Our 45-Year Men’s Group: Honoring Tony, A Man of Great Generosity and Patience

Photo by: Ellery Sterling / Unsplash.com

I am an only child by birth, but Tony became the brother I never had. It began the day I attended a workshop on April 21, 1979. I had recently moved to Mill Valley from Stockton California after my marriage had ended. I felt alone and hungry for connection. I saw a flyer tacked on a bulletin board that grabbed my attention:

“Men, come and share a day with other men and hear psychologist Herb Goldberg, author of The Hazards of Being Male. We will explore the complexities of men’s roles today.”

            Goldberg said,

“There is a lot of talk these days about male privilege. It’s true that males, as a group, occupy many positions of power in society, but the male has paid a heavy price for his masculine privilege and power. He is out of touch with his emotions and his body. He is playing by the rules of the male game plan and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically and physically.”

            I could certainly relate to his words and I was looking for a different way to be in the world.

            The day with Goldberg and what followed changed my life. The day wasn’t about gender politics or trying to figure out who was more harmed by the social system. It was about taking responsibility for our own wounds and supporting each other in healing. One of the exercises we did, was to have each man reflect on the times we had felt dropped-out or betrayed by other males in our lives.

            I talked about my father’s anger and his leaving the family when I was five years old, something I had rarely discussed with anyone, and certainly not in front of a group of strangers. As other men talked about their own experiences, I realized I wasn’t alone. Many men had experienced a father wound. But there were other hurts and betrayals.

            One man talked about being the youngest in his family and having two older brothers who tormented him. Another talked about his hunger to have a child. He was willing to give up a relationship that was good in all other ways, except the woman didn’t want children. I’d never heard a man talk so fervently about wanting to be a dad.

            Tony was one of the fifteen men attending the gathering. He was tall, good-looking, soft-spoken, but very approachable.

            After the day had ended, we all had opened ourselves up to vulnerabilities and wounds we had never shared before. I felt I had found soul brothers and wanted to continue the experience. Tom, one of the organizers, invited anyone interested to meet the following Thursday at his home. Ten of us showed up and we discussed the idea of meeting weekly for a men’s group. I was pleased to see that one of the men who came was Tony. After a few weeks, the group was reduced to seven and we have continued meeting since then.

            My wife, Carlin, says that one of the main reasons she feels we have had a wonderful forty-four-year marriage is because I have been in a men’s group that has been meeting for forty-five years.

            In my book12 Rules for Good Men I reflected on the many experiences we went through together in the group and described the following 7 Stages:

  • Learning to Trust and Open Up.
  • Revealing Our True Selves, Fears, and Insecurities.
  • Baring our Bodies and Souls.
  • Finding Delight and Having Great Fun Together.
  • Revitalizing the Group (After we had been together twelve years, one of the guys said we seemed like an old and comfortable married couple. We needed to spice things up, and we did).
  • Making a Lifetime Commitment to Keeping the Group Together.
  • Dealing With Disabilities, Loss, and Dying.

            When the group began in 1979, I was thirty-six. There were three guys older than me and three guys younger. I turned eighty last year and am now the group elder. Four of us have passed on and three of us are still alive. Tony passed on May 26, 2024 and we are still in the process of mourning his death and celebrating the gifts that he has left us.

            There are two qualities that stand out to me about Tony. The first quality is his patience. In a world where everyone seems to be in a rush, Tony always took his time. He listened and reflected deeply. When he did talk, it was always with gentleness, clarity, and an ability to cut through the chatter and noise and get to the heart of the matter.

            In recent years he had to deal with many health challenges and would say that it was like an endless “whack-a-mole,” dealing with one problem, only to have another one pop up and demand his attention. But he handled each one with grace and courage.

            The second quality is his generosity. We would take turns meeting in different places, sometimes in one of our homes, sometimes in another. Sometimes we would rent a house in a beautiful area, often by the ocean. Whenever we met, when it was Tony’s turn to host he would go out of his way to make the experience special. Spending time with Tony was always a cornucopia good food, good wine, good cheer, and always a surprise or two.

            His generosity of spirit went beyond the things that a great host, friend, and brother would do. He was like a virtuoso musician (He loved music and had been a roadie for the Sons of Champlin rock band in the 1960s and 1970s) who paid attention to details. And the details all had to do with the music of love and life.

            One of the experiences that Tony and I had together was attending one of the last performances that the band the Eagles gave at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on March 10, 1980. I had seen the Eagles perform shortly after the band formed in the 1970s and danced and sang to iconic songs like Peaceful Easy Feeling, Tequila Sunrise, and Desperado (for me the ultimate song that spoke to my wounded heart—as it has to so many males I know–with lyrics

like these:

Desperado, you know you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, are drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom
Well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking
Through this world all alone…

And don’t your feet get cold in the wintertime?
The sky won’t snow, and the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the night-time from the day
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feelin’ goes away?

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you…

And the last plaintive lines:

You better let somebody love you (let somebody love you)
Let somebody love you before it’s too late.

            On our last telephone call before Tony passed he told me,

“I received a loving intervention from some medical professionals today who made it clear to me that I am dying. Just wanted to touch in with you and the guys. There will be no grand gestures or parties or anything like that. I just want to remember the great times we have had together these many years. I love you, my brother. You do the great work and I love you so much.”

            Being with Tony and the five other men in our group has given me lessons about courage and love that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Tony, I love you too, brother. Your spirit will continue to bless us all.

            As we all had agreed, our group will carry on until the last man has passed and will live on through the lives of those we love and whose lives we have touched.

            My commitment to men and the work I do is to write an article each week and send out a free newsletter to anyone who would like to subscribe. You can do so here.

            I also offer a number of on-line courses on some of the most important issues people address in their lives. You can check them out here.

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