“You should join us Wednesday night,” my friend Coy said to me as we were finishing up our breakfast meeting.
“What’s Wednesday night?” I asked curiously.
“A bunch of guys meet up at Washington Park every Wednesday evening and we walk around the park.” Then he paused for a second. “Actually, we do more than that.”
I couldn’t let that last comment go. “What do you mean you do more than that?”
Coy straightened up and looked me right in the eyes. “I mean, it’s not as much about the walk as it is about what transpires during the walk. We call it the man-walk. It is about men getting together to bond, share their feelings and support each other. It’s powerful. You have to experience it for yourself.”
“Really! How many guys participate?” I asked.
“It varies…anywhere from 6 to 12 men. Most live near the park and walk over.”
“So who are these guys?” I inquired, wondering if I’d fit in.
“They’re doctors, lawyers, and businessmen like us. Most are married and have families.” And then Coy’s voice became soft. “These men are unique. They are drawn towards the brotherhood that this group provides. They want to open up to other men and share their struggles without fear of being judged.”
I was getting more and more interested. “Like what kind of struggles?”
Coy was getting animated now as he rattled off examples. “The struggle of being a husband…a father…and a son. The struggle of traveling so much that you become disconnected from your own family. The struggle of having to be the primary bread-winner and the pressure that goes with that. The struggle of being in a bad marriage. The struggle of having to find a nursing home for your mother, who would rather die than be put into such a place.”
Then he smiled at me. “You know…the kind of issues that men don’t often share with each other.”
I nodded. “You had me at the ‘husband…father…son’ reference.”
He laughed. “Great. We’ll see you on Wednesday?”
I smiled. “I need to see what this man-walk is all about. I’ll be there.”
Now I’ll be honest, as Wednesday approached, I found myself looking for reasons not to go. I’ve done the “men’s thing” before, I reminded myself, or I can’t stay out that late…it’s a school night! And yet, despite all the mental arguments suggesting I bail, my gut was telling me to go.
And so I did. And wow! What an amazing experience it was…and with some amazing guys.
The evening begins at Coy’s house. I stroll in around 7:45 pm and we spend some time catching up before heading over to the park, by way of Dave’s house. Since most of the guys live in the area, it’s not unusual to stop at each other’s houses along the way. Dave happens to be one of the founding members of the group and probably the most instrumental in making it work. In fact, his garage, better known as The Swamp, has become the man cave for many of the guys in the neighborhood. It’s decorated in traditional Grateful Dead memorabilia, complete with couches, a TV, and a refrigerator. Too perfect!
I ask Coy and Dave to talk a little about the history of the man-walk before heading out. Dave begins by giving me a brief history and ends by telling me how much this group of men have meant to him.
“This is more than friendship,” he said, “This is brotherhood. We love each other.”
“And we’re truly there for each other,” added Coy, as we head out the door.
Its 9:00 pm by the time we reach Washington Park. The temperature is about 50-degrees and there is a full moon looming overhead. Suddenly, as if on command, small groups of men begin approaching us from all directions. At some parks this could be a threatening image, but not here, not now. These men clearly all know each other, as the once silent night turned into loud greetings, laughter, and men hugging men.
This must be the group, I muse to myself, feeling a bit awkward, like I’m looking in from the outside.
“Let’s circle up,” yells Dave. Within seconds the twelve men form a circle for their ritualistic check-in. Then, one by one, each man shares a little about what’s going on for him and how he’s doing. Some share very vulnerable things while others keep it to how they are feeling in the moment. I was so touched by the level of openness and honesty that they were displaying with each other. It made me want to open up to them as well. But the best part for me was how each man ended with the words, “I’m in,” when he finished. To me that meant, “I’m here and I’m committed to being a part of this group.”
After check-in, we set off for our 2.5 mile walk around the park. Some men walked in small groups while other men talked in dyads, with the configuration of who’s talking to whom always changing. The topics of conversations also varied. At one moment I’m talking about my job while at another moment I’m sharing the legacy I hope to leave on earth. There were no boundaries…anything was fair game.
Near the middle of the walk, Dave asks the whole group to circle up again. This time he asks Britt to step into the middle of the circle. Britt is about to leave town for three months and Dave wants to give him a formal send-off. Then, one-by-one, each man gave a comment, or a blessing, or simply a hug to say goodbye to Britt. Again I was blown away. Who are these guys, I’m wondering.
It’s about 10:00 pm when we complete our walk and we circle up one last time for the check-out. As with the check-in, each man gets a chance to say something to the group, but this time ends with the words, “I’m out.”
Now complete, the band of brothers disperses the same way they began with loud goodbyes, laughter, and lots of men hugging men.
In the end, the walk itself was maybe an hour…but the memory for me will last for a long, long time.
Men need men…not just for sports and an occasional slap on the back…but for support, brutal honesty, and brotherhood. We need a safe place to be vulnerable without judgment, comparison or competition. More importantly, we need a man-walk.
Greg Giesen is the Manager of People Development at the University of Denver and brings over 25-years of experience in leadership development, management coaching, conflict mediation, team building, and keynote speaking. He’s also the author the award-winning novel, Mondays At 3: A Story for Managers Learning to Lead.