Not kids who are depressed and end up spending their lives trying to compensate by thinking money and possessions are actually going to bring them happiness. We know they don’t.
It’s hard ‘cause that’s what our culture seems to be telling us. So it’s having to defy a lot of the messages that are told to us from the outside.
Absolutely. But anybody who steps back from the culture for five minutes and actually looks at it objectively goes, “This is crazy.” I mean Coca Cola is the number-one selling product in our supermarkets, or has been. You don’t have to go any further to know we’ve got a problem.
And so at your camps, who gets more out of them? Is it the kids or is it the adults? ‘Cause I imagine that the adults have their own epiphanies.
It’s a good question. We run the camps for the kids. But actually in the short-term it’s the adults who get more from them. We’re always saying with the kids that the seed has been planted and they will be better men and women, better partners and better community members because of this work. For the adults, the opportunity to really share stories about their lives— honestly, openly and in a confidential space—is massive. Many of them have never done that. And to spend time thinking about what they want their future to look like is incredible. It’s very powerful for everyone. Even the community who comes to welcome everybody back finds it powerful.
You know, I love medicine, but I had great concerns with the system. It seemed to be more about making money, seeing people as quickly as possible, treating symptoms rather than the cause. So at 35 I had to honestly ask myself, “What should I be doing with my life? Where am I really going to have the most impact?” And as a result of that, I decided to sell my practice and go full-time running rites of passage programs around Australia, and now I run them in different parts of the world. I want this work in the mainstream. I want every boy and girl to go through an appropriate community-based rite of passage. I think we would have a very different world if we could do it.
How do you take it to a wider audience?
The first thing is education. So raising awareness around supporting children into adult behaviour. Then it’s about creating processes for families, communities and schools. There are lots of ways for it to happen but the first step is to go, “We need to do something for our boys and girls when they reach puberty.”
And the camp aspect of it is integral.
Well, camping is a beautiful way to do it because going into nature without any technology allows for the psyche to open. It helps create that transformation. So you go into a rite of passage believing and thinking one way, and you come out with another. Most of the time our psyche is not open for transformation—it actually has to be opened up. And when it’s opened up, we’re in a state called “liminal space.” And in liminal space our psyches are malleable. So nature is a great way of creating liminal space.
Beautiful. And so how much resistance do you meet? I imagine that at the start of a rite of passage it’s not all sunshine! [Laughs].
Yeah, it’s true. You get resistance from different places. A lot of fathers are resistant because they hadn’t gone through a rite of passage. And a lot of men question their own masculinity. And so to go on a program like this where they’re concerned that they’re going to be exposed or “my son’s going to become a man but I don’t quite feel like I’m a man,” it gets difficult. A lot of our boys are actually signed up by their mothers or their fathers’ PAs or secretaries.
Yeah! You can get resistance from the mothers too though because they often know everything that goes on. And it’s like, “What? I’m not going to know what happens? I’m not going to hear about all the stories and everything?” Other mothers are like, “Do it.” And then from the boys themselves often there can be resistance because they’re all, “Oh it’s not cool to spend time with Dad. I don’t want to go on a sucky camp with other sons and dads.” I’m finding maybe half the community are totally keen, the other half sees it as a very confronting process. But I think there is a shift happening and more and more people are realising the importance of rites of passage.
Domestic violence is a big issue in Australia. How do you see this work challenging that?
Domestic violence is almost always in the man. It’s a man not being able to stand with his emotions. He’s not getting what he wants and so he has a tantrum. You know, I saw a four-year-old kid in the supermarket about two weeks ago with his mother saying, “I hate you, I hate you!” Trying to hit her and kick her! And then I heard him say, “I want a lollipop!” You know? But that’s okay in a four-year-old. If the adult man doesn’t get his lollipop, and then thinks it’s okay to kick and hit his woman, or verbally abuse her, it’s a big problem. As men we have to be able to stand with our emotions. If I get angry I can’t go and beat up people. It’s not okay. Once a boy becomes a young man, he has to know it’s not okay. It’s not about waiting until they’re 30, 40, 50 years of age to tell them it’s not okay. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but a lot of the scenarios where you get domestic violence, those men as teenagers were on some level abusive—often towards their mothers. And that’s when the behaviour has to be recognised and stopped.
It makes me so uncomfortable though, ‘cause women are often required to be the gatekeepers of men’s emotions.
Men have to be the gatekeepers of their own emotions. And it’s the role of the whole community to demonstrate that violence—in all forms—is just not okay.
What is your relationship with your sons now?
I have a beautiful relationship with my sons, and one of the things I love the most is that we have a policy where we have an adventure together once a year. So once a year we go away, either me with one of the boys—sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s both—and we might go on a road trip, we might go surfing, we might go skiing, wherever. But we do it. Every year. And last year in the middle of the year, my 25-year-old rang me up and said, “Hey Daddy, what are we going to do for our adventure this year? We haven’t done something yet.” Firstly, I love that sometimes he still calls me “Daddy.”
“Daddy!” That’s beautiful! [Laughs].
Yeah. And he actually wants to have an adventure with me. The beautiful thing about these adventures, besides the interesting places, is the conversations that we have at night and when we’re sitting around.
And are they better men than you, your sons?
I’d say they are! I look at how they are in relationships, how responsible they are, how good their values are and I’m totally proud of them. When something good happens to them, I’m the first one they ring. I’m really proud of that. I’m not perfect. They’ll still say, “Dad, you don’t need to tell us what to do.”
[Laughs]. There was a Jean Paul Gaultier quote that you put on the Facebook page—“To conform is to give in.” I wanted to know why it appealed to you.
It comes from one of my life philosophies: