Changing Lives, One Man at a Time:
Why there is a need for men’s groups
By Rachel A. Jacobson
March 14, 2001
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Martin Brossman is a life and business coach that finally realized the lantern that he wanted someone to ignite for him was his to light and carry, in the area of men issues. He is deeply committed to the development of men's groups, which centers on promoting stronger and more conscious men who can successfully stand up to the challenges of creating a more peaceful world.
RJ: First off, what is the main selling point of men’s groups?
MB: It helps men to be more “emotionally available,” to have access to positive assertiveness, and to foster a greater sense of genuine confidence. Most men have not had an opportunity to learn how to deal with emotions, and they spend a lot of time and money avoiding emotional issues. How to be effective and powerful when dealing with emotions is a complicated task if you have been going through most your life unaware that you are emotionally numb from the neck down. And certainly, if you are a father with kids, especially sons, do you want your son to grow up without the skills of having close, healthy relationships with other men as he matures? And how will that occur if you are not modeling that? These are the questions that men’s groups seek to answer.
RJ: How did you first get involved in the Men’s Movement?
MB: I had done some research on men’s groups, but did not get actively involved until I was going through my divorce. Several years prior to my divorce, I was taking some personal growth courses. During one such course, I was sitting in a hotel conference room working on my assignment, which was a writing exercise involving a past experience. During this exercise, some memories of my father came to my mind. Several months earlier, my father had had a major operation. I had taken time off from work for a week to be with him and to help out my mother. The experience was intense, and I often felt confused about what to say or do. Thinking about this past experience caused such a rush of emotions that tears began to run down my face, which confused me. Where did they come from? It was close to sadness, but different. You see, growing up in Washington, D.C., I was not very impressed with most models of what an adult man is. They pictured men as aggressive, distant, and “macho.” I became angry at my experience of how men had taken advantage of women throughout history. Consequently, this dilemma had become obvious to me while working on my course assignment, and I actively began seeking some answers.
RJ: So what resources did you find helpful in validating your questions?
MB: Someone recommended I read the book Iron John by Robert Bly, which centers on an old story told to young men as part of their initiation into manhood. My interpretation of what Robert Bly was saying is that we have lost the traditional rites of passage between boyhood and manhood. Also, we have a society filed with “shells” of men who are spiritually and emotionally immature. Often, these men seek bizarre and destructive ways to try to claim their masculinity, for example, the creation of violent gangs of young boys and the loss of respect for older and wiser members of our society, which occurs mostly because of a lack of a positive male role model. Although I had a great relationship with my father, Bly proposed that bringing a boy to manhood could not occur from the father, because they were emotionally too close. He said that this has to come from an older man or men from the community. I realized that what Bly was saying regarding the need for a male mentor applied directly to me, although I saw no one who seemed available or who would be an appropriate male role model.
RJ: So how did you apply this resource directly to your life?
MB: Well, for several years, things remained virtually unchanged. My life did not seem to improve, and I was very unhappy in my present job. I detested the competitive corporate game of deception that seemed to be going on around me. Unfortunately, my marriage was also suffering and ultimately ended in divorce. Soon afterwards, I joined an interesting support business group called the Samurai business group.
Realizing some aspects of the group that could be improved upon, I called the founder of the group, Fred Boyles. We begin talking, and interestingly enough, the topic of Iron John came up. I told him how I was angry with Bly--how he
seemed to pose the problem but not a solution that I felt was accessible
to me. He asked me what I wanted, after which I responded, "I want
someone to play the roll of a male initiator." Fred stated that he was,
indeed, that man. “I will call you every Sunday night, and we will
talk.” The idea that he would call at his own expense every Sunday from
LA seemed crazy; however, I agreed. Well, he did call every Sunday. Then
one Sunday he didn’t call, and although it wasn’t such a big deal, I was
still a bit pissed. I called him in the middle of the week and asked what
happened. He said he broke his word and that he was sorry. Then he asked
me what he could do to make it up to me. I said that he didn’t have to do
anything; just the fact that he asked, though, helped me feel his
integrity and support. He took responsibility, and that meant something
to me. After many conversations with Fred, I began to come to a
self-realization regarding my concerns. I told him how I had rejected the
John Wayne, macho character and had worked for years to break down my
shell, to get in touch with my feelings, and to be more sensitive to
women’s feelings. And now I was left with a feeling similar to a tortoise
being exposed to the world without a shell. My tough exterior had
previously kept me numb from the neck down and safe from my vulnerable
feelings. I had expected to find something great underneath, but instead
I felt like I had exposed the inside of a volcano filled with fear, anger,
and grief. I said to Fred, "I feel like a 9 year-old boy in a 36 year-old
body, and I am in BIG trouble." He then suggested to me to take part in a
men’s retreat that was taking place in a few months, which I agreed to.
Fred was a significant mentor in my development at this time. Mentoring
is one of the most important relationships in the male maturation process.
RJ: Tell me about your experience at the Men’s retreat.
MB: Honestly, as the date for the retreat arrived, I was pretty
anxious but couldn’t come up with any good excuses to not go. Most of the
activities centered on exploring what it meant to be a man, but there were
also more interactive, physical activities. I noticed that periodically
it was difficult for me to get fully involved. There was a fear of
confronting aggression (mine as well as other men’s), and an
undistinguished risk of being exposed. I began to realize that for most
of my life, when I turned to someone for emotional support, it was women.
I did not trust other men, but I realized at the retreat that I was not
alone. It’s not that we are not sharing our feelings; it’s that most of
us have little access to them or to ourselves, and have little idea what
they are. The loss of our emotional and spiritual self, as well as how
afraid we are to generally connect to other men, became apparent to me and
to the other men as well. Upon arriving back home, I noticed that the
feelings I had before the weekend had changed. No longer did I feel like
a 9-year-old boy in a 36-year-old body. I felt like a 36-year-old man on a
path of personal growth and maturity.
RJ: Taking into account friends that men may have from softball teams, church groups, hunting, or old high school buddies, how can you say that this support network of male friends isn’t as meaningful and significant as meeting with a bunch of guys doing “guy stuff”?
MB: Well, first, I don’t want to discount that those activities
and not important and meaningful. Because many men don’t even have that
level of friends–they are just connected to their jobs and daily family
responsibilities. I would ask most men the questions: is your soul really
fed by your male friendships? When you are on your deathbed, are you
going to look back and say, these are the kind of friendships I always
dreamed of? Do you have a best friend that you have the courage to tell
him that you love him? You can’t imagine the richness that is possible in
life when you have friends at this deeper level. A Methodist minister,
who was a participant in one of the groups, told us this: “You know, I
have been golfing all of my life and I had golfing buddies. I had no idea
how superficial and unsatisfying these friendships were. Women think that
men on the golf course are having meaningful conversations, but they are
not. They are doing business. They are having some social contact.”
Most men have cut themselves off from even those participatory events like
golf or fishing, or they have lost connections with those “best” friends
of their past.
RJ: What advice would you give those interested in starting their own men's group, and what resources would be helpful?
MB: The most important thing to do is to see yourself as a part of the group, a member of the team with a specific and important role. Contact men that have already participated in a men’s group, access their wisdom and experiences, and let them contribute to you. Also, start reading some books on men’s issues or how to start a men’s group, such as A Circle of Men : The Original Manual for Men's Support Groups by Bill Kauth. The Internet is also a good resource for information. Men can get a lot of resources, book listing, other web links, and information from The Triangle Men's Inquiry Meeting web page: www.ToInquire.com. There are also references to other web site on men's issues that can be helpful. But most importantly, write down what you see is possible for the men to learn from the group and how their own life would be enhanced if they had a team of men REALLY supporting their life. Another question is, “What do I specifically want or need our of a men’s group?” Write down why you are the most qualified man to start this group and a list of men that you personally would benefit from being in such a group with. One man, a scientist with two young children, contacted me about starting a men’s group, but he was apprehensive about creating the group because he felt under qualified. He said, “Look, I am not a psychologist, I have no qualifications to start such a group.” I said that I thought he was immensely qualified–he was a concerned father, husband, and a man obviously interested in connecting with other men. “This is not a therapy group, I told him; we are coming together to support each other because that’s what healthy men do. Also, the best way to get other men to take a risk and open up is to model it yourself. Each time I begin my group, I ask myself this question: "How can I really give myself away, and what can I share about myself that will encourage other men to speak honestly?”
If anyone wants to have a "Men's Inquiry" group, get in touch with me and
join the on-line men’s inquiry meeting at: .
RJ: What is an example of a topic that your men’s group has covered?
An example of one
topic we covered is "How Resolving Issues with Your Father Gives You More
Freedom." This will lead to other questions that will branch out from it
in the meeting, such as “How do you resolve issues with your father when
he is not available or doesn’t seem to care?" Then, for example, a man
may share something personal, for example, how he wrote a letter once
saying exactly what he needed to say to his father to resolve the issues,
although he may or may not have actually sent the letter.
RJ: What are possible pitfalls that someone should watch out for when considering a men's group?
I think one of the
greatest pitfalls in any group is over-emphasizing that something outside
of us is the sole cause of a problem that can make us into “helpless
victims.” The problem with this is that there is no self-responsibility.
You become a victim who has to take aggressive action against the
victimizer, and then you get stuck in a win/lose situation. An example of
this is one of the criticisms of the feminist movements, that they are
stuck in a “war against men” and that men are the source of all the
problems. This approach shows no accountability of their own action but
also gives them no personal power. In having direct access to a
particular problem, you must realize that you have a responsibility to try
and change the problem. (Let me say that I believe most feminists stand
for all relationships working, and are not merely “at war with men.”) We
are looking to empower men to be people who can be compassionate to
themselves, each other, and the women in their lives. We must support men
to be fully engaged and passionate about life.
RJ: Does religious/faith practices figure into the men's group, and if so, what is the approach taken?
MB: Yes of course. I am personally extremely committed to my faith. In fact I would say that my calling to do this work comes from my faith, as is the case in most men’s groups. At the same time, the men’s inquiry meeting is not exclusive to one faith. We have Christians, Buddhists, and Jews, just to name a few of the religions/faiths represented. I have never met a man true to his faith that has justifiably invalidated another man’s faith.
The men’s movement to
me is men supporting other men by being fully self- expressed in their own
lives and in such a way that honors other lives. It’s about learning
about the area where we experience most emotions: between our neck and our
waist; distinguishing and being able to express the full spectrum of
emotions, about learning how to have healthy, close relationships with
other men, about how to move through painful emotions (vs. avoiding or
suppressing them), and about learning what’s beautiful about being a man,
a husband, and a father.
RJ: Martin, thanks so much for describing this relatively new
movement and for sharing with us the importance of positive male role
models. It is my hope that you will have the opportunity to educate the
public on an even larger scale. On a personal note, it seems that the
past several years have shown us more and more negativity regarding our
culture, whether familial or work-related. I believe that what you’re
accomplishing with the Men’s Movement shows us a successful medium that
focuses on the importance of positive male development and projecting an
optimistic trend towards stronger, mature males who embrace their rightful
roles and responsibilities. Best of luck to you, and keep up the good
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