After leaving a voice mail with Ross, he phones me back to say hello and explain to me the nature of the group. I learn that eight to eleven men get together weekly, and that thus a large portion of the (now) 94 men who signed up via meetup.com never actually show up.
He asks me why I am interested in joining the group. I talk a bit about myself and what I hope to gain, and get invited to be present the next day for their weekly gathering. I do not have to pay the annual twenty dollar administration fee yet.
The following day I arrive at a church in Richmond. I find the library, which looks more like a small living room with comfortable couches and seats. The light is dim.
Several men already are present and give me a warm welcome. I shake everybody's hand and try to remember all the names. One tells me that they will be hugging at the end, but if I am huggable, he'll give me one now―to which I consent.
The moderator gives me a sheet to read which covers some of the group's history since its start in 1991, its vision, mission, and core values. Nothing unexpected here.
Some more men arrive, and the group can begin.
We each get two and half minutes to speak about how we are doing. Talking longer is no real problem. Being the new guy, I am encouraged to also elaborate passed the time limit.
Now the floor is open for men to speak more in detail about whatever is on their mind. This evening, some themes are anger, guilt, loss, alcohol, conflicts in relationships and counterbalancing feminism.
The format has some structure. There are mostly only monologues, and in principle you are only supposed to speak when you are holding the 'talking stick'. For a real discussion there is no place, but some feedback is possible if you first ask for a feather which is normally attached to the talking stick.
We take a ten minute break to stretch our legs, a hot beverage and a freshly baked cookie. One man asks for my phone number to speak some time later about a topic that came up. I quickly visit the bathroom and see there are women meeting in one of the other rooms.
All men return to the room and the meeting continues.
More personal stories get exchanged. Men speak openly, lidless and with ease, some visibly struck by feelings. There are confessions, exchanges of consolation, and posed theories of just how people work.
By the end of the evening, I feel I met several men who I could really trust and count on. I now know everybody's name. And, to my surprise, I also clearly remember everybody's personal story, and will recall so next week.
If this means that ten men now have some idea of the big events and sentiments of my life, then attending this group was a notably fast and easy route to new support and fellowship.
I think I will be walking around with more calmness and sense of social solidity this week. It feels good to be part of something.