Note: To help you engage new men in conversation about considering an MROP, we will be providing a series of stories by newly initiated Illuman men. Stories like the one below can prepare a man by “setting up their listening.” Go here to learn more about How to Speak With a Man about the MROP. If you are, or know of, a man who would like to share his story, please email Jim.Burns@illuman.org.
One Man’s Rites of Passage
by Arrus Farmer (Initiated May 2022)
In 2016, I became a Christian. As I began living into what that meant, I started reevaluating how I ordered my life. My wife and I were talking about becoming parents. I was thinking about becoming a father. Having not grown up with my own father, I was at a loss for what it even meant to be a father and, in many ways, what it meant to be a man.
Even before my conversion, I had the benefit of an early introduction to mindfulness meditation practice, understanding the importance of being present. I started looking for a confluence of these two big spiritual influences in my life. I found them through reading Falling Upward by Fr. Richard Rohr. He introduced me to the big shift from the first half to the second half of life. And, like for many men, he was my introduction to the idea of rites of passage.
But life got busy: career, parental illness, my wife sold her business, we rallied behind friends and family who were struggling. I felt increasingly unsettled, uncomfortable with myself. Most of all, I felt fatigue from the noise of life. Then we had our first child, and I was thrown into parenting. The noise just got louder. Then our second child was born, and by then I was numb. When my second son was ten months old, my wife left.
In my wife’s mind, the problem was a lack of emotional intimacy between us. We had physical and intellectual intimacy. We had chemistry. We laughed. We never fought. We got along really well. We shared values. We were open to one another, empathetic and compassionate, eager to help each other grow. To me, it all felt good. But from her perspective, we could never connect emotionally.
For the life of me, I had no idea what that meant. Every time she brought it up, I would ask, but she couldn’t explain. Even when I asked what emotional intimacy felt like she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, express it.
So, when she told me she was leaving, I knew it was because I didn’t understand. She was frustrated, tired, and desperately longed for that kind of connection. This left me feeling broken. My self-image had always been wrapped up in being capable of anything I put my mind to. The separation showed me that an important part of me wasn’t functioning, and I wasn’t going to be able to think my way into fixing it. So I decided to do Illuman’s Men’s Rites of Passage.
I really had no idea what I was going to experience at the Rites. Now, that makes sense. Each man brings his own issues and personality to the Rites. Different elements strike each man uniquely, often at unexpected times.
At the end of the first evening, we were sent into small groups, which Illuman calls Councils. This became a regular practice throughout the weekend. The first discussion prompt staggered me: “What did your father teach you about being a man?” The second snuck up and decked me from behind: “What did your mother teach you about being a man?“
As the week progressed, these two questions widened what felt like an already gaping hole in my heart. It felt like the pain of my separation left a crack only wide enough for this flood of emotion to enter and blow the doors off their hinges. Seeing the root of my “mother wound” was a groundbreaking start for my growth path. It has been a springboard that opened me to pursue other in-depth support.
The connection I built with the men in my Council was the first time I felt real relationship with other people. I experienced the benefit of just listening to another man without a need to respond. It was overpowering to hear and feel other men doing that for me. We were just sitting around the Council Fire, and I was in tears crying. The other men in the circle, having heard my story, were crying with me.
This was the first time I felt I belonged, felt accepted. I could be authentic and didn’t have to put a mask on. I could show up for other people without an agenda. Although much of our group sharing was sad and centered around each man’s pain and grief, the honesty and vulnerability made space for a deep connection and a kind of ease. With that ease came some of the most cathartic laughter and joy I had experienced since my separation. This was belly laughter, laughing so hard we cried, and our faces hurt from smiling. It was a new and unexpected feeling I hope I never forget.
That experience has helped me look at how everything in my life works and how I order it. I now appreciate the necessity of authentic emotional relationship. Going forward, I want to live my life through the lens of relationship. In prayer and contemplation, I’m discerning how I adopt that posture. It takes practice because it’s foreign. My actions seem clumsy. I don’t want to fall back onto goals and objectives, to hide behind old masks, to rebuild those walls, or to allow the noise back in.
But I know those walls are really a prison I build for myself. I know the noise drowns out the beautifully complex composition that is this life. I’m learning to be vulnerable and open, seeking connection and listening to learn. I strive to see, in every interaction, God working in and between the people I’m with. This feels like living without walls, living fully. That’s what I deeply desire.
As I move forward, I am looking at my relationship with myself. Christ calls us to love others as we love ourselves. This implies that I must first love myself. I struggle with how to do that when I’m not really sure I even know myself.
This work of discovery, healing, and growth has changed my life. The Rites provided the launchpad and roadmap for this journey. They gave me the first glimpse of the destination: a life more fully lived. Without the Rites, I’m sure I would not have found those resources as quickly as I did. I didn’t even know what to look for.
Today I know myself better than I ever have. I claim my joy, even as I continue my inner work. My priority today is to help my little boys deal with the inevitable issues that will arise as a result of the divorce. They were hurt. They have some early wounds. Through my Rites and the work that has followed, I’m better prepared to help my little ones deal with that reality. I am their wounded healer, committed and prepared to help them learn how to transform their pain. Could Webster better define the meaning of being a father, of being a man?
If you’ve not yet completed your own Rites of Passage, consider attending an upcoming MROP this summer. If you have, consider returning to take the next step through the Initiator Program.
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