It is time for a midyear update regarding the status of our work with The Men’s Council. Like most of you we are looking forward to summer when we can relax a little, take some vacation, and spend time recharging our batteries. The highlights of our past year include another successful NC Gathering of Men, distribution of donations to organizations and programs we are supporting through Giving Back, and the ongoing planning for future work of the organization.
The 22nd NC Gathering of Men was conducted from April 21-23 at Camp Chestnut Ridge. When the dust from registration settled we had 79 men who attended. Six others registered but for a variety of reasons either did not end up attending, or left early. There were 18 first time attendees, which is a very good proportion of new people. Interestingly, two of those men did not find our work compatible with their personal beliefs and chose to depart early. I suspect that this will be taken up at length at our planning retreat, which is scheduled for Oct 27-29 at Larry Sorkin’s place in Taylorsville. Contact him if you are interested in joining us that weekend.
Overall, the weekend was a success. We had two pre-Gathering workshops conducted by Bill Finger (Creative Arts) and Simon McCain (Dynamic Breath) that were well attended. There were 12 workshops put on during the weekend that covered topics as varied as any year we can remember from grief and grieving, to music, to drumming, shadow work and many more. There was something for everyone. We felt blessed by the fact that of our new folks four included two father/son pairs. The great thing about these men was that the sons were the ones who instigated the attendance of their fathers. We hope this might signal a trend and that they will all become regular attendees in the future.
Giving Back continues to develop as we work toward an understanding of what this kind of work can mean for us as an organization of men. Over the past two years we have donated almost $40,000 to programs that we have identified as meeting the criteria of serving the needs of men in NC communities. We added the option for men coming to the Gathering to make a Giving Back donation and collected almost $500 to add to this fund for future distribution. With the level of support we have so far generated we have decided for the time being to focus on just seven programs that we feel we can support at a level that can make a significant difference in their work. We are considering fund raising activities, such as fund raising dinners, that could allow us to expand our work. If you have ideas for fund raising, please let us know.
For the TMC Board the April Gathering marks the time when we adjust our Board membership. Two individuals elected to resign as voting members, Jim Neill and Glenn Wing. Jimie McBee and Phil Cole elected to continue past what would have been the end of their terms. Three other men have joined the Board as active members: Wayne Morris, Don Henchel and Graham Gell. This expands Board membership to ten. The members of the Board discussed this and decided that we did not want to limit membership to a strict number, but rather to keep it open to those who have a desire to serve. We want to be sure that those with special talents and interests are made welcome to TMC’s future development.
Another thing that we are considering is the possibility of reverting to a leadership designation that hearkens back to the Raleigh Men’s Center. Then the leadership was called the Leadership Council and some of us felt that it was an appellation well suited to our current name. We will be discussing further this possible change. If we do agree to it, the position of president and vice president will change to chair and vice chair.
As always the work of the TMC Board is open to those interested in helping TMC chart its course into the future. We will be holding our annual planning retreat to coincide with the Gathering planning weekend. If you are interested in joining us we will be meeting the evening of Thu, Oct 26 and 9 am-noon Oct 27. Just let me know you plan to join us so we can include you in our meal count.
I want to put out a plea to our poets and writers to consider contributing to the TMC webpages. We have posted a call on Facebook (TMC Facebook Link) for contributions that will raise up our sense of unity and humanity in a difficult time. Please consider items that will help us expand our mythopoetic presence as a web resource. Our web master, Jim Neill, anxiously awaits your inspired support.
This leads me to my final thoughts for this message. Over the years The Men’s Council in all its manifestations has sought to remain apolitical and to avoid overtly activist rhetoric. While the general tenor of social commentary currently is tending to push extreme positions, we would like to continue to be like Switzerland and stay neutral in the fray. That being said we cannot completely ignore the divisive and corrosive language that is flooding the social networks and media outlets. We feel compelled to publish principles of decency and mutual respect we hold and to inform anyone who becomes familiar with our work that we adhere to them. To that end we have posted a brief position statement on our “About Us” web page that reads as follows:
The Men’s Council affirms and conducts itself in accordance with the belief that people of all colors, nationalities and religions deserve respect and humane treatment. We welcome all who identify as male to join us in making that ideal possible.
Expanding on the theme of principles for which we stand I have also been thinking a lot about another topic. It has to do with a loaded word that gets bandied about by activists, especially feminists and social scientists: patriarchy.
I would say that, though the RMC and TMC have never been vociferous, street pounding protestors, it must be noted that our beginnings as the Raleigh Men’s Center and the sudden surge of men’s support groups that sprang up in the early and mid-1980s can arguably be linked, at least energetically, to the Feminist movement. Women’s increased consciousness about the way patriarchal societies had dictated gender related roles for them left many of us in relationships we did not expect. At the same time we men began to gain a better understanding of the emotional boxes that same system had reserved for us. In quiet, typically male ways we gathered together in our support groups, conducted our retreats, drummed, indulged in Native American style sweat lodges, tested our skills as poets and writers, and dug into dark, untapped areas of our souls created the first time someone told us that boys are not allowed to cry. We grieved the relationships we never had with our fathers. We formed deep bonds with other men and fell in love with one another as we had yearned to, but been barred from because of our societal prohibitions on deep same sex relationships in any context other than combat and sports.
What I am trying to convey here is the idea that in our men’s work we have consistently and persistently pushed back against the dictates of patriarchy in quiet, personal ways. We have stood firmly and resolutely against the ills of patriarchy without ever specifically calling out the bogeyman from under the bed or engaging in street protests. I am not advocating such protests. However, I want to call us all to a higher level of consciousness concerning what we stand for in this respect. We have learned that after accepting the illusion that we were in a post racist society that there is still much work left before we can understand and effectively change the ways that racism pervades and affects the mechanics of our world. Like racism the threads of patriarchy are woven into our system in invisible, insidious and subtle ways. If we wish to do more than pay lip service to gender equity, I am persuaded that we must become better acquainted with the hidden, and not so hidden, ways that patriarchy makes itself evident in the form of toxic masculinity.
I will finish by referring you all to an article that I recently posted on TMC’s Facebook page: Article on Terrorist Attacks from Independent (UK). It is an essay on the obvious fact that the most common factor in terrorist attacks is that men commit the vast majority of them. Perhaps you may take umbrage with the premise of the article. But it is worth our serious consideration of how each of us in our lives and in the work we do with TMC can counter the kind of anger that leads to violent acts of every kind. I personally believe that is one of the best services we can offer our family, friends and communities.
I send my fervent wishes for a pleasant summer for everyone. I invite anyone who wishes to contact me with your suggestions to make TMC better. May the blessings of creation be yours to enjoy and multiply.