For the past 14 years, I have had the joy and honour of facilitating a men’s support group for JACS. Thousands of hours with men discussing their successes, failures, celebrations, mourning, what it’s like to be a son, sibling, spouse, father to issues such as sexuality, work, addiction, anxiety, business, relationships, business, hobbies and more.
What a men’s group means to me
The focus of the men’s group is to give men a forum to explore the idea of learning how to excel at “Living life on life’s terms”. In addition, the Men’s Support Group is a place where thoughtful crosstalk and sharing is encouraged.
Some of the men struggle with or have in the past struggled with addiction issues ranging from alcoholism, cannabis, hard drugs, gambling, pornography, sex and food (to name a few). There’s practically no topic off limits – except politics. In addition, we talk about ourselves as in, “I have found that doing…. helpful.” rather than, “You should do this.” I believe that over the years everyone who has joined the group has said at one point or another that they’ve rarely been so honest about who they are with others.
I could wax poetically about the men in the group and the courage, honesty, open mindedness, and willingness to change that they bring to the group or eventually develop within the group. Some people come for a few months and then move on while others have made the support group a weekly fixture in their life. Some men come every day, some have arranged their lunch hour to attend the group while others are satisfied with coming once or twice a week. Everyone is always welcome however they choose to attend.
One of the barometers of success for individuals in the group is how they learn to be honest with themselves and others and learn to trust each other. We are all aware how difficult in the beginning trust is to develop. The fear of rejection, failure, feeling out of control and being judged are pretty universal. Every man will at one point, or another have to face these fears. Everyone takes change at their own pace, and no one is ever judged for the mask they might be wearing in the group to protect themselves.
I am the facilitator of the group; I also share my experiences, strengths, and hopes with the men. One of the stories I tell them early on is about developing trust.
My experience with father figures
When I was 11 years old my mother asked my father to leave our home. My father, which if you stick around the group long enough, you’ll hear more about, decided not just to leave the house but to move to Germany where he found a job teaching English literature and language.
At some point when I was around 13 years old, I decided I needed a male role model. The first man I chose, without telling him, was a family friend named Jim. At some point, Jim did something that I judged negatively, although I have no recollection of what it was, it was good enough reason for me to fire him from the role he never knew he had. The next man I chose for the job was named Jan again after a few months he did something I didn’t like and so I fired him too. The next man was named Carl, – you can figure out what happened next. After I had fired four or five men, I reflected upon this system I had attempted to set up for myself. I thought either all men are jerks or there’s something wrong with me. While I had no answer at the time to my question it stayed with me for some time.
Years later, I realized that the male role model game I’d tried to set up to learn about being a man, was rigged for failure. There was no way for any man to win because every time they came close to the success, which in my mind, my desire was a relationship with me, I would find something wrong with them that would give me an excuse to fire them. Of course, the real issue was my fear of being abandoned again. Each time I started to become closer and more trusting of one of these men, my fears of abandonment and being hurt would arise. The solution to these fears was to find fault as to why I could not have a relationship with them and risk being hurt.
This is the story I tell men in my groups
I tell this story to new men in the group because I want them to know that at some point, they will feel an emotional conflict between the desire for being more honest and trusting and their fears of being hurt, rejected, judged, feel shame and so on. At some point in the group I will, or someone will, be unkind or insensitive to them and they’ll have to make a choice to deal with such as by talking their feelings or just leave the group.
Everyone seems to go through this conflict at one point or another in their group attendance. And in fact, every time a man takes another deeper dive into living their life with more intimacy, purpose and so on, they will have to face those fears. We all have thought,
“Is this the story that’s going to make them reject or shame me?” “If people really knew me…”
The other way we learn to leave a group instead of facing our fears is to blame someone in the group for being a jerk. You might feel –
“If only that man was not in the group, it would be ok.”
That man may be truly annoying but the price paid, and the reward received for learning how to appreciate and befriend this annoying man is life transforming. Over time, the men in the group have all discovered that there’s nobody that is not a diamond in the rough – even the guy you did not initially relate to.
The Questions that can reset your attitude
Who will be my spiritual teacher today?
Who will teach me how to be kind and patient today?
Who will teach me to love people as they are not how I want them to be?
If you’re ready to start exploring this, ask yourself these questions FIRST:
- When was the last time another man called you on your B.S. because he cares about you – and you were happy he did?
- When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart discussion about sexuality, work, masculinity, your fears, anxiety, hopes or what it’s like being a son, spouse, or father?
- When was the las time you bared your deepest secrets knowing that you would be accepted and cared for regardless of what you said?
- When was the last time you needed support and you knew that there would be other men there for you?
- When was the last time you laughed so much it hurt?
There is a famous book called The Hero With A Thousand Faces whose ideas changed my relationship to struggle. Josef Cambell, the author, suggests that the hero’s journey is a universal archetype and story. Whether it is Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Neo in The Matrix, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz or real people like Nelson Mandela or Natan Sharansky, the heroes are always faced with situations that challenge their current perspective on life and to become greater than they are.
Joseph Campbell states that every protagonist (by the way we are talking about you as well) receives many metaphorical calls to action to become greater than they are. The call could be external such as war or loss of a job, death of a loved one or internal call such as spiritual, emotional, or intellectual longings or discoveries. Like Luke Skywalker or Nelson Mandela we are all faced with moments when we must make a decision to move forward – or possibly move back.
What would have happened had Dorothy refused her call to action and not gone down the yellow brick road or challenged the Wizard of Oz? If Martin Luther King Jr. had decided to avoid the Birmingham jail? It is possible To refuse our call to action. The result of that refusal often results in our becoming restless irritable and discontent. If that happens we may turn to counterfeit pleasures and distractions such as mind altering substances or behaviors. Initially, alcohol, cannabis, gambling, pornography and sex are good ways to numb ourselves to the fact we have refused our call to action, to live the life we hoped to. As every recovering addict knows, the word FEAR stands for F—k Everything And Run or Face Everything And Recover.
To avoid missing our call to action, Joseph Campbell challenged us do at least one thing today that makes us uncomfortable, that challenges our status quo. Whether it is a phone call you have been delaying, an apology long overdue, asking for a deserved raise, telling someone you love them…
I don’t know about the fictious Luke Skywalker, but I tell you we have braver heroes! Real men who have learned to challenge the voices of their inner and outer Darth Vader’s, men that overcame their abusive drug use, started new careers, became loving, involved fathers and spouses, and more.
If you’d like to meet your inner hero, come join us in The Dad Cave. Some events will be listed for FREE on Facebook, but many will be only there once you join The Dad Cave., which also has a FREE TRIAL
…and of course, you can always find me at JACS Toronto