The responses from my closest male friends surprised me when I asked them this question: “What’s the one thing you feel was or is missing that’s held you back from becoming a man?”
I assumed for most men it would be “lack of direction” or “knowing my purpose.” But the common thread in every reply caught me completely off-guard.
Nearly all the responses had to do with a painful absence of brotherhood or mentorship in their lives.
I know that pain deeply.
For at least the last decade, I’ve felt the void of brotherhood and have wondered if I’ll ever have what childhood friends and old men sitting around barbershop stools have.
I’m not talking about just ‘bros’ you shoot the breeze with, but quality, salt-of-the-earth men you know have your back through thick and thin. I’ve felt the pull to build a brotherhood of men I can count on to meet up without hesitance and have real camaraderie with, not just guys that want to get wasted and chase women.
And it’s painfully clear to me that most men are starving for a brotherhood that goes beyond beer slugging and fantasy football.
I got tired of passively complaining and decided to do something about it. You can choose, like I did, to actively create what you want, or wallow in your despair.
But first things first…
The Lost Art of Intentional Brotherhoods
Brotherhood used to be built into tribes and nomadic cultures. Lionel Tiger, who literally wrote the book on male bonding, had this to say: “Male bonding is a process with biological roots to the establishment of alliances necessary for group defense and hunting.”
The question, then, becomes, have we lost the integral existence of male groups because our modern lives don’t make them a necessity?
Because of their lack of survival obligation, modern brotherhood is becoming more of a lost art relegated to secret societies and dying traditions. The few remaining forms of these brotherhoods are fraternities, Boy Scouts, and church groups. You might also have boyhood friendships that have lasted through adulthood, or built-in brotherhood through close brothers, uncles, or perhaps your father.
That is if you’re lucky. Not so with me.
I was an only boy of four sisters, so I was out of luck in the “built-in brotherhood” department. And while I loved Boy Scouts, it’s an adventure that ends at adulthood.
If we don’t have brotherhood built-in, perhaps we must create it.
It’s no wonder why movies like Fight Club and 300 are so popular. They stir within us an unquenched desire to belong to our own tribe of men that we can call brothers.
But can we learn to just deal with surface-level interaction and solitude as men? I don’t think so.
There are three reasons we need brotherhoods now more than ever:
1: We Need Brotherhoods to become Better Men
Interestingly, men, not women, are the likeliest to form gender-based groups and have the highest percentage of groups that meet in secret (‘secret societies’).
While most of these groups have traditionally had a specific agenda—religious, political, or otherwise—it’s through organized groups that men come together to compete, insult, berate, and grow together.
This is a male-specific form of bonding and growth. Men for thousands of years have come together in intentional groups to sharpen each other in different ways. It’s through challenges from other men that we grow.
2: Bonding with Other Men Is How We Best Learn
David Deida, author of Way of the Superior Man, eloquently states the defining characteristic of the male sex: “Life as a man is like a constant error correction. Making a mistake, and correcting, then making another mistake and correcting.”
This is distinct from the way women interact and bond with each other. Men tend to be more binary: “This is right and that is wrong, and I learn by discovering what is most right.” Whereas women tend to be more intuitive: “This is how I feel, and I’m going to feel out what I want to do next based on everything I’m taking in.”
As men, we need this kind of feedback and guidance from other men to help us error correct, to help us learn what it means to be a man. We’re not good at feeling our way through it. We need to see ‘correct’ behavior in order to find our own most appropriate path.
3: Brotherhoods May Be the Antidote for Fatherlessness and Depression
While more women than men attempt suicide overall, men account for 3/4 of all completed suicides. And suicide rates for men overall have been climbing sharply over this past decade; among middle-aged men, suicide now accounts for almost 30 out of every 100,000 deaths –3X that of their female peers. The rate of suicide for men in their 50s has increased an astonishing 50%. What accounts for this jump? One of the reasons researchers cite is isolation.
Women are often better at maintaining friendships, seeking out help, and talking about their feelings. Why are men so bad at this? Is it because we’re missing the brotherhood and camaraderie that makes us feel safe to express ourselves as men? Is it the lack of strong male role models that have left us lost in a world where we don’t know how to be strong, sensitive, and courageous men (according to the 2011 US census, 1 out of 3 children grow up in a fatherless home)?
Obviously, we need more men to step up and lead as fathers, but we also need more men to step up and lead other men.
How Brotherhood Changed Me
I didn’t feel like I was truly a man until I left my cubicle behind, struck out on my own, and started working for myself. Once my wife and I were 100% reliant on my ability to hustle and make ends meet, I felt like I had gone through a rite of passage that transformed me into a man.
Maybe it was that I felt like I could control the course and direction of my own destiny. I had become truly self-reliant for the first time in my life.
But the reason I was able to succeed was not simply because of my own independent will. It was because I had a brotherhood that was also working to create their own vocations on their own terms. These men helped lift me up, believe in me, and made me stronger than I was standing alone.
And while online connections are great, I realized I was yearning for something offline and more personal. I wanted to be able to call the guys to a pickup game of basketball in the park or go on a hike in the woods without planning it out a month in advance.
I wanted real brotherhood, so I decided to do something about it.
There’s an old saying that goes, “When you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, you’ll finally do something about it.”
I got sick and tired of complaining about a lack of brotherhood when there were so many awesome men around me.
So I gathered the email addresses of nine local guys and asked them a simple question:
“Would you be interested in meeting up with other awesome men once a month to do cool things?”
The overwhelming response was, “Hell yes.” I guess I wasn’t the only one that needed something like this.
So far we’ve played glow-in-the-dark miniature golf, sat and drank mind-expanding tea (yes, tea can get you high, believe it or not), and have conquered fears together. We use our gatherings as an excuse to bond and do fun, bucket-list type stuff together.
You don’t need blood-brother rituals, matching tattoos, or secret handshakes to create a brotherhood (not that any of those things aren’t cool).
All you need is initiative and the right men.
Suggestions for Creating Your Own Brotherhood
The first and most critical step is to define your intention and purpose:
- What do you want in your brotherhood and why do you want it?
- What do you hope to gain from and give to it?
- Is your intention to have fun, bond, and do interesting things, or do you care more about having a forum for expressing your challenges and issues as a man to work through them?
Answering these questions will help you get clear on your purpose for the group.
How to find the right men for your brotherhood:
This is probably the hardest part, and why most men will never do the work necessary to create an organized men’s group.
You have a few choices:
- Find an existing men’s group or meetup that’s firmly established. If you just want a forum for expressing yourself and exploring your masculinity, this might be the best fit for you. This is the easiest choice if you can find a good group that’s already established.
- Create a group locally. This will give you the most intentional control and freedom as you won’t have to work within the bounds of an established group and “fit in” to their intentions. This is a bit harder, but worth it if you want to determine the direction of the group.
- Move somewhere where there’s an existing group. This is obviously the most difficult option. However, if you are already looking to move somewhere where there is a culture much more resonant with who you are, this change might be exactly what you need.
- Create a group virtually. Obviously, this is the most limited variation, but it might be good enough if you can’t find or create a local group. Instead, you might meet on Skype or Google Hangout.
Recruiting and enlisting the right men:
Who and how you’ll recruit depends on your intention for the group. If you want a group of guys that meets every month as an excuse to go on exciting adventures, you will have different criteria for the men you enlist than if you’re wanting a weekly men’s group that meets to discuss and challenge each other to grow as men.
You don’t have to limit yourself to either of these group types, but deciding your intention for the group will help you identify the right candidates.
Here are some tips I’ve found helpful for finding good men:
- Try to look for guys that are interested in personal growth, fitness, and pushing past personal limitations. Where do these men hang out? Conferences, seminars, blogs, forums, and events related to personal growth, of course.
- Look for men that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with for an entire weekend. If someone is going to get on your nerves quickly, they’re probably not a great fit.
- Determine the size of the group and demographics you want. I find that 6-10 guys is a great size and keeps things fairly simple. Most of the men in our group are in the age range of 25-50. All of us are health-conscious and live active lifestyles so it makes it easy for us to do physical things.
- Look within your network first. Approach peers, coworkers, friends, and family that you would love to connect with more deeply. Post something on Facebook telling people you’re considering starting a group and ask for interest. Email the people you’re considering including directly with a casual invitation.
- If you’re having trouble enlisting in your established network, utilize tools like Craigslist (in their Strictly Platonic section) and .
Creating the right space and intention:
Our men’s group meets on the last Saturday of every month. Each month we take nominations for what we’re going to do next, and then we vote on what we’ll do.
We use this as an excuse to do adventurous things and conquer personal challenges. Some of them are things that have been on one of our bucket lists for a long time. Some are things one of us has always wanted to learn or try. Sometimes it’s just something random and fun.
If you want to be more formal, you can organize a weekly group with a set agenda. A quick start guide on creating a formal men’s group can be found here.
Next, decide what the rules will be, if any. For our group we have two rules:
- It’s not about business. If we didn’t have this rule it would be easy for us to default to conversations and activities centered around work. Since we already do that enough, this rule helps us stay focused on what matters to us: connection beyond work.
- If you miss more than two meetups in a row you’ll stop getting invited. We want members that are committed and in this for the long haul. If you’re not committed, well, it wasn’t meant to be, and we’re not going to try to convince you otherwise.
We might change this in the future, but this works for us right now.
The final, never-ending step — cultivating the brotherhood:
Starting is obviously the hardest step. But you can’t end there.
Creating a lasting, lifelong brotherhood takes time, energy, and continual investment. You have to “show up” for your brothers on a regular basis. You need to hold space for them to become who they’re meant to be. You need to encourage them, challenge them, and push each other to reach new heights.
More than anything, you just need to show up.
Here are some ways you can do that:
- Take an active interest in the desires, dreams, and goals of the men in your group. How can you tailor discussions, events, and adventures that help your friends achieve their dreams?
- Regularly brief the group. What’s coming up next? What was something fun and memorable that happened the last time you all hung out?
- Share the spotlight and encourage others (especially more withdrawn and introverted members) to share their voice and take a leadership role. Consider rotating coordination and leadership of meetings and events.
- Teach via example. The more you show up in your fully alive, embodied masculinity, the more you will inspire others to do the same.
- Make it damn near unmissable. Cultivate an experience and a group that no one wants to miss.
The primary key is to show up and give courageously to your fellow men.
You don’t need to have it all figured out as a man. You don’t need to be the perfect leader. You don’t need to have the perfect group of men. A ragtag group of misfits will do.
The world needs more courageous men banding together to challenge each other, to grow together. Wouldn’t you agree?
So here’s my invitation to you: reflect on what you could do to cultivate more brotherhood in your life.
Jonathan Mead is a writer and coach who helps people build tribes around something they love to do and get paid handsomely for it.
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