The Cub Scout helps the pack go, the pack helps the Cub Scout grow.
The Cub Scout gives good will.
— Cub Scout motto
On occasion, I’ve alluded here to a men’s group that I’m a part of. It seems to me that I’m a better father because of it.
On the surface, we don’t appear to be doing anything remarkable. We sit in a circle in the garage every other week.
The world was a different place when we began. Nobody had a cell phone. No one had heard of the Internet. Through death, divorce, personal triumphs and disasters, the group has remained.
Just after he was born, Nora took Nick to a meeting and the group blessed him. She laid him down in the center in his basket. One by one, each of the men approached and whispered words to Nick. I don’t remember exactly what the words were. But I remember the exact place the words were spoken. And Nick has heard the story.
Because the group meets at our house, Nick knows all the men and all the men know him. Before heading outside to the garage, we usually hang out in the dining room to catch up on the news. When he was little, Nick hid under the dinner table and listened.
I can’t say for sure, but I think that for Nick, our going outside was an act of magic. To him, we were the knights of the round table, and the garage was Camelot.
Since he’s started making soft swords, Nick sometimes gives me one he’s especially proud of.
“Show this to the men,” he says. “In the garage.”
So I take the sword with me into the garage and pass it around.
The next day Nick always asks, “What did the men say?”
I tell him.
GATHERING IN THE DARK
When I was a kid, I was in the Boy Scouts. We read something called the Handbook for Boys, a compendium full of wood lore, first aid information, and so on. Every few years a new edition appeared, but I’ve always been drawn to one of the older manuals because of the picture on its cover. It showed a group sitting around a fire. Above them a ghostly man hovered, his hands extended as if in blessing.
The man was Native American, and you could argue that his presence in the painting was hokey or, worse, inappropriate. Still, I couldn’t help but like its spirit.
Our group sits in a circle like the boys in that picture, a candle in the center. We begin in silence. After a while, we become aware of one another’s breathing. When words come, they’re often rich and delicious.
A group of men can choose to do many things: play baseball, hold a council of war, shoot the breeze, have dinner, get drunk, recite poems, argue, pray. The silence and the breathing contain all of it.
When I began writing this blog last summer, I didn’t know that others were doing the same thing. Since then, I’ve met a few mothers and fathers on line, and grown fond of them. I’ve become aware of communities of support.
Of course, an Internet community is not the same as being there in person. You can’t hear the breathing.
When Nick was very young, I noticed how calming it was just to hold him and feel our breathing together. Providence has been generous, and he still likes to sit in my lap without either of us saying anything. Sometimes we sit for a good while. It’s a feeling every parent knows.
No matter how dark and foreboding the world around me is, holding that child is where I’m supposed to be.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
William Stafford, from “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”
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YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
What Men Really Want — Interview with R. Bly
The Watcher of Vowels, a short poem about silence, sound, and listening:
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Any thoughts about sitting, silence, breathing? I bestir and exhort you to add your comment below. I always respond here.