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Lives of Quiet Desperation (Andrew Yelverton)

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Thoreau’s observation that ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’ resonates with me as I suspect it does for many New Zealand men.

From a young age, our boys are taught not to cry and when things get tough, we are told to ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’. Our culture rewards competitive behavior in men whilst men talking about their feelings is viewed as a sign of weakness. These stereotypical behaviors are now recognised as being incredibly damaging to generations of New Zealand men and their families.

The good news is that there is a growing awareness that this traditional model of masculinity is broken and an increasing number of men are exploring what it is to be a man in today’s society. They are hungry to break their emotional isolation and engage in deeper, more authentic relationships.

But many don’t know where or how to start and many are fearful of taking that first step. After all, it takes courage for a man to admit that he is struggling with life and it is deeply ingrained in our culture that men don’t ask for help.

I was in this position about 15 years ago. At that time, I was seeing a counsellor who suggested I attend a Men Being Real weekend workshop offered by Essentially Men, a charitable trust whose mission is to promote positive social change for men and boys through a range of educational programmes.

The weekend turned out to be a powerful transformative experience for me. Something powerful occurs when men lay down their metaphorical armor and share with each other their stories and experiences. I was surprised at the common threads that wove in and out of our lives and relieved to understand that I was not alone in my own fears, struggles and insecurities. This insight is something that cannot be gained from a self-help book or a one-on-one conversation. It simply has to be experienced.

After the workshop, I wondered how much better my adult life would have been had I been exposed to this collective wisdom of men when I was an adolescent, starting out my journey to adulthood.

In many cultures, there exists a rite-of-passage process whereby young men are initiated into manhood by older men in the community…and much of this process involves men sitting in circles and sharing stories. This is no longer common in western societies however we are now seeing a resurgence.

Essentially Men has been running their Pathways programme for over 20 years. Pathways is a 5-day residential rite-of-passage for boys between 14 and 16 years of age accompanied by their father (or significant male figure). This is not your typical ‘father and son’ camp; rather it is an intentional rite-of-passage programme designed to help boys gain a clearer understanding of masculinity and what it is to be a good man in today’s society.

At Pathways to Manhood, the boys are immersed in a community of older men who are willing to share real life stories about what it means to be a good man. Through the sharing of stories and other activities, the boys gain a better understanding of who they are, their possibilities and how they may contribute to their communities in a meaningful way.

The fathers who attend learn how to connect with their sons on a deeper level and how to more effectively stand alongside and support them as they cross the bridge into adulthood.

The next Pathways event will take place at Camp Karanga, West Auckland between the 19th and 23rd April, 2022. The Men Being Real workshops are run in Auckland on a quarterly basis.

If the Men Being Real or the ‘Pathways to Manhood’ programmes sound interesting to you, visit Essentially Men’s website: or by call (09) 376 2386 for further information.

Andrew Yelverton serves on the Essentially Men board of trustees and is a regular volunteer for the Men Being Real and Pathways to Manhood programmes.

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