Thoughts on Moving On
by Michael Dover
In September 2003, I joined the staff at the MRC as interim co-director, expecting to spend a year in that post while our then-executive director, Steven Botkin, was on sabbatical. I was certainly no stranger to the place, having devoted a considerable amount of time in my early retirement to volunteering in various capacities for several years before taking this step. But being a volunteer, even as chair of the board, is different from co-directing the organization. I've been even more deeply involved in holding, expanding, and refining the vision and mission of the MRC over the last 20 months. We've successfully managed a transition to new leadership, initiated and continued our annual Men's Walk to End Abuse, transformed our Challenge & Change awards dinner, engaged the MRC around issues of war and peace, deepened our community connections, and weathered a variety of storms large and small. We've changed our name and enlarged our view of our constituencies--locally, regionally, and internationally. All in all, it's been quite a ride.
As I get ready to re-retire, I'm proud of these accomplishments and feel very confident that the MRC is in excellent hands, including executive director Rob Okun and new associate director Russell Bradbury-Carlin. And while we've successfully brought about significant changes, the MRC is much the same at its core: committed to, in our new phrase, supporting healthy manhood--challenging violence.
Lately we've come in for some criticism around our attention to the challenging violence part of that equation, as if we somehow weren't serious about the supporting healthy manhood aspect. Many of our critics don't know us very well, so when they see something like our Valentine's Day signature ad or our Men's Walk to End Abuse, they may think advocating against men's violence against women is all we do. Then, too, calling ourselves "pro-feminist" may be enough for some of our critics to dismiss us out of hand. But near or far, the question is a fair one to ask: do we do justice to both facets of our work?
My experience says we do, both in word and deed:
- Peruse any issue of Voice Male magazine and you'll find articles and columns about fathering, male survivors of abuse, gay and bisexual issues, men and depression, men in divorce, and much more that speaks to men's struggles to be whole human beings.
- As a longtime facilitator in our drop-in support groups, I see men coming together every week to share their stories and feel connection that they don't get anywhere else. I've personally heard men refer to these groups as their "lifeline" and listened to others describe how the groups have changed their lives. And, as I wrote in a recent web editorial, I've witnessed gay/straight dialogues that are profound for their very ordinariness. (See archive below.)
- If you were to talk to our youth group leader, Paul Collins, he'd tell you about helping boys and young men learn better who they are and how to travel the path to healthy manhood. But first he'd tell you about listening to them, understanding what their life experiences are, and encouraging them to explore among themselves what it means to be male in today's world.
- You could also attend one of our Fathers and Family Network meetings and hear a wide range of topics discussed around supporting fathers in our community. One recent offshoot of those conversations was the creation of a workshop called "Sharing the Caring," conceived and co-led by our support programs director, Allan Arnaboldi. The workshop helps teach couples and others how to share parenting responsibilities equitably in the best interests of the children.
- Our Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE) program recently renamed itself Moving Forward, in recognition of the fact that we are offering more than batterers' intervention. We've begun holding anger management classes for men and women, and will soon begin offering workshops on improving communication in relationships.
We take our anti-violence work very seriously, recognizing that the path to manhood for many of us involves exposure to violence, sexism, and homophobia in a variety of forms. For some, it means learning to fear or mistrust our peers or people with power over us. For some, it means learning to exert power over women, children, and other men through violence and intimidation. Our commitment to end men's violence and abuse is not only about protecting the victims but also about reclaiming the lives of the perpetrators. And in the end, it's about reclaiming masculinity for ourselves in a form that doesn't require domination of others.
So I leave the MRC staff feeling good that the organization is on the right track. I recently re-read Steven Botkin's essay "Why a Men's Center?" and was pleased to see we're remaining true to the vision contained there. Some of his thoughts are worth repeating as we move forward with new leadership and renewed energy:
At a men's center a safe place is created where men are encouraged to respect the full range of our feelings, where we do not have to deny our pain, our fear, our anger, or our joy, where men come together to witness and support each other in expressing ourselves clearly and honestly. We break through our fears and learn that our greatest strength is in our vulnerability with ourselves and others.
At a men's center men join together in learning how to recognize and take responsibility for our patterns of hurtful behavior. We examine how the social and psychological dimensions of masculinity have affected us personally and created the conditions for violence and abuse. We share and support each other's efforts to change these patterns, individually and culturally. We join as allies with women in challenging cultural and institutional systems of domination and control. We offer each other and our society models of recovery, safety, empowerment and hope.
At a men's center men come together with an agreement of honesty and respect for each other. We learn to put aside our fears and create a culture where we can practice understanding rather than winning, communication rather than fighting, sharing rather than defending. We become a place where men from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and communities can learn to feel safe with, listen to, and care for each other.
At a men's center men find others who are facing the challenges of these changes. Together we resist the pressures to adapt to a rigid, dominating masculinity, and support each other in developing diverse ways of being a man that express our highest values and visions. We are creating a new, healthier culture of masculinity.
At a men's center men join together with other men who want to make a contribution to the lives of the men, women, and children in their communities. Together we find ways to take actions that give voice to our caring and our commitment. We learn how to work collaboratively with each other and with women, developing shared power and leadership.
I may be leaving the staff, but I'm not leaving the MRC or the values it represents. My own growth as a human being demands nothing less than a continued commitment to the vision that Steven articulated so well. I invite you to join us in continuing to give form to that vision by supporting the newly renamed Men's Resource Center for Change.
Michael Dover will be leaving his post as associate director of the MRC at the end of June but will continue as a volunteer facilitator, occasional contributor to Voice Male, and website manager. He can be reached at [email protected]. Steven Botkin's essay "Why a Men's Center?" is available by clicking here.