Updated: Jun 19, 2019
In November 2015, I was talking with a friend who repeatedly mentioned a men's group he was a part of. Being naturally curious, this got me interested, so I asked him, "What do you guys do in this men's group?"
His response was simple and direct: “We gather together every Monday night and hold space for each other as men.”
As it happened, there was an open house schedule for the following week so I decided to check it out.
During the open house, members briefly described themselves and what brought them to the Brotherhood. Hearing other men share their emotions and challenges was extremely powerful - so powerful I was brought to tears. In every personal description and story, I heard something that deeply resonated with me. I decided to join and was welcomed into the community with open arms.
At my first meeting, we were invited to speak about our fathers. When it came to my turn to speak, I asked: “should I talk about my grandfather, or step-father?”
Phil, our squad captain (and founder of The Samurai Brotherhood), simply responded: “Tell us about your father.”
Having never met my father, I recounted the few facts I knew about him. I told the men the story of how I had never met my father, and how I had attempted to contact him in my mid-twenties. I had asked my grandmother to contact my father's sister on my behalf. My father's sister said she would pass along my contact information to my father, but was not willing to share his contact information with me.
A few months later after no word from him, I found him on Facebook and added him as a friend. Shortly thereafter he deleted his Facebook account.
I remember feeling great sadness in my childhood when I thought about my father. As a man, I had learned to dismiss and ignore this sadness - to push it down and not acknowledge it. This had been a habit from my early childhood onward. Only through my experience in men's work did I realize that I had not really pushed it down... I had pushed it outward.
By “pushing it outward” I am referring to psychological projection, the process by which the ego defends itself from negative and positive thoughts or emotional impulses. Never allowing myself to deeply feel my own sadness, I filled my life up with endless work, unfulfilling responsibility and financial burden. My sadness was tied to a sense of shame, which often floods into young boys when the father figure is absent. My shame came from a place of unworthiness. After all, in my mind: if I was truly worth loving my father would have stuck around. Work became a way for me to dissociate from this shame, a trap that men so often fall into. My rationale was that if I worked hard enough I would gain a sense of fulfillment; I wanted to prove to my absent father that I was worthy.
During most of my adolescence and young adulthood I consciously rejected my sadness. I told myself that it was not me that was sad, it was the world.
I would often direct my anger at other men for qualities I associated with my absent father. Such targets often included older men who I viewed as more successful than myself My relationship with these figures was characterized by distrust and suspicion. This suspicion was so powerful that it affected my whole world view. I rejected the values that I associated with the masculine principle. I was completely at odds with the generative power of older men and for a long time I felt forgotten in the eyes of god.
By sharing my story and my emotions with the other men in the group, my emotional wound became clear. I was finally able to see how my wound had impacted my life. For the first time in my life I was able to acknowledge this pain inside of me. This was when I began to heal my father wound.
My identity - as a boy, and as a man - was undeniably influenced by the absence of my father. I felt a distrust and disdain of authority figures; anger toward men who I perceived to have abandoned women or children; disrespect towards men who did not follow through with their commitments. I had developed a hatred of men - being a man myself, this lead to a great deal of self-loathing.
After acknowledging my father wound, a bigger shift came six months later at a men’s retreat. During a process where we were asked to picture our fathers as children, an image came to me of my father as a scared little boy holding his mother's hand. With that image in my mind, I recognized the same wound in my father as I had come to recognize in myself (his father died when he was a young man). In that moment, the tears began to flow and I was able to express my sadness. I was able to feel compassion for my father and for myself.
The unlocking of this suppressed emotional wound gave me the ability to look at myself in a whole new way. No longer do I waste precious cognitive energy stuck in emotional states brought on by the darker parts of my personality. I am better able to detach and observe these thoughts for the stories that they are. Only through sharing my emotions with other men was I truly able to begin to accept myself in a way that feels authentic.
During the last few years in The Samurai Brotherhood I have nurtured my sense of compassion for myself and for other men in my life. Through the acknowledgement of my past and support by a group of men, I have cultivated these positive changes in myself. I have seen the powerful effect of men's work in my own life and the lives of others. Being in a men's group challenges me to become a better person and inspires me to take meaningful action in my life.
Today, I am the co-captain of Lion Squad - holding space for men to share their own experiences and challenges. As well as co-leading the Squad, I am also constantly learning about my own mind through experiences I have in the group. By consistently sharing my fears, hopes, dreams, successes, and failures with other men I have come to view myself and others with more acceptance and compassion.