The year was 1991. Maine Coast Men was just about to exist. I’d been a part of the men’s group that conceived the biannual weekend on the model of a similar weekend in Maine’s interior called Mainely Men. Greg Marley was in our men’s group and he thought since Mainely Men was filling up quickly and turning men away, perhaps there was room for another men’s weekend in Maine.
I’d never been to a men’s weekend retreat. Never. In fact, I’d only been a part of the men’s group with Greg for a short time. Nonetheless, I signed on to the original board of directors to form the weekend as the head of publicity. I created a logo for the weekend and the initial mailing and confirmation mailing as well as worksheets for the weekend workshop proposals. We had no website. There were other men there who knew more about logistics for a men’s weekend retreat — the food, music (variety show), sweat lodge, bonfire and liason with Tanglewood 4-H camp in Lincolnville, Maine, that would be the ongoing home of the men’s retreat.
The first Maine Coast Men weekend retreat was also my own first men’s weekend retreat. Our cutoff for attendees was 70 men. I believe we had well over that apply to come. I was surprised to see how many men I knew in attendance. The opening circle took all friggin’ night.
What workshops were offered or which ones I attended, I don’t remember. I do remember a workshop where men were running through the woods. Another workshop on our fathers revealed to me how many men have poor relationships with their dads. In fact, I found I was the only man there who had a good relationship with his father. The food was plentiful and delicious, thanks to Brad Purdy, who is still involved with the food at the weekend.
I was impressed with how the men attending were willing, anxious even, to jump in and help out. My own experience with groups of men had always been to shirk away if anything was asked of us. If you volunteered to do something, you were all by yourself. Not so at the men’s weekend. A man would announce we were moving the tables and benches in the dining hall for the variety show, and fifteen or twenty men all jumped up and made quick work of it. Dishes to be done in the kitchen? The men packed the place and it was done in an amazingly short amount of time.
There were also displays of men “going deeper.” This means men would show anger, frustration, sadness, joy — emotions one rarely saw men exhibit in polite society. In one instance, a man was a “foil” or a wall against which another man would hurl his emotion, anger for instance. A simply syllable was selected (in this case, “dah”) and the man repeatedly screamed “dah!” against the other man who was the foil, and with increased intensity. It was so scary, I had to steady myself just to remain in the room. Remember, anger shown to us in our lives was usually directed at us from a figure of authority, and it meant we were in deep, deep, trouble, deep.
Once the weekend retreat was over, there were cautions for men returning to the greater world outside the weekend. I took them seriously, as I realized how safe the space we had created there at Tanglewood really was. Once leaving, it felt like a journey returning to the outside. Somehow, the dirt road leading out of camp was fittingly rustic, then more refined, then paved reaching the Ducktrap Road in Lincolnville, then busier still once on Route 1 heading home. Suddenly, the entire experience was all like a dream.
My second weekend at Maine Coast Men didn’t so go well.
A Native American had been invited to the weekend and he was running back-to-back sweat lodges. I saw man after man go in and be transformed by them. I wanted to try it, but was nervous. I didn’t know this guy and had never been in a men’s sweat lodge. What was I in for? We all stripped down in the rainy weather, entered the lodge one by one, and once the door was closed, you couldn’t leave. At the last minute, before they closed the lodge, I slipped out. Suddenly, I was standing there in the rain, naked, as the sweat lodge started. I was ashamed for leaving the lodge. I left the weekend early, and didn’t return for a year.
I did return though.
Many times since 1991 I’ve returned to the Maine Coast Men weekends, and many times I’ve left, not to attend any for a number of years at a time. Then I would return again. Some men make a point of attending all the weekends they can. Others will attend one or two, then wander away as their life changed or improved. I wander, then come back and reconnect, then wander again.
My good friend, Lew McGregor, was challenging a man to attend the weekend. He’s very good at that, talking to men about coming and encouraging them to do so. The man looked at Lew and asked, “Do I look disturbed to you?” Lew responded, “No more than I am.”
There are men who see MCM weekends as something to do when you’re in trouble — going through a divorce, a failing business, or a crisis of some sort. Once things are resolved, they disappear, only to return if things go bad again. The rest of us see MCM as a place to connect, to build a community of men, to see old friends and make new ones. Also, I love seeing younger men who agree to come to the weekend with me learn about it, connect with the men there, and become involved.
And so it goes.