The Men's Group

In my occasions to speak before groups about men's issues, as well as in my coaching practice, I am often asked "What are men's issues anyway?" I would like to address that question with a story.

It was a small Arizona town which, because of its particular scenic beauty, drew mainly women and fewer men from all parts of America. Many came to pursue their inner quest for spiritual peace, understanding and perhaps gain some glimpse of wisdom. I had lived there about half a year and experienced some of each, except the wisdom which seemed somehow devilishly elusive. The decision to form a men's group came one summer day at the local watering hole where a few of us had stopped for a couple of beers one hot, sultry late afternoon.

The four men I was with, all of us in our mid-forties, were climbing buddies, finding masculine pleasures in foraging paths to the tops of the mountains and mesas that erupted arrogantly and seductively from the valley floor and laughed at us tauntingly from 800 or 1,000 feet above. We had been climbing all day and were exhilarated but exhausted in that wonderful musky way that confirmed our manhood to all who would care to notice, and many who didn't. 

Someone had asked why we risked our lives just to get to the top of something bigger than ourselves. It was a thoughtful question which led to many others, equally as troublesome. Troublesome because we had no answers and, as any woman knows, a man without an answer is indeed a wretched encounter. It all started innocently enough when I suggested we all go back to my place and talk about the climbing experience.

The five of us settled down in my living room, and as we talked the conversation began to shift from good times and bold experiences to the fears we each experienced as we moved up the mountain that day. Within a short time, we had gotten into the deeper subject of fear itself and how difficult it was to allow ourselves to accept the reality of feeling afraid. As the talk extended through dinner and into the night we began to discover that each had experienced fears that he thought only he had felt. It came as a distinct surprise to find that the other guys felt the same things. Soon we started looking at other things we feared. We talked long into the early morning hours and finally broke about 2:00 a.m., exhausted but filled with delight at our new found experience. It was the first time that most of us had ever taken the time to talk to another man about anything other than work or sports, and we all loved it.

We ended by agreeing to continue the talking the following week at my place. It was the first meeting of a men's group that was to continue for just over a year until two of us moved away at about the same time. We met without failure every Wednesday night for two and a half hours. We added a few other men and discussed every conceivable subject that had anything to do with men. It had no real structure and we tried many different kinds of things. We even tried a couple of guest speakers, who we couldn't wait to get rid of so that we could talk. Two of us were in the psychology field, two were artists, one business owner, one gay waiter, and a doctor. We laughed, we cried, we told the truth to each other. For each of us it was the very first time we had ever been able to confide and trust in another man.

We talked about our fathers a lot. About how we didn't have any real idea who they were. About how they seemed to have no connection to anyone outside themselves and about how we longed to be hugged and accepted and loved by them. We worked through many issues around women. We worked at trying to figure out what women wanted from us, and what we wanted from them. Why we needed them as wives, mothers, friends and teachers and gave so little in return. About how we were frightened of, but somehow connected to, those men who loved other men. We got to explore our addictions and our myths about our own masculinity in ways that gave us pride and compassion toward ourselves and our gender.

We explored our visions or lack of them, the need to cry but the immense resistance to it. We helped each other walk through the pain and loss of a relationship, the death of a parent, the loss of a job, the birth of a child, the failure of a business, the unfolding of a new relationship and the agony of a divorce. We asked questions and dealt out discourse on our spiritual connection to God/universe and to each other, the meaning of life and why we needed nuclear war, recycling and Buicks. And yes, we even talked about sports...but not for long and not very often. We talked a lot about violence against men, women and children, about the fact that 95% of all prisoners are men, and that most of the women we knew were angry as hell at men and we hadn't a clue as to why. We spent a lot of time together, this group of men, both talking and climbing mountains of many kinds. And we loved each other a lot.

That group has drifted into many corners of the land now, and each of us has started other groups and seen many groups grow and develop as ours did . In my own case, my next group lasted for six years until, once again, I moved away. When I'm asked now by someone about what men's issues are, few have any idea why I laugh and why a tear comes to my eye. But you're learning.

© 2008, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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