Why I Men’s Group
When I first began teaching my son to ride a bike I anticipated a few cuts and bruises – I mean it’s inevitable. We joked how falling down was all part of the process of learning and the most important thing was to get back up (that is the moral of our life story, isn’t it?). What I didn’t anticipate was the feeling I would get watching my son be thrown off his bike moments before his six-year-old face slammed to the ground.
One day my son came home from his summer camp explaining how his tooth was loose and ready to come out. He was quite determined to hurry the process as he sat at the table wiggling it back and forth. I explained how it would come out when it was ready and waiting is often the best (and the hardest) thing to do. He seemed content with that response and went on his merry way.
Later in the evening he asked to go for a bike ride and I obliged. He’d just begun riding on two wheels (unassisted) and still a little wobbly with the whole steering thing. We went out for what would become the longest ride of the season and at our turnaround point, we came upon a hill – not a sharp, steep hill; a slight decline just long enough to get some serious speed. I preceded him down the hill and when I got to the turn at the bottom I stopped to turn around and check on his progress. I knew he was going too fast as soon as I spotted him coming down. I don’t remember exactly what I yelled – it was probably something irrelevant like ‘slow down’, ‘use your brakes’ or ‘take it easy’. His speed and inexperience prevented him for making the turn so he hit the grass and headed straight for a tree. He swerved to miss the tree and his front wheel locked; throwing him from his bike and landing straight onto his face.
I’m not sure if that vision of his front tooth getting knocked out will ever leave me.
It all happened so fast. I instantly felt a gnawing pain in my stomach. I ran over to him to assess his injuries and determine what my next steps would be. I picked his tooth off his chin and wiped the blood from his face with my shirt. He couldn’t even talk. I think he was in shock from the impact and the flash of light I’m sure he experienced as his face met the earth (yes boys and girls, wear your helmets).
I was terrified, sad, confused and angry I didn’t remind him to use his breaks BEFORE we went down the hill. I couldn’t give him that though. I couldn’t show him all the emotions that were running through my body because it’s not what he needed. He needed to be comforted, he needed to be cared for, he needed to be loved. I took a deep breath (or three) and contained what was going on for me to make room to do what needed to be done.
After a few moments he began to calm down; his breathing became normal and his sobbing slowed to a sniffle. I continued to hold him as he began to gather his thoughts and make some sense of all that just happened. The first words out of his mouth were ‘I wanna go home’ – no doubt.
We decided to walk the two and a half miles back home – me carrying both bikes – him, his helmet. The first few moments were in silence (I find those times to be just as comforting) and shortly after our journey home began, he started talking about what happened. ‘Dad, I bet no one’s ever smashed their face as hard as that, huh?’ I got the sense he was feeling better.
We recalled what happened, what went wrong and how we learned for the next time (both of us). I mentioned to him I was scared to see him fall and sad he was so scared and in so much pain. He seemed to appreciate and understand my empathy as we continued our walk home. By the time we got there, he took pride in how well he handled the accident and walked into the house with a new badge of honor. It was evident when the first words out of his mouth to his mother were ‘Mom, my tooth came out. It happened after my face smashed off the ground.’ Kids.
The moment our son went to bed, I shared the story with my wife. I felt the fear come back; the pain of watching him hit the ground. I realized I wasn’t done – the emotions I contained immediately after the accident were still there – waiting to come out.
I could tell the story a thousand times and find myself laughing at particular moments as I reflect upon what it means to ‘earn your stripes’ – in a sense – through life’s trials and tribulations. Laughter is good medicine and it helps ease the pain of the moment. What I’ve learned through my forty-plus years on this planet is sometimes that’s not enough – sometimes I need to let go of what’s underneath. Good and bad I know the impact of keeping my emotions stuffed down for too long. I wasn’t going down that road again.
When I mention my men’s group, I’m often met with the age-old response of it being something new-agey, free-spirited or hippie-like. Don’t get me wrong, in my immediate circles, my men’s group is as trivial as weather-speak is in others. Yet, there are those who resist anything that has to do with feelings or emotions. I get it. I’ve been there. It’s just that I’ve learned a different way to live.
I’m clear my group is a vital piece of my life and as I continue to mature into my mid-life, it’s becoming more and more important to me understanding exactly who I am and why I do what I do. It takes practice, it takes courage and it takes support.
That Tuesday marked the day my group met (thankfully). As I sat in the circle with the other men – men I’ve been sitting with for years – it was my turn to speak. I started to tell my story of the bike incident and found myself laughing just as before. Shortly after I started, however, I realized where I was – who I was with. I realized I trusted these men and I was safe to do what I needed to do. I quickly spoke of my fear, my sadness of watching my son get hurt. I felt the energetic vibration of the sadness as it rolled up through my chest, past my throat and finally, in the form of tears, stream down my face. It felt good to finally give this simple, powerful and justified emotion a little time to breathe. Really good.
Men’s work is hard work. It’s conditioning the heart, mind, body and soul and it takes time, commitment and courage. It’s not for everyone, I understand that and I also understand – after doing this work for over 20 years – it has the potential to change the world – your world.
Here’s my shameless plug for the organization responsible for introducing me to men’s work and men’s groups – The ManKind Project.