Shedding the legacy of patriarchy

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.”

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