1944 – 2023
Professor Joe Goldblatt
In the 1980’s in the United States, perhaps to better understand the growing women’s empowerment movement, men began began to gather in small groups in private homes to explore what it meant to be male. I was invited by my friend the charismatic Bob Bookman who was a professional trainer and had significant experience in facilitating discussions that led to personal growth to join his men’s group.
For over two years, Bob, myself, and three other men all in our early thirties, met monthly in one another’s homes to discuss our career, family, and personal challenges and offer encouragement and support to one another. I found these gatherings very helpful during the early days of my marriage as I was starting a business, raising children, and trying to also protect and nurture my own mental and physical health.
One of the members of our group was a psychologist and his insights were very helpful and put our worries and concerns in a larger and more clinical perspective. Another member was a former Vietnam war veteran who had become the leader of the Vietnam Veterans of America organisation. The other member was the kind of man most men would select as the best man for their wedding. He was always dependably on time, quietly listening, humorous at his own expense, and fiercely loyal to all of us.
This gang of five enjoyed many social outings together, however, the real benefit of our friendship was the opportunity to learn from one another about what it was like to be a man in the twentieth century from five different perspectives.
Now, in the twenty – first century we have in small villages and towns and large cities all over the United Kingdom a programme known as Men’s Sheds where similar to a garden shed men may gather for social interaction, to learn new skills, and of course to enjoy good humour with one another. The Men’s Shed movement started in Australia in the 1990’s and it is estimated that now there are over 3000 men’s sheds meeting in over twelve countries throughout the world.
As we grapple today with the changing views about gender where he and she has been expanded to include they and much more, I often wonder if there is still a relevant place for individuals who idenitify as cisgender men to come together to talk, learn, and yes laugh. Obviously there is as the Men’s Shed movement has demonstrated so admirably through its continuous growth.
In many ways my friend Bob was a pioneer who brought the five of us together for the noble purpose of improving our lives, one evening at a time. In addition to founding the Men’s Club, Bob also claimed that he was the first male nursery school teacher hired by the City of New York education department. He was a natural and effective leader and always seemed, even during a time of shifting rules about masculinity, completely comfortable with being a very complex and indeed sensitive alpha male.
Perhaps that is why when I learned of his death today I first smiled rather than wept. How could I weep for a man who was always way ahead of others when it came to accepting his own strengths and weaknesses with grace, courage, and an abundance of good humour.
I shall weep later for his great loss. However, today, I am raising my glass to toast one of my first real male heroes who helped four other men appreciate and treasure what it meant to be a man by bringing us together to better understand ourselves in a world that was rapidly changing all around us.
We need more men like Bob Bookman today. You might just find one in a Men’s Shed somewhere in the world.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. To find a Men’s Shed near you visit https://menssheds.org.uk/sheds/