[May 20, 2023] Earlier this month, Mr. Rob Marco published an article at Crisis called "Why Your Catholic Men's Group Will Eventually Fold." It is an excellent piece that reflects the author's dissastisfaction with Catholic men's groups and speculates on why they seem to be characterized by shallowness, posturing, and ephemerality. Robert Greving wrote a follow up called "Why Your Catholic Men's Group Should Eventually Fold," building on the reflections of Mr. Marco with what I would call a more sociological approach, observing that men's groups reflect the modern tendency to try to programitize and officialize things that are meant to be organic. Both of these articles are thought-provoking and I recommend you read them both, especially before perusing the rest of my piece.
This week, Julian Kwasniewski offered a charitable rebuttal to Marco's take with a piece on Catholic Exchange called "Seasons of Life and Root Remedies: A Response to Rob Marco's Men's Group Article." Kwasniewski critiques Marco's piece on several grounds: that it is too pessimistic, offering a criticism but no alternative; that men's groups are meant to be in a state of flux as men come and go through the seasons of life; that the good accomplished by such groups often outlive the groups themselves.
I think all articles offer good perspective. Mr. Marco and Mr. Greving point out serious shortcomings in how men's groups tend to operate, while Mr. Kwasniewski reminds us that experiences will vary amd we have to have proper expectations.
I wanted to offer my own contribution to this discussion, although the title is perhaps click-bait because I am not going to directly "respond" to either Kwaskiewski or Marco, but merely add my two cents. Incidentally, I wrote on this some years ago in a post called "Man Pandering" (USC, 2017) in which I lamented that official men's events tended to reduce masculinity to a short list of cultural indicators: barbeques, brewskis, and chest-thumping.
My Men's Group Experience
[A KofC meeting] can often feel very much like a meeting of your local Planning Commission rather than a band of Catholic men heroically coming together to serve Christ. They can be marked by excessive and profusely dreary tedium. There is often a serious case of buyer's remorse: one signs up for the Knights out of noble motives and the sort of ideals encapsulated in their "Into the Breach" video, and then the reality of KofC meetings is sitting around a table with a bunch of spreadsheets listening to some Boomers quibble for 45 minutes on how to allocate the $27.68 the council netted from its last pancake breakfast. And as you sit there listening to the back and forth, you start to wonder if attaching yourself to this organization is really the highest and best use of your time.
In short, while the men of the Knights are all fine gentlemen of good character and piety (in my experience), the reality of Knights events was always mind-numbing to me. I know the Knights do good things fundraising for their respective parishes, but in terms of finding any social or personal satisfaction in my particiption, it was nil. I was out of the KofC within 12 months.
The Men's 30/30 folded after a few months though. Men were too busy; they were tired after a long day of work, wanted to spend the night at home, and grudged having to meet at the parish. We started holding the meetings at one of the dude's houses which was more centrally located, but after that happened it inevitably lost its spiritual orientation while also still failing to convince men to come. Attendance became irregular until it dropped off entirely. I'd say it's whole lifespan was 6 months.
Men's Bible Study
Parish Men's Club
The only problem? I don't care for any of this stuff.
I don't drink beer (despite the efforts of all my beer-drinking friends who always insist I just haven't tried "the right kind," it all tastes awful to me no matter what). I have no interest in brewing and certainly no interest in tasting. And as I don't smoke, I certainly don't want to stand around smoking pipes.
Though I can play several instruments, I have almost no interest in sitting around in a social setting playing folk music while everyone half-drunkenly sings along to the same tired old Irish drinking tunes. Guitar is something I pick up when I am alone in my room and want to think about how depressed I am; it's an intensely private thing for me to take up an instrument and play, and I feel like the personality is entirely sucked out when I'm just gaily strumming along to some folk song about jailed Irishmen and drinking wenches. Everything that makes music rewarding for me is vacuumed out of it in those sorts of festive social settings.
What am I Expecting in a Men's Group?
One time a reader of this blog reached out to me and asked me to meet him for breakfast. I did. It was a lovely experience. Very natural. We didn't really talk about Catholic stuff too much. Beaming with pride, I showed him the cord of firewood I had in the back of my truck and told him about where I'd found it. We talked about hiking. That was nice. Easy. Real. I became friends with that guy. He brought some of his others friends to my house and I made them dinner. It was delightful, intimate. Today those fellows are all my friends, and dear friends they are. It all grew so seamlessly. I cherish that.