish buffoons and as non-violent warriors for noble causes. There are no good guys in this film, no bad guys, just men working on growing up and being fully grown.
I enjoyed the use of cave painting in Welcome to the Men’s Group. Cave paintings may be a record of men showing other men how to hunt, how to live and how to pray. This movie and The Good Men Project website I am writing this for, provides much greater details.
Men no longer need to brave cramped caverns to find their manhood. Instructions are a computer mouse click away. See, Welcome To The Men’s Group, when it is released. I encourage all men to be apart of this exploration as to what it means to be a man.
Go to The Good Men Project web site now. You won’t feel so alone.
The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up? Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here.
Photo: Getty Images