No Chicks

Steve Altham, September 2011

Our men’s group started about 10 years ago, evolving from a weekly gathering on a small farm at Gidgeganup, outside of Perth.

A few men met each Tuesday night around a fire, and spoke of the things you tend not speak about at work, or at the football club. Relationships, marriages, illnesses, deaths, our fathers, our sons, our daughters, lost loves, the hurts we’ve felt and the hurts we’ve inflicted, hopes, dreams, burying the past, envisaging the future, what’s made us laugh, what’s made us cry, what we did this week, what we’re doing next week.

We still do it every Tuesday, starting at 7.30pm and ending at 9.30pm. We now meet in Darlington. We call ourselves The Darlington Men’s Group (DMG).

Darlington Men’s Group.

We’re an open group. That means we take any old rubbish! No really it means we have never closed the doors to anyone and the range of people who are in the group, have passed through, or simply dropped in, is huge. This has given us all the chance to experience the wisdom of men of all ages, from all types of backgrounds, and from many different sets of life circumstances. This has enriched our lives.

So what do we do?

In the world of work, the world of home, well pretty well anywhere in the world men are quick to offer solutions to problems. It’s what we do. We solve issues in our employment, we work for our families, we take charge and we solve problems. At DMG no one takes charge really, and we don’t solve problems. We talk about them. We share. Deep stuff. And not just problems. Often men achieve things, have insights, feel inspired. We talk about these things as well. If we ask a question it’s often rhetorical. We don’t expect an answer. In fact easy answers are discouraged. Easy answers are often the wrong answers. Or at least only partial answers and deny men the opportunity to take responsibility for working it out for themselves.

A quiet night is three or four men, more usually it’s ten to fourteen. More than this too frequently can become impersonal, and even competitive. Haven’t really had that problem. Would work out a way to deal with it if we did. We generally spend about five or ten minutes on the meet and greet. Hugs even. We share Tim-Tams, Paul’s muffins, Ivan’s cakes, Rod’s bread, whatever people have brought along. Then we have a short meditation to help separate mentally and emotionally from the day, and connect with the space and the people.

Which doesn’t leave a lot of time but most times it works.

How do we work out whose turn it is to speak? Good question. We use a symbolic totem that sits on the table in the centre of our seating area. Most men’s groups do this. They generally use a ‘talking stick’ that, when held by a man, has a magical power; it makes everyone else in the group fall silent, and open their ears and heart. We’re different.

We use a duck.

Not quite sure why we use a duck, but it may well be because we were short of firewood one night and someone burnt the talking stick! Some men on their first visit with us probably think this is the weirdest part of the evening. Maybe the duck says something about not taking it all too seriously. Yes it is important, yes it is real, yes it is deep, but the Messiah is not likely to be putting in an appearance. It’s just men’s business. And whoever has the duck gets heard. Uninterrupted.

What happens when someone talks too much? Sometimes men just need to talk. Sometimes that’s been a long time coming. Sometimes that makes it hard for everyone to have their say. There’s a lesson in sharing, in being generous here. Rarely do you leave without clutching the duck, but the trick in the learning is usually in the listening, not the talking. On the odd time you don’t speak when you’d like to, hey it happens and there’s always next week. And talking’s not compulsory.

Do we offer ‘the cure’? There is no shortage of cures in this world offered for almost everything that ails us. There is no shortage of people working in the ‘psychic space’ offering courses, workshops, and the chance to change your life for the better, usually for a fee. I don’t have anything against people who do this work, and who do this work for money. A noble calling. But the ones who offer hope for money, then increasing amounts of money for increasing amounts of hope, you have to struggle with. There are many people in the world vulnerable to the latest snake oil. Proselytizing is discouraged.

And no chicks?

No chicks.

MEN’S Group gives it away. Which doesn’t mean any disrespect to our women, or for that matter any women. A frequent outcome of men’s group is that we go back to our women better men. To women what we do is like breathing. They’re naturals! They already do this stuff. They talk, they share, they bond, they express their emotions, they cry, they don’t need to front up every Tuesday with a group of their gender, and cling on to a wooden duck to get everyone else to shut up and listen as they spill the beans. So. No chicks. But I know personally of many women who are grateful that their man has done the DMG thing. And many children who have benefited because their dad is a better man. And many men who are richer for that outcome.

Do we talk about what we hear at Men’s Group? No. Well only in the abstract. We’re not the Rolling Stones. Now that’s a men’s group! A men’s group where each member, with one exception, has managed to survive decades of casual sex, excessive drugs and alcohol, numerous other abuses, and then has written a book about it, generally spilling the dirt on the other members of the group. Keith Richards is the most recent. Great book, but if we spoke about our group members like Keef spoke about Mick Jagger, we’d be excommunicated.

Which leads me to…. Have we thrown anyone out? No. It’s about respect, it’s about your individual truth. It sort of self-regulates. You’d feel bad if you betrayed the trust of your fellow men.

So how do you leave the group? The moon must be full. We gather at midnight. We turn towards the east. We howl. No, not really. You don’t come any more. We miss you. We miss your energy. Then one day you come back again and it’s like you never left. Or you don’t come back. One of our number has moved overseas. His occasional visits are a treat. We miss him. We love him. But it’s not like Rotary. There’s no attendance requirement.

What happens if the leader doesn’t turn up? There are no elections. And no formal leader. Our leaders emerge. Someone takes responsibility until they don’t want to do it any more, or someone else sort of slides into the space. We respect our Elders.

Do we share with other groups? Sure do. It’s not the main game, but we get involved with other groups and activities from time to time. We’ve been known to help group members with a bit of labour around the yard/house as required. And then there’s the big one. In WA each year there is a Men’s Gathering; sort of a weekend-long men’s group with up to a hundred men. All sorts of activities, workshops, sharing, food, music, some wonderful rituals, the chance to learn from our Elders. DMG usually has a decent contingent attending, and members are often found on the organising committee. We have been known to make our presence felt in many of the activities. We play our part.

Be a man.

Start a men’s group.

No chicks.