Te Rōpū Tāne – the journey of the men’s group



Prior to 2013

Te Rōpū Tāne has existed for two years, since Brian Joseph came in 2011 and ran the first men’s evenings and intensive weekend. Brian returned in 2012 and offered a similar programme. In between, a core group of men met to plan for this delivery, and to set a vision and intention for the group. This group had approached others they knew to bring more men into the programmes. After Brian left in 2012, the group also organised a ‘dads and kids’ bike day.

The story of 2013

The men’s group began in 2013 with great anticipation. Wheturangi Tepania had made the commitment to take his whānau to Los Angeles over the summer of 2012-13, so he could undertake the ‘Train the Trainer’ programme (Parent Educator Certification Program).


Back in Whaingaroa, the core group of men awaited his return with a clear focus on supporting him to deliver back in the local community. In April this core group met and heard from Wheturangi about his learning.


They decided to offer a monthly meeting time for all men interested in this kaupapa to come together, learn more, and support one another. These meetings began in June, and continued once a month until December.

The group’s focus was established as being about relationships – within whānau and with each other, informed by the philosophy of nonviolent parenting. Needs identified for the group at the first meeting were:

  • Safe environment for sharing and releasing of thoughts and feelings

  • On-going support, which helps men to regulate and give more empathy

  • Building connected relationships with men in the community and being a part of a group

  • Parenting and communication tools and strategies.


This work set things up for Brian’s return in October. Brian requested the intensive weekend be focused on extending the learning for those men who were versed in the kaupapa, rather than repeating an introductory style meeting for new men. The group decided to meet on Saturday afternoon/ evening, and then again on Sunday morning, and to invite other men to join them for Sunday lunch. Brian and Wheturangi were co-leads for the meeting, allowing Wheturangi an opportunity for supervision during Brian’s visit. After Brian’s visit, the men’s group met twice more following their regular monthly schedule. The men had planned a ‘dads and kids walk’ up Karioi, but this was delayed by rain, and the decision was made to instead support one of the men in the group to have a working bee on his house project.

Reflections

This story is based on the kōrero of two main organisers of the men’s group this year (Wheturangi as facilitator, and Tiaki doing logistics and coordination), who were asked to reflect on the journey over 2013. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in this story are from these two men. Additional ideas have been included from feedback provided by participants at Te Rōpū Tāne meetings, and from reflections at debriefing hui held after men’s group events.

Overall, the group has changed and developed during 2013, as men have taken the opportunity to speak freely with one another.


“There has been a real journey of the men’s group this year. The first meeting – it was like a ‘scream-out’ from men, just to have a space to share their stories. It had such impact – for many, this is the first time they have EVER shared, ever talked about feelings, even though they are in their 30s, 40s, 50s. They just didn’t grow up with that.


And now at the end of the year, men are coming because they feel supported and they want to support others. Their presence is supportive, and they are not doing it for themselves, but for the community. There was a noticeable shift at the last two meetings, after the men’s weekend – the kōrero has been very deep, very honest, men reflecting. Men spoke without shame, taking the space and sharing and using it – showing vulnerability. There is a sense of pride in being part of the group, turning up – they’re there.”


Nonviolent parenting (NVP) is still seen as providing the philosophical grounding for the group. “The kaupapa of NVP can hold the group, carry us, bring us back to the same place – it is exciting, empathy-focused, and it helps us be a group of men with no sense of competition or dominance.”

While the kaupapa has always been there, a significant change this year was the new capability developed when Wheturangi undertook his training in Los Angeles. Men were invited to hear about this experience at the June meeting of the Rōpū Tāne. Wheturangi recalled “I talked about how I deeply reflected on my life, the intense and overwhelming emotions that came from it, the awareness I was getting through reading books and attending workshops, the coping strategies for feeling powerless, the challenges in not knowing what to do to get out of the ‘stuckness’, the many things I have tried to help myself, and the empowerment of coming out the other end of this difficult transition...”


The meeting continued with men sharing their own stories, and their trials and tribulations with parenting. The group labelled barriers like the vulnerability of sharing feelings and why it is important to have someone to talk to. Confidentiality around the detail of men’s stories was requested as a prerequisite for some men to feel comfortable to share in the group. As the monthly meetings continued through the rest of 2013, a range of men attended. “Some have a hardened exterior – not wanting to look at people, swallowing emotions.


Some have a ‘black and white’ kind of view of things. Some probably felt like they were good fathers initially; others are coming because it’s been really difficult for them. We are reaching into different parts of the community and seeing the walls breaking down. We are seeing those qualities of men when approaching a challenge – determined, strategic, finding a way through.”

The monthly meeting format includes beginning with a check-in. Men have become more and more comfortable with this process as time goes on. “At the first meeting, each man would say one sentence. It would have been a challenge for some men just to sit in a circle and share their name and the names of their kids. Now, they talk freely, they really talk! You can see them reflecting as they are talking – they are very insightful – you can see them, learning about their children, men solving it for themselves, being thoughtful about their actions, being honest.”


The check-in provides rich content for further discussion. “One man might talk about needs – his needs – and we could use it as an example of developing our vocabulary around feelings and needs. That was in everyone’s action plan! In the group, hearing that it’s OK to feel angry or hurt, that behind that feeling there is a need – building emotional intelligence, getting a sense of how powerful that is, to be able to ask ourselves: ‘OK, I’m feeling like this, what’s that about?’”


The group also practises giving empathy, doing exercises working in pairs. “Men are listening and giving empathy – really encouraging it, you can feel it in the pairs – building that muscle between us. Not saying ‘it’ll turn out right’ or ‘you’ll be all good’, but instead saying ‘you’re feeling overwhelmed by all that.’ Men are modelling their own self-empathy – it’s a powerful thing, and it shows they are confident, knowing ‘this is a place I can share that and I am not being judged’. Some still have dominant ways of thinking and acting, sometimes it’s not shifting, but we can role model empathy to them. We can feel compassion, and think: ‘What does he need? Familiarity, safety, comfort.’”


Over the course of the year and during the men’s weekend, discussion traversed many topics, and different frameworks, resources and information were shared, but always with an opportunity for men to share their own experiences.


Written feedback collected from the men revealed that what was said, and what was heard in the meetings was powerful. From one man, "It was an empowering feeling to share my story of how I got through my depression - out of that stuckness." Another said he was "inspired by the stories of change told by my brothers." The opportunity to share their stories was appreciated: “Good to share thoughts and feels”.

The extended time together at the men’s weekend encouraged some men who had been reserved about sharing at other meetings to open up. “As the day went on, stories kept coming. The culture of sharing really developed.” The value of the stories was reflected in some of the comments men wrote up as feedback on the weekend. “Even though this was a group workshop, there felt like lots of space. Hearing stories was my favourite bit.”


Another reiterated that a key positive aspect was “hearing others’ stories, gaining strength from them.” The weekend provided the opportunity for exploration. “Found the course a really engaging and opening experience. Found a space to let down my guard and open up to new ideas. Changed some of my judgements.” This was assisted by the open atmosphere fostered by the leaders and by the group itself: “Brian and Wheturangi created a safe, non- threatening environment, to be able to explore big stuff. Thanks.” “Trust was earnt when people shared openly without judgement.”


The objectives designed by Brian and Wheturangi for the men’s weekend were:

  • To enjoy some time together and consolidate relationships so we can support each other

  • Space for each man to grow and develop self-awareness by sharing stories

  • Putting our own journey into the bigger picture of power in our society/ our world

  • To plan, as individuals and a group, some ‘do-able’ actions.


Feedback sought from the men who attended showed that numbers 1, 2, and 4 above were achieved 100%, while achievement ratings for number 3 ranged from 80% to 100%. (Men said that this was an interesting and valuable introduction to a much larger topic, but that there was insufficient space in the weekend to look at what they could practically do to balance the power differences identified). In terms of what has been changing with practices at home, men have not necessarily focused on the specific actions from the action plans they prepared in the men’s weekend. “Many of them forgot about those plans. But there is the sense they are just connecting in different ways – with each other, with their partners, with their kids. And their curiosity is coming through. When we break into pairs, topics come up that men want to talk about – like sons and sex – how do they talk with their sons about that? It wasn’t a topic that was planned, but the group starts talking about it, talking in a nonviolent way, reflecting as they are speaking. The format sometimes has the feel of a wānanga. There have been different bits of information shared, like about the brain, and other times it has just followed what the men have raised. In some ways having meetings a month apart is a long time to track and consistently support them in something like an action plan. But a month is a good time to build up enough frustration to feed the talking!”


By the end of the year, there was a growing feeling of consolidation in the group. “Now the structure feels very sound – there are solid men in that circle. The potential is there – you get a sense of the power of this group of men to make change. They are there, they are rewiring the brain. ‘This is who I am, how I was brought up. I’m changing it now, I’m here and I’m going to change more.’”

Coming together monthly, there is repetition, and trust builds with the group. “There is a spoken respect. A connection is made between men that didn’t know each other before, but now they connect because they have the same ‘back story’ – they know where each other are coming from. Those who keep coming find they can be open, vulnerable. Ones that don’t come so often don’t have that. Some of the men still text each other to make sure the other one is coming. You can see the men move around during breaks, going to a man who is looking alone or looking lost, just to chat, to check in. Now in our breaks, men are continuing the conversation, carrying on with what we’ve just been talking about – they are excited about it and it’s becoming natural. Men are connecting, hanging around after - there is a cohesive feeling, unity within the group.” This is summarised by one man’s feedback at the end of the men’s weekend: “I definitely feel more connected with each workshop.”


For 2014 there is a concern that new people might find it hard to integrate into such a tight group, and bringing in newcomers will be thought through carefully. “Next year maybe for the first meeting we can work in two groups and really work consciously with the group who haven’t had access to the experience before.”


One reflection from Wheturangi was that it can be hard as a facilitator to know sometimes how to challenge people, particularly when there are older men in the group. Brian acknowledged this, but affirmed its importance. “There is value in a voice that says ‘I really appreciate where you’ve gone AND I want to invite you to think about this also [from an nonviolent parenting perspective]...’ To be able to say: ‘Yes, AND...’! ‘I totally respect your opinion here and also, I want to say we’re trying to make a space where we uphold...’ Encourage them to think about it in another way: ‘here’s another piece we haven’t talked about yet.’ Or ‘I’m really glad you raised that and there are probably others here who think that... So where I’m coming from is a little different’.” Wheturangi feels it is important not to assume, and to acknowledge the experience in the room. “My role here is to guide things along. And I am new to this.”


From the perspective of Tiaki, giving logistical support and taking part in the group, Wheturangi’s journey adds a lot of value. “Having a pou there means if we hear something that is coming from the dominant paradigm, Wheturangi can share how to reframe it, and understand it from a nonviolent perspective. Part of the story of this year has been a pou living this, modelling this, and sharing it in our group. As one of the men said to Wheturangi: ‘you are the perfect ambassador for this kaupapa’.”


When the group feels relaxed and comfortable, the facilitator can relax too. “At the last meeting, they were checking in and nodding and supporting each other – it took all the work out of it, it felt relieving for me. It’s awesome to see how empowered the men are there, all supporting each other. When they were checking out they were acknowledging each other, recognising all the roles – they had done it all, men picked up where someone else hadn’t. It was a nice warm feeling.”


In summary, there is a positive sense of development and learning about the work that has been done since Te Rōpū Tāne geared up in June. “It has been a rich four or five months.”