If Men are in crisis, what does that mean for Fathers? It means today’s Fathers are working harder than ever to meet their family’s needs and to hopefully equip their kids with the skills and perspectives necessary in the coming era. Gathering Dads together to share their visions for raising the next generation may be one of the best ways to crystallize and disseminate new paradigms for Fathers and Men. For this reason, and because (unlike Women) Men rarely find themselves together talking about their role as a parent, for the past year I have endeavored to build “Fathers Circles” – both through physical gatherings and online networks – to provide Dads with spaces to communicate and support each other as they embark on what is arguably the most rigorous and challenging journey of Manhood.
First, I invite all Fathers reading to join a growing online community where Dads are discussing, in a private forum, a range of dynamic issues in near real-time. We currently use the Facebook platform because it is easy and widely adopted. The discussions show up on each member’s News Feed, but are seen by no one outside the group. Members can also adjust their email settings. If you are on Facebook, search for “Fathers Circle,” click the “Ask to Join Group” button at the upper right, and join the discussion.
I also encourage any interested Dads to form a Fathers Circle in your area. The in-person community is invaluable and enriching. While there is no rule as to format, the following is a framework that I offer as a starting point.
How to run a local Fathers Circle
“The Fathers Circle is a semi-formal but relaxed, regular gathering of Fathers, where Dads get together to relate specifically about Fatherhood. While the Circle may not be able to coach or advise any Father on his path, sometimes one Father’s experiences can bring some perspective to another’s circumstances. We welcome all types of Fathers, including lesbian partners that identify as a Father-figures. New participants are always welcome to drop into our Circle, and to return as often as desired.”
- When: First Tuesday of each month, 6-7:30pm
- Where: [anywhere Fathers can sit in a private circle]
- What: An ongoing conversation about Fatherhood
- Who: expectant, new, & seasoned Fathers
I hold the Fathers Circle once a month, for an hour and a half. We meet monthly because – especially when kids are little – each month charts steady and visible changes in a child’s growth, the whole family’s routine, and Fatherhood’s challenges. We meet on the First Tuesday of each month because that’s a relatively easy day to remember, and it’s not a hectic and tired night like Monday, or an almost-weekend night like Thursday or Friday. We start at 6pm so as to not go too late. I keep the meetings free to encourage participation and because the meeting-space itself is donated.
Before the meeting, I come up with a theme to guide the discussion. Some recent examples include: the onslaught of unsolicited advice we receive as parents, how we are having fun as fathers, how our relationship with our partners is going, disciplining our kids, stress, work, relationship with our own parents/fathers, etc. I solicit and maintain an email contact list of interested Dads, and send out a reminder email to this list at least two days before the Circle, where I also disclose the theme.
At the meeting, I set up a circle of cushions with a candle and medicine bag in the center, to help give the circle a ritual feel. I light the candle to start the meeting, as a simple invocation to invite our grandfathers to join us in the room. (A friend was once told that the ancestors are present in the shadows of tribal dancers created by firelight – unfortunately our candle usually doesn’t cast enough light to actually see any grandfathers that come to join us…)
We initiate the gathering by taking a minute to sit up straight, close our eyes, and focus on our breath. I verbally guide a brief visualization, often inspired by the theme. For example, if the theme is how our needs for (or definitions of) community are changing as Fathers, I might encourage those present to visualize their current ideal of community, inviting them to note what they are doing and who they are with. We then return to the present and begin the Circle.
In the Circle
While the substance of the gathering can flow in any direction, often discussion is generated through going around the Circle in multiple rounds. The first round is always introductions. I usually encourage the Dads to check in with their name, their children’s names and ages, how they are feeling today as a Father on a scale of 0-10 (ten = loving every minute, zero = despondent), and their high+low for the last few weeks or month (reporting on their highest recent joy as Father, and on their biggest current challenge/fear).
This first round is often a rich vein for dialogue, especially if Dads report they’re experiencing some low numbers on the 0-10 scale, or if discussion ensues regarding a Father’s current challenges. I try to respond and provide reflection, especially to the challenges, and usually other Men will chime in since most Dads will relate to every other Dad’s fears and challenges. One of the great things about the Circle is that each gathering has its own vibe. Different Dads, with different issues, all at different stages of the journey will be present on any given night, so a variety of perspectives are usually in attendance. A Father with multiple or older kids will often have a balanced perspective to offer to a brand new Father, and in turn may get some new perspective on his own life (where people do things like sleep through the night). Expectant Fathers, especially, get a great introduction to life on the other side of the doorway.
After the first round, I suggest going around the Circle and discussing the theme. I invite Dads to share their image from the visualization, or to discuss absolutely anything that’s coming up. Often we don’t get around the Circle in a linear fashion this round, as the discussion gets more informal and flowing.
Soon it will be 7:20, and I will jump in at an appropriate point and alert the Dads that we need to wrap up. I invite any last questions for, or reports to, the Circle. If there are none, we close the Circle with another minute of quiet focus on our breath. I invite the reflecting Dads at this time to isolate one concept from the night’s discussion, one piece of wisdom that they want to take back and implement in their lives on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully they will test it and come back to report in the future. We sometimes also do a quick Gift round, whereby we go around the Circle to see if anyone has a need, something to offer, or any gratitude for prior gifts (based on Charles Eisenstein’s description of the “gift circle”). After closing, Dads often visit casually.
I hope this description is helpful to any Fathers who are interested in forming a support network in their area. I’ve gotten positive feedback on this framework, although I’m interested in feedback or reports on other successful models. Don’t be disappointed if you start small or at any point have only a few Dads present. Simply shorten the meeting time as needed, or if no one is present, use the time to reflect personally about what is coming up for you as a Father, or do some journaling, reading about Fatherhood issues, or plan some themes for future discussions. Distribute flyers or use the internet to gather the Dads. I used my connection to a local yoga studio with prenatal and mommy and me yoga classes (I’m married to the owner, but that’s not a prerequisite) to centralize and publicize the gathering. Even so, it took me a while to build up a constant group; but just showing up consistently goes a long way. Dads tend to come and go, but I always get something useful out of the group, and feel like I’m providing value to my community through holding this space.
Thanks for your time and your service. And best of luck to all the Fathers.
John (Father of Phoenix)
Note: if you are a Father in the Boulder/Denver area, please drop in on our Circle any time! We’d love to have you. (http://www.yomamaboulder.com/fathers-circle/)