Important Men’s Business
It’s a wintry Wednesday night, and Kensington pub The Doutta Galla is heaving.
Swarms of 30- and 40-something blokes, beers to hand, own the front bar, occupying several jug-strewn window tables and drifting across the service area.
Some talk earnestly about the topics that dominate their worlds – their jobs and their families – while others laugh and back-slap, as groups of men are wont to do at the pub.
The gathering, which occurs on the first Wednesday of each month, is the brainchild of a couple of local dads who, inspired by how their wives connected with other mums, formed ‘Important Men’s Business’.
While all local blokes are welcome, and the environment is very much one of inclusiveness, there’s a common thread among the majority: they are dads with young kids.
The premise of ‘Important Men’s Business’ – lovingly abbreviated to IMB – is simple. “It’s just blokes getting together regularly, talking crap and engaging with their local community,” co-founder Jonathan Stone says. “Same place, same night, a relaxed openness, everyone is welcome.”
There’s a core group of regulars, but several new faces pop up each month as a result of Stone and other key members “recruiting” other dads they bump into at local parks, cafes and school pick-up. Indeed, the group’s database has expanded from “a romantic handful” in 2012 to more than 120 at last count. And that upward curve continues to gather in momentum.
Earlier this year IMB attracted the attention of the Movember Foundation, whose ‘Male Social Connectedness Study‘ explored the link between social disconnectedness and psychological distress in ‘middle-aged men’. The foundation were interested in the group’s inclusive nature; how it welcomed men from all walks of life and circumstance.
The findings of the study – which surveyed 4,100 men across various age brackets from 30 to 65 – are sobering, but to the average modern dad, probably not surprising. It’s a confusing time for new dads. Equality has dramatically shifted the goalposts from when our fathers were in our positions, and they’re continuing to shift. Many men, despite their best intentions, find themselves floundering.
Just under 70% of those surveyed agreed that men will go through a lonely period at some stage – often when children come along.
More than one-third weren’t satisfied with the quality of their relationships, citing a lack of emotional connection or support. It’s life as you’d never foreseen it: your wife or partner is too busy with the children or in their own work to support you like she once did; drift from long-term friends is a sad reality as work and family swallow all your time; and participation in sporting clubs, those ice-breaking beacons of our early adulthood, ceases. The applecart is full and all your energy is spent trying to stop it from overflowing.
“It’s that effort… I’m finding I spend less and less time with friends, and more and more time at home,” said one respondent.
“When we had kids we seemed to be around the wife’s friends more, rather than keeping our own. You end up neglecting your own friends,” said another.
And, from a non-father: “In my circle everyone else has married, had families, and just don’t have the time. Now I feel like they have to get permission from their partner. That’s where it started. [They say:] ‘I can’t really do that; I’m doing something with my kids.’ I’m feeling like slowly but surely they are less and less in my life.”
Invited to submit an application to Movember’s Social Innovators Challenge, the group’s pitch was simple: to consolidate the current members, and expand the IMB empire and “replicate the model in other communities, to assist blokes elsewhere in creating a group as successful as ours”.
While IMB made the second stage of the process, they missed out on the grand prize of a $25,000 grant to complete their mission, but Stone says it’s a dream that remains very much alive. “We’re about getting blokes together and allowing natural banter to occur; to drive local engagement and connection. The benefits to local communities are obvious,” he says.
For now, in Kensington and Flemington at least, Important Men’s Business has gone some way to filling the gaps in many blokes’ lives, with strong bonds formed, and it’s led to “splinter groups” including mountain-biking groups, Tuesday morning fitness-circuit sessions and organised park catch-ups. It’s enlivened and brought solidarity to the village.
And on this Wednesday night, like so many before it, relationships have grown as the night grows long, and the “deeper-level” conversation flows.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m busy at work or at home, it’s nice to get out with like-minded blokes and forget about the stresses of the usual week,” says one regular.
“I think we’ve realised as men that we benefit from talking about issues and joys,” says another, accepting a beer top-up. “Women have got it right for so long and we’ve finally caught on that, ‘hey we need to do this as well’. I look forward to it each month.”