Nathan Roberts, chief executive of A Band of Brothers, explains how the network’s male mentors help young men become more emotionally expressive
“I don’t think there are many places in westernised societies where men are encouraged to be vulnerable, emotionally expressive. I grew up in a very tough village, where the way you gained your place in the hierarchy was by how quickly you could shame people. It was a culture of tearing each other down; physical posturing; intimidation.
There are very narrow definitions of what it is to be a man. When I was growing up, it wasn’t safe for me to admit that I felt scared, sad or lonely. For me to be of use to other men, I had to transform and break through that conditioning myself.
It wasn’t safe for me to admit I felt scared, sad or lonely. I had to break through that conditioning myself
We believe that hurt people, hurt people. The young men we work with often haven’t had a positive male figure in their lives, and have experienced a lot of trauma. Our job is to provide them with an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves from the injuries of their lives. That’s the only way their behaviour will change.
Aside from sport or religion, men don’t have great networks. So at A Band of Brothers we gather mentors from the community where we want to work, and spend months bonding together, removing the potential negative bits of masculinity – ego or competition – that could get in the way. Then we bring the young men from inner city environments and take them to the woods. We use stories, poetry and exercises using the natural world that explore masculinity.
I trust all of these men with my life
A lot of these young men have been starved of acknowledgment and appreciation; we tell them the qualities that we see in them. This can be pretty mind-blowing for the young men because nobody has ever said this kind of thing to them. The only emotion that it has been acceptable for them to show without fear of ridicule is anger.
And that’s not just the experience of young men at the bottom of the pile: it’s the experience of most men in our society. One of the young men was asked what he got out of the weekend, and he said: “Realising I had emotions. Before I did this, I had only two: pissed off, and alright.”
I feel extraordinarily privileged to be part of the A Band of Brothers community. There is a deep bond there, and I’ve never had that in my life before: I trust all of these men with my life. And when I die, they will bury me.”
Image: Casey Moore
Read our feature Rewriting the Man Code: the new masculinity
Find out more about A Band of Brothers
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