Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Guy's Night In

This past weekend I held a "men's-only" party. The invitation I sent through evite.com sets up the premise:

"In Vino Veritas!" -- (In Wine there Is Truth!)

It's almost here! This Saturday night, June 21st, I'm sending the women and kids away so that men can celebrate the beginning of summer with fine wine, great music and spirited conversation.

I turned 50 recently, and I know personally that guys confronting the midpoint of life are thirsty to converse in the high realm of ideas, meaning, philosophy, and dreams (whether they know it or not!) Sports and poker games can only feed the spirit to a certain point, so this is an opportunity to revive the art of intelligent, spirited conversation in the enjoyment of a fine summer evening together.

Bring along some light food if you like, a bottle of your favorite wine or even some beer if that's more to your tastes, along with a zest for getting to know some of your fellow men a little deeper and sharing your thoughts and feelings in return. Feel free to bring a guest if you like but remember, MEN ONLY!

There's no time limit to this gathering. Festivities will start around 7 p.m. Drop in for a glass or stay until dawn if you like. While moderation is a virtue, it's fine if you tip your glass more than you're accustomed to doing since beds will be available for anyone who decides not to drive home until the next day.

I'm sending this out to friends, fathers of my childrens' friends, a few neighbors, and some men from my spiritual home (the Atlanta Friends Meeting, i.e. the "Quakers"). I want to move past the fact that to many of you I'm simply "Lincoln and Casey's dad" and that you may be the same to me. Looking over the invitation list I see a great diversity of occupations: a scientist, police officer, painter, minister, physician, artist, psychologist, film producer, etc. etc.

But we are individuals before we are the roles we fill, so this is a party to celebrate who we most essentially are. Let's talk about the things that make us interesting, what we enjoy, what defines who we are and can still become in our remaining time. There won't be any dancing around a fire, but I hope you'll get to know one or two people a little better and make a closer friend along the way.

I invited about 75 guys, knowing most of them wouldn't come for a variety of reasons -- many were on vacation and some I barely knew. 27 didn't respond (I figure some of the emails got misrouted), 27 declined for various reasons and about 20 showed up. Rather than focusing on who didn't respond or attend I delighted in those who did come by for this new kind of event.

In the weeks leading up to the party I heard from several wives who said they were encouraging their husbands to attend but that they were shy. This was a revelation to me: I've often felt that everyone must "have it all together" except me and that only I struggle with social anxiety (even though I know intellectually this isn't true). I also came to appreciate how a party of just men is probably awkward or even threatening for some guys....and who can blame them? Society hasn't given many paradigms for male-male bonding.

The bottom line is that it was great, and a real step forward into healthy risk-taking for me. I provided a lot of fresh fruit and good cheeses, and at the last minute I decided to make some vegetarian chili that turned out to be a big hit. One of the guests who is a real chili aficionado (he once finished 15th out of over 300 contestants at the Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain Park) raved about the taste and texture, which I took as a major accolade.

One of my friends brought a book of Robert Service poetry, and pointedly directed me to read "Just Think". A couple of other friends (including the criminally under-rated, under-recorded and under-dated Regis Coyne) jammed on guitars for awhile, eventually leading to an extemporaneous singing of some of Service's poetry. It was a definite highlight (which I secretly recorded on my cellphone for general blackmail purposes.

I had purchased a couple of books of questions to use as conversation starters, but they didn't gain much traction other than a few "thumbing-throughs". The conversation during the night had no trouble loping on its own through a remarkable range of topics including the nature of evil and the consequent necessity of kindness, the historic role of religion in shaping cultures, the concept of "just wars", the uses of humor, and on and on. I couldn't tell you a tenth of what was discussed in the three or four clumps of men scattered about the house since I kept circulating until the night progressed and the crowd dwindled to a smaller nuclear core of about 8 or 10 for a hour or so. Eventually a hearty band of 5 of us stayed in animated conversation until 1:30 a.m.

I straightened up for a couple of hours and drifted off to a satisfied but short sleep until mid-morning when Gina and the kids returned from the scattered environs where they had encamped themselves to give me free rein of the house for the night.

It's a little too soon to think this far ahead but I'd like to hold this kind of gathering on a yearly basis. I hope that the energy from this event will translate in me rousing myself from my typical unchanging orbit to get together with more guys on a regular basis. As I continue to age I realize how important it is to stay connected to a wide band of brothers.
May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances,
And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares.

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