My nephew Damion is getting married on Sunday. His father-in-law had the brilliant idea of a gathering of men to help launch him into this new phase of his life. Men in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, most of whom had been married some 30 to 50 years, gathered outdoors seated around a fire pit, the moon rising, coyotes howling in the distance, wild turkeys gobbling and night birds circling overhead. Quite a contrast to the bachelor parties with wild drinking, dancing and some last fling with the ladies before settling down. Doesn’t make for a blockbuster Hollywood movie, but it was a profound gathering that hit depths beyond anyone’s imagination.
The father of the bride was connected in various ways with each of the 12 men, many of them through music and through teaching. Some (like me) were meeting the others for the first time and several knew the bride well, but not Damion. We began going around the circle introducing each other and spontaneously, decided to add our ancestry, from parents to grandparents. That felt right, bringing them into the circle. Then we went around the circle again, ostensibly to give “advice.” But instead of the usual mansplaining posture, people spoke from deep in the heart and mostly just shared their experience of love in all its forms, its joys, sorrows, trials and tribulations. One man read a poem that he had on a rolled paper that he later gifted to Damion. Another spoke of his ritual practice of a shared reflection of each day with his wife, another of the way his wife and he make prayers from their conflicts, yet another fondly recalled his own wedding day. I recited a Yeats poem, spoke of the idea of 3 Marriages (from a David Whyte book) and read out loud my own wedding vows from 42 years ago. Damion's dad perhaps was the most profound, having not prepared anything in advance, but gathering in the energy of the moment, letting silence punctuate his thoughts and then releasing a few words at a time, each of which went directly to the bulls-eye of the heart. At the end, I suggested a song and we surrounded Damion with an energetic “This Little Light of Mine”— and these men could sing!
Damion is on the road to a career in drama therapy, a good choice combining his considerable acting talent realized in high school and college and his interest in mythology, psychology and offering some healing to a broken world. He recently performed a solo show about toxic masculinity and before the song, I suggested that masculinity is not inherently toxic, we are not born into sin and unredeemable, not nature’s mistake in the face of feminine superiority. But we do have to work hard to turn our testosterone towards life, to be life-affirming and life-sustaining and I praised this circle of men as models of people who indeed took that seriously. Their ability to speak from the heart and share their struggles were giving the gift of anti-toxins to toxic masculinity. Not sure-fire vaccinations, but healing medicines to be renewed in each moment of authentic connection. I reminded Damion to not always go to women with his deepest self, the way men of my generation did as they embraced the feminist movement, but to keep a healthy male comradery in his life and to call on us (and other) elders as needed.
Perhaps to the reader this sounds like a lot of New Age nonsense, but trust me, if all men had such positive experiences of masculinity and such role models and men willing to be vulnerable without denying our male bodies and minds, if all men were so lovingly blessed as Damion felt, don’t you think that would help? And know that his wife-to-be Roxy, had a similar (but of course, different) circle of women gathering around her the night before. These experiences are as old as the proverbial hills in cultures that cultivate human beings instead of mere shoppers, shouters and haters.
We would do well to take note.