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Feature Article January-February 1998
What It Means to Be an Adult Man
Reprinted with permission from Men's Center of Raleigh and Wake County
http://theraleighmenscenter.org/

On October 18, 1997 my roommate and I had an unusual party at my house, a party to which we invited only men. The party’s theme was “An informal inquiry into what it means to be an adult man and what creates and maintains a long term passionate relationship”. We invited many of our friends. Some said it sounded interesting but they couldn’t make it. Some just said; “I will not be coming,” and a few said, “Why would you have a party and not invite women?”

We decided to set up two flip charts in our living room, one stating the theme of the party, and a definition of an informal inquiry. On the second flip chart I put three questions to seed the discussion. I looked up the word ‘inquiry’ in the dictionary to complete the flip chart and better design this effort. Dissatisfied with the definition, I wrote my own:

An “informal inquiry” is a casual discussion examining something, looking at it as though never examined before with the intention of discovering something new.

When our guests started to arrive, we introduced each other and my roommate offered refreshments. We ranged in age from 23 to 65.

I started describing how this idea for a party came to be. I began, “My roommate and I attended a weekend course called ‘Sterling Men’s Weekend’. We each received unique value from it, but I wanted more. Furthermore, I wanted to openly discuss with men, issues which I thought were important. My intention was to discover something in a group that may not be discoverable on one’s own. At the men’s weekend, I discovered that men together can begin to look at and discuss openly things that they may be apprehensive about discussing in the presence of women”. The men in the group were listening attentively to me so I asked the first question:

Who were role models that supported you in distinguishing yourself as a man?

The answers were varied:

“My first role model was my father, then later a man at church who represented wisdom…”

“Took bits and pieces from different people…”

“Davie Crockett and John Wayne were role models for me growing up. The Rifle Man... it was about a father son relationship involving power, strength, as well as gentleness also and my father of course.”

Things began to warm up. To encourage the discussion further, I told something about myself and my role models that was personally exposing.

Another man spoke up: “I grew up without a role model at home because my father was gone, and I resented that. My role models were fathers in the neighborhood. I remember an older man who taught us about cars. He showed us how to fix cars and let us do some of the work. That left an impression on me.”

Another said, “Andy Griffth, this was a story about men’s relationships. I got strength from my father; he gave me a sense of fair play-not taking advantage of a person when they were vulnerable. Also, how to deal with physical pain. He did not offer a model for dealing with emotional pain, he would just run from it.”

Some men volunteered to speak and sometimes I called on others.

One man said, “My role models at 16 or 17 were Bob Dylan and Timothy O’Leary, basically because I was rebelling against my parents. Dylan was bright witted, and cynical, and I liked that.”

Sadly a man said, “Most of my role models growing up were negative...a lot of drinking and anger. Now they are Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey, and John Gray…I guess the most important role models are the ones in front of me today. I listen to tapes of them in the car and worked hard for the last year to change; however, my wife doesn’t feel I have changed enough and is still divorcing me. I listen to the tapes of them over and over but progress seems slow.”

Another replied, “We were not taught how to let go, which is necessary for real change. It’s a challenge to hold present where we want to be.”

Another man spoke up, “There are earthly and heavenly role models: Jesus Christ offered both to me…, I was always a good Christian, husband, and father… then I came home one day and found my wife in bed with another man. I had a complete breakdown…if it wasn’t for Jesus, I would have not made it.”

“Who else,” I asked, and one man replied, “I tried to draw role models form TV... I could never measure up. … I really went through an identity crises during my separation. In fact, I think in my 40s I am just beginning to get together my own identity from role models around me.”

One of the younger men said, “My father he was my best friend. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was in oil and I am in computers… Oil and computers don’t mix.” Another said, “I wonder if I chose my father as a role model. He had a strong feminine side… I remember what he gave to me, in times when I was in big trouble, then he was really supportive… but at other times he was just absent.” There were more comments and the conversations continued; it is hard to put in to words how rich and richer the experience was becoming. We discovered how what we were taught or told growing up was not as nearly as important as the people around us. We were looking for models of being and behaving from men around us.

My own internal dialogue was not giving me clear feedback as to how well the evening was going. The inner critic was talking about how I should be doing something better, or was missing something. I then continued to the next question:

In contrast to traditional role models of men, what does it mean to be a man who is in touch with his heart but at the same time strong, managing his responsibilities and loving and enjoying his life?

After reading this question out loud, I realized that it was a bit much, so I stated it in a simpler and slightly different way:

What does it mean to be an adult man and when did you decide you were an adult man?

One man jokingly blurted out, “What do you mean decided? You’re assuming that I am one”.

Another said, “What do you mean by adult?” I answered that I had picked adult as another word instead of “real man” and he answered, “Why not just man?” I replied that we could use the word man and the discussion continued. The youngest man spoke up, ”I have met a lot of older men who act like small children…I mean, just because you are older does not mean you are an adult.”

The man who found his wife in bed with someone else spoke, “To tell the truth, I am not the right man to call on, I don’t know any more. The center of my life was my wife, family, children…I gave up time for myself...that was a mistake. Now I am trying to discover what is my purpose in life.” You could see he really did not realize how much he was really offering to the rest of us with his courage to speak.

One man said, “I guess I have moved from being who I think I should be; now I am looking at becoming who I want to be.

Another, “I guess I had an identity crisis at 30, 40, 50, and now at 60, I am becoming more comfortable with who I am.” One man spoke up, “I remember the moment I realized I was a man, I was doing construction work at the time and the foreman asked me to go up on a high roof and do something. I remember looking up at the high roof, I was tired and I said, look man I am scared I don’t want to do it.” After some more comments, I decided that it was time to go to the next question:

What does it take to create and maintain a long-term passionate relationship?

One spoke up, “I think it is important in our relationships to work on our relationships with ourselves.”

Another, “Yeah, I have forgotten and remembered that many times.”

Someone else, “You know how much we buy into the romantic fantasy? The problem is no one has offered me a way to break the pattern. Its like they have offered women a way out (in movies and on TV) but not us.”

A reply, “Yeah, what does the prince do when his princess does not want to be rescued?”

One man spoke, “To keep the relationship working you give up your men friends and hobbies because your told that your away to much.”

Another, “What we do is give up ourselves for our relationships.”

Another, “Then we have nothing (left for them) to love.”

It was 10:30 PM and I thought it was a good time to conclude. So I thanked everyone for coming and shared that my intention was to further refine leading such group discussions and write this article. I was still not exactly sure how the evening went, or if this was a pure inquiry. At the same time, I was moved by what had happened. I felt as if I had played a role in creating a sacred place. Several men spoke up, “When are we going to meet again?”…“Yeah, we just scratched the surface.” I replied that I had already scheduled the next one to occur after Christmas, maybe in February. “That’s too far away...” “Yeah, we don’t want to lose the continuity!” I replied that I would look at my calendar and have the next meeting within a month. The inquiry continues…

Addendum November 1998:

Now it has been over a year since the first Men’s inquiry meeting. We have successfully held a meeting every month since October 18th, 1997. Each time I post three related questions on a dry erase board. We begin exactly at 7:30 PM and from 7:30 to 7:55 PM we use this time to say whatever is required to bring our attention fully into the room and be prepared for the inquiry. At 7:55 PM I go over the structure and request confidentiality from the new men in the group. At 8 PM I begin by reading the first question from the board. A few examples of the questions we have explored this year are: “How do we learn to accept ourselves?,”; “How do we develop the way to be assertive without being aggressive?”; “Now, what is a man’s role in a household, family, or relationship” Our job is to examine the questions as though we have never seen them before, discovering together something that we may not have discovered alone or in the company of women. My job is to lead the inquiry encouraging us to dig deep into the questions, staying with each question until it has been fully explored. The inquiry continues until 9:20 PM then we take time to review what new insights we discovered and what actions we are willing to commit to doing or being in the coming weeks.

On reflection, it has been a profound satisfaction to be part of the birth and growth of such a practice. Each time we discover something new about ourselves that enhances our lives, as well as nurtures the development of the courage to be close and trust other men. The premise of this work is that often, the behavior, beliefs, and values which have the most influence on our lives are just outside our individual conscious awareness. It is hard to change something that we are not aware of. Through this inquiry we can discover what we have not been aware of, allowing us to choose or change it. The intention of the Men’s Inquiry Group is to create an environment where men can profoundly nurture, trust and emotionally support each other. A place where together we can explore ourselves in such a way to be able to embrace our full humanity and enhance trust between each other.

My personal vision is when men can re-learn how to profoundly nurture and emotionally support each  other and to stand together to be the men we are proud to be, then there will be.  I believe that this type of support would make it impossible for a man to stand silent when someone takes an action that does not support him, his family, or his community.

Visitors are welcome to join the inquiry and I also am available to support the creation of other groups like this.

By Martin Brossman, a personal coach and founder of “The Triangle Men’s Inquiry Meeting”. For more information about “The Triangle Men’s Inquiry Meeting” go to our web site at: http://www.toinquire.com  or e-mail: men@toinquire.com , or call Martin at 919.847.4757

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