Men have looked for strength in themselves for all eternity; whether it be as warriors, lovers, magicians, or kings. There are times we need to be in council, in circle, with other men to help us decide what or when or even if an action is needed; times we need to see if changing ourselves is the road to travel on. The ManKind Project offers you that place. I offer you that place. Come and sit in circle with me.
The ManKind Project opens its doors
by Steve Shanafelt, from Mountain Xpress
Richard Tomaskovic doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd bother with a support group. At 71, the former technical writer and engineer is a witty and engaging talker who seems more active than a lot of people half his age. The man positively radiates a sense of purpose and competence.
Yet every week for the past year-and-a-half, Tomaskovic and a dozen or so other area residents have gotten together to dig deeper into themselves and the challenges they face.
"We talk about our issues and feelings," he explains. "We support each other in looking into those areas of our lives where we want to change."
These men are members of The ManKind Project, a Malone, N.Y.-based nonprofit dedicated to helping every man become a better person. And if the mission sounds somewhat vague, participants swear by the group's methods (though the specifics are kept under wraps).
"What The ManKind Project does is provide a structure," says Tomaskovic, a kind of unofficial spokesman for the local group. "It is a forum to just hang out and talk about our real feelings, without being afraid of the pressure that we find in the rest of the world."
They aren't failures. They aren't crybabies. Many are highly successful in their professional lives, say group members. And for all the talking, there's a lot of listening, too.
"The male norm is macho," says Tomaskovic. "It's about presenting yourself as tough and unemotional. Everyone has to be competitive and in a pecking order." The problem with that view, he says, is that it's not realistic: Men aren't always tough. Men have emotions; men sometimes need help. But there aren't many places where they can learn how to recognize and process those emotions in a safe, supportive environment.
One key theme in their ongoing discussions is the need for personal responsibility. Other frequent topics include personal integrity and trust.
A rite of passage
There's more to joining The ManKind Project than simply showing up, however. Prospective members must first attend The New Warrior Training Adventure, a kind of emotional boot camp that the group says was inspired by a fusion of Jungian psychology and the initiation rites of many primitive cultures.
"It is challenging on many levels," says Tomaskovic. "But it's not an abusive situation, and there's no physical danger."
It also isn't cheap, costing anywhere from $600 to $800 for a three-day retreat, depending on the region and the number of participants. (Scholarships and payment plans are available through the local groups.)
Launched in Milwaukee in 1985, The ManKind Project now has 38 regional training centers and claims more than 30,000 members worldwide. The local groups are more or less independent and self-sustaining, though they make voluntary payments to help support the national organization, says Tomaskovic. His group, one of four in the Asheville area, has been meeting for at least seven years.
Seeking to boost enrollment, however, the national organization has been encouraging local groups to try something new: letting men who might be curious attend part of one of the weekly meetings. If they like what they see, the thinking goes, they might be more willing to shell out the money to take the New Warrior training.
"These men make commitments to change their lives," Tomaskovic explains. "They want to be better partners, more responsible, and to break old habits. We can't make people change their lives, but what we can do is point out to them when they aren't keeping their commitments."
Take Tomaskovic himself, for example. Before joining The ManKind Project, he says, he had trouble being assertive and always felt ill at ease with his own "peculiarities."
Today, however, Tomaskovic says he feels like a new man.
"People tell me that I'm different, even in ways that I don't see," he reports. "I've started to make changes in the relationships in my life. I'm more able to identify what I really want, and I'm more able to present myself as a complete person."
What kind of man does Tomaskovic think would be most helped by The ManKind Project? What kinds of problems does the training help to solve?
"It's not about having problems," he says. "It's just about men expressing who they really are. These men are no different than any other man. The only difference is that they are choosing to take a look at themselves and [try] to change their lives."
Testing the waters
In recent weeks, The ManKind Project has begun holding free, open meetings locally. Two more such gatherings are planned before the group's next initiation rite, The New Warrior Training Adventure (scheduled for Friday, May 20). The informal, men-only sessions will be held at the Unity Church of Asheville (130 Shelburne Road in West Asheville) April 27 and May 1. For more information, contact Richard Tomaskovic at 299-3924, or visit The ManKind Project's Web site (http://www.mkp.org/).