Monday, May 4, 2015

Esse Quam Videre (Being Authentic)

What am I doing in a men's group? Answer: growing up and finally becoming myself. By now I was supposed to be an adult: smart, mature, wise, a sage elder. I think many of us guys find the retirement thing a little surprising at first. Some of us can be a little lost as our careers, that defined us, disappear.

There's a lot of wisdom on the topic of how to spend this beautiful season of life. Time to give back. Volunteer for a good cause. Do those things we always really wanted to do. Enjoy life. Spend some real time with our families. Travel. Take some courses. Loose a few pounds. Relax. Such a formidable agenda!

For me, I was foaming at the mouth to draw silly pictures (full time) that would make folks smile or think. This personal avidity since grammar school found outlets in school newspapers, on my drill sergeant's wall, then newspaper editorial pages, magazines, newsletters, boring PowerPoints and lately book illustrations, an online journal and teaching. But my drawing was done evenings and weekends because I had a more important goal: to help my two sons thrive and achieve their dreams. Lucky for me I found an interesting day job and lived in a city that had a booming real estate market. When I needed advice I generally turned to people more mature than I, women. Well, not always. My father and a few guy friends would listen and seemed to understand. But, since being a pup, there had not been a lot of strong male relationships in my life.

Visiting an old pal in Key West, I was invited to his "men's lunch." All retirees, from all over, and a very wide range of backgrounds. They knew each other well and easily talked about their families, projects, feelings, and relationships. Sports, lower-back-pain and hearing-loss were hardly mentioned. I was impressed. I wanted to join, but Key West was a long way from Asheville.

Answers are all around, close-by, but often we're just not listening. Fast-forward. Back in Asheville, around the Reuter Center at UNCA, there was a men's group forming called Men's Wisdom Works. I was on it in a flash. The organizer, had an outline and format that made sense to me. We began having bi-weekly meetings at Jubilee downtown, then meetings for breakfast on alternate weeks. We were/are all very different men and similar at the same time. The group chemistry is outstanding.

In the beginning we had very little in the way of ground rules and an alpha (small A) male emerged who has a very light touch. Most times topics emerge organically from our check-ins. Most meetings go very well. The discussions are fun, often deep, but no lectures, and the listening is profound. Our male-egos are checked at the door. Coming up on four years, we have grown from colleagues to brothers. We've shared our lives, literally.

As we've spent time together and become more comfortable with each other, something has started to happen to me. I'm becoming more relaxed with and understanding of myself. They've heard all my jokes, twice. I'm encouraged to speak more in the first-person than in the third. Other group members are way ahead of me on this new "self awareness and authenticity" and the positive growth shows. Yup, I still have a long way to go, but my brothers are hiking on the same path. Good for us all.