SPOTLIGHT: Breakthrough Men's Community
At Breakthrough Men’s Community, masculinity sheds its toxic habits.
Asaf Shalev Dec 12, 2019
The worst year of John Hain’s marriage also turned out to be the best one. That’s what Hain and his wife, Melinda Greer, kept telling each other after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and had to get a radical hysterectomy. “There was tremendous aliveness and joy, which should have been inconceivable,” Hain recalls. “As her life was drawing to a close, there was so much beauty and so much
A career as a forensic pathologist had made Hain familiar with death, but it was certainly not his professional life that had prepared him for the emotional demands of this moment. Instead, he credits his participation in an educational program and support circle known as Breakthrough Men’s Community. There are other men’s groups out there, but Breakthrough does not feature hazing nor keep secrets nor define what makes a real man. If anything, Breakthrough is likeMister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but for adult men who hope to recover a sense of joy and well-being that was lost to them.
“I would not have been able to hang in there with her and really be present and loving and not just terribly scared and insecure,” says Hain, who has since remarried. “It’s because the level of supportive friendships that I had among men where I could go cry and say how angry I was. You need to share but it’s not helpful to share it with the person who’s actually suffering.”
To sit down with Hain and Breakthrough Executive Director Chris Fitz feels like having found the antidote to toxic masculinity. Both describe the experience of personal release from harmful cultural norms of manliness: goodbye repressed anger, emotional numbness, the facade of toughness.
Transformation does not come easy. It takes at least 26 meetings and a commitment to vulnerability. Participants learn how to share without performing and practice listening without judgment.
“The program teaches men how pleasurable it can be to relax our attention and really just listen to each other. We regain our loving humanity,” Fitz says.
No one kept a precise count of graduates during the first years of Breakthrough after its founding in 1987, but Fitz says the total is around 2,500. The group would like to reach a lot more men, especially outside of its home base on the Monterey Peninsula. That’s why Breakthrough’s Big Idea is to open a classroom for workshops in Salinas. As Fitz points out, men of all backgrounds deserve to have a sense of self-worth and belonging.