In the very early days of The Men’s Table, David and I would run Entrees (information evenings) at The Shakey (The Shakespeare Hotel) in Surry Hills, Sydney.
It was early 2019 and I distinctly remember a man in a light blue shirt admitting that his heart was beating through it. He was nervous; what the hell was going on here? He had just walked into a room with other men he did not know. It was something called an Entree and these two strangers had just asked him to tell them and the other men in the room how he was feeling: talk about a challenge to how men normally operate!
A typical male opener might be something like “Alright mate” with no real interest in the answer, especially if it was “Yeah, not good mate.” This happens even between men who have known each other for years, even decades.
Jump forward to mid 2023 and a young man walks into an Entrée. This young man plucks up the courage to walk into a room of strangers, men he had not met before, all of them older than him. This on a very cold winter night in a chilly part of Australia. He quietly gets himself a drink and sits at the corner of the Table. The Entree begins, the typical routine of thanking men for their courage in coming along, letting everybody know that this is a confidential space. Then we move to the initial check in. “Let us know your name, where you are from, and just a little bit about what prompted you to come along tonight”. Straight off the bat some men open up and tell us about what is going on. The young man leaves his check in to the last and there is a gap before he starts talking. His nerves are obvious.
This happens at every single Entrée we do. The nerves are on display; men walk through the door when, particularly on a cold night it would be easier to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. This is courage; this is what helps to make Entrees such an amazing place. Men are nervous and have put behind them all the self chatter in their head and they have got off the couch, got in the car, walked through the door and said “Hi, my name is….” In fact, all men who sit at Tables have done that, most of you men will know how that feels.
We break the rules of normal male social activity when we come to an Entrée and then sit at a Table. This isn’t the normal “footy and shit” that men can talk about with no real point. This frequently sidelines a man who could do with a real conversation. It takes courage to do this! It takes balls to do this. It takes commitment, it takes bravery, determination, grit, fearlessness; it takes nerve. So thank you to all the men who have come to an Entrée. Thank you for turning up for yourself and thank you for turning up for the men you listen to at Entrees, and then at a Table. I’d like to emphasis that point, so I’ll just write it again…… Thank you for turning up for yourself and thank you for turning up for the men you listen to, we know it takes courage and your heart might be beating through your shirt.
Let’s hop back to the end of the Entrée in mid 2023. We are checking out and it looks like we will have a Table forming. The last to go is the young man, he is less nervous now, but still nervous. He tells the men that he nearly texted me this morning to say he was not coming. He was not sure he felt up to coming along, the nerves had got the better of him. He then said that he loved what had just happened and was excited to be joining such a good bunch of men. Men who he now trusted. His courage had paid off and I made sure I let him know that it will benefit not only him but also the men he sits with. I have to say that as I drove home 1½ hours on a very cold and dark road I was thrilled for him.
It takes courage to come to an Entrée, thank you to every single man who has shown that courage. Maybe a conversation with a man that you know could just give him that little bit of extra courage to turn up on a cold night.
Here is what this brave young man said to me recently after we attended his Table: “I was nervous, really nervous. I was nervous at the last meeting too, but it was easier. And I know it will continue to get easier each month. I am proud to be a part of this community”
My heart is beating through my shirt now, but for a very different reason.
~ Ben Hughes