By Christine Arpe Gang
Special to The Commercial Appeal
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Small groups of men meet weekly in several locations in Memphis to talk about what it means to be a different kind of warrior; one who fights against the social, psychological and emotional isolation that they say often comes with being a man.
They are part of the Mankind Project, an international organization that provides training to help men get in touch with their feelings in order to live their lives with integrity and accountability.
“When men get married their social network of buddies drops away,” said Ralph Chumbley, a founder of the Memphis chapter of the Mankind Project. “They look to their spouses for everything.”
Because it isn’t easy for men to trust each other enough to share feelings and secrets, they first go through a New Warrior Training Adventure. It’s an intensive weekend that encourages men to look deep inside themselves.
“Men are not socialized to be introspective and intuitive,” said Chumbley, executive director for continuing education at Southwest Tennessee Community College.
While women find it easy to talk about their feelings, men have to learn techniques and words to allow them to do it.
“The weekend gets you out of your head and into your heart,” said Craig Nadel, who went through a training weekend in 2000 with his father, Dr. Alan Nadel. “We all got comfortable with each other in a short time and as we opened up, we learned that everyone has pain and we’re all scarred in some way.”
The experience improved the often-strained relationship between father and son.
“I’m now accepting of who Craig is and willing to hear his truth,” Alan said.
Those who have been through the weekend training don’t reveal a lot of details about the experience.
“We don’t want men to think about it a lot before they do it,” Chumbley said.
Every training weekend includes physical and introspective aspects as well as quiet time and fun activities.
Men may refuse to participate in any activity that makes them uncomfortable.
Intrigued by an ad in a magazine, Chumbley went through the New Warrior Training Experience in Kenosha, Wis., in 1988. Three men — former Marine officer Rich Tosi and therapists Bill Kauth and Ron Hering — founded the program there in 1984. It has more than 30,000 members in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
In 1991, Chumbley and a few other Memphians who had gone to Kenosha for training established a men’s council here and offered the first New Warrior Training Experience.
Since then, about 800 men from a racial and economic cross section of the city have gone through the training, and many of them attend the weekly Integration Groups (I-Groups) afterwards. The groups are a way for men to continue to integrate what they learned in the training into their daily lives.
The meetings are held in various locations around town, in addition to a lodge house that the group rents on James Road. The local organization is also building a training center on property it owns near Somerville in Fayette County.
“For me the most satisfying aspect of being in the Mankind Project is my weekly men’s group meeting,” said Carson Owen, a lawyer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “These are the men who know me the best and have supported me through the years.”
Whenever warriors meet, even at business-like board meetings, they take time to “check in” with each other. Each man tells the others in the circle where he is emotionally and spiritually. They also do “shadow” checks.
Shadows, a term introduced by psychologist Carl Jung, are feelings or thoughts that are hidden or repressed.
Check-ins are a daily process for Bert Dinkins, who works at home as a Web designer for a company owned by a fellow “warrior.” Some of his co-worker are also “warriors.”
“Every morning we do a check-in on the telephone,” said Dinkins, who recently moved from Memphis to El Paso after his wife, Rebecca, moved her optometry practice there.
Dinkins, a recovering alcoholic, was drawn to Mankind 1997 to improve his relationship with his three children who were 14, 12 and 8 at the time.
“I thought I had to scare my kids to get them to respect me,” Dinkins said. “After the weekend I felt safe in allowing them to see the real me. And I found out it’s okay to show affection and tell them ‘I love you.’ “
Dinkins’ father died when he was 22 and the father of a 9-month-old son.
“I felt like I didn’t know how to be a man,” he said. “The only emotions I saw from my father were happiness and anger. I never saw him cry.”
Weekly I-Group meetings are now an important part of life for Dinkins.
“You bond so closely to these men over the training weekend. I feel I could trust them with anything painful in my life.”
Being able to express their feelings in the I-Groups allows the men to be more honest with their feelings in other relationships.
The men report having being better able to communicate with their wives, children, extended families, friends and co-workers.
For Joseph Pegues, the Mankind Project helped him kick his addiction to alcohol and to regain the trust of his wife and children.
“It made me look at what was wrong with my life and gave me direction in what I could do to make it better,” he said. “Now I’m not trying to cover up things. I don’t have anything to hide.”
Chumbley’s daughter, Julene Simmons, was in her early teens when her father completed his weekend of training.
“He was more affectionate and more positive and affirming of my sister and I,” she said. She and her sister also came to love and enjoy her father’s warrior friends.
“They were all like big brothers or uncles to us,” she said. “Everyone was so close and supportive.”
When she married, she insisted on her husband, Ben Simmons, going through the training.
“He’s from a family that is very quiet and doesn’t talk about things,” she said. “The men who come out of the weekend are different. There is positive energy that radiates about them. I told Ben he was out of his box.”
Ben told her he had not only come out of his box, he had “crossed the street, gotten in a boat and gone down the river.”
He encouraged Julene to attend one of the occasional Woman Within training weekends offered by the Mankind Project.
When their son Alex was born 2½ years ago, she asked the Mankind community to dedicate him into their circle.
Owen and his wife Sharon Trammell wrote the ceremony that blessed Alex and his parents and relatives and committed the Mankind community’s support to them.
“They blessed us with joy and laughter,” said Julene, who now lives in Chattanooga with Ben, Alex and Paxton, who is 1. “I see my father, my husband and my sons always being part of this community.”
Zoe Nadel was inside the house observing her husband and son sitting on the deck right after they returned from their training weekend.
“I had never seen such contentment between them,” she said. “Their bonding and friendship is the greatest gift I could have gotten.”
The communication skills they learned over the weekend improved the family dynamic.
“Everyone is happier,” she said.
Alan, who recently had surgery to get a pacemaker, sought support from his I-Group in overcoming his apprehensions of the procedure.
“When I need help I know they will be there for me,” he said.
He saw how the men kept a monthlong bedside vigil for a fellow warrior who was dying of pancreatic cancer.
“It was difficult for all of us but we wanted to be there for him in whatever he needed,” Alan said.
Every man who goes through the training creates a mission statement for his life.
Owen, a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said his mission gives focus to his life.
It is: “I create love and joy on the earth while embracing and blessing my imperfections and yours.”
Fulfilling it can be as simple as smiling at someone he passes in the street or as involved as helping someone achieve equity in their job. Participating in the training weekends is also a part of it.
“The men are in such a place of love and joy after the weekend, that being a part of that is important to my mission,” he said.
After his own training, he learned to deal with the need for perfection lovingly instilled in him by his mother.
“I realized that I’m good enough exactly the way I am. I don’t have to be perfect,” Owen said. “I had been letting Mom control my life instead of me taking control of it.”
The training weekend put life into perspective for Craig Nadel.
“I realized how lucky we are and that it is so much easier to love than not to love,” said Nadel, who is now a music professional in Austin, Tex. “It is truly a magical experience. It should be a requirement for life. If everyone did it, the world would be a better place.”