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Wide Awake: The Men Are Talking
So it's ok to be warm and kiss and love

I never know what’s going to happen when I host a men’s roundtable. I get caught up in the stereotypes and wonder if this is the year the men won’t really talk, or if they won’t say anything of great substance. Yet it never happens that way.

The roundtable we feature this month was my third men’s roundtable. (I’m embarrassed to say I’ve hosted twice as many women’s roundtables. That’s me being totally sexist, and I am so quick to point out when men are sexist…)

But at every dinner with these men, I’ve been blown away by their deep emotions and their ease with expressing them. When I think of it, most of the men I know are like that. Those men you hear about – the ones who are closed off and arrogant – I don’t know many of them. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve chosen to surround myself with men who are different. Certainly when I’m inviting men to the roundtable, I’m looking for those I think will be open to the concept. I make it clear they can decline the invitation if they think this isn’t for them (but no one has turned me down yet).

After every roundtable we publish photos and quotes (you can see this month’s feature on p. 50), but I often wish there was a way to tell you what I saw when something was said or what the feeling was like in the room. Many times I can’t believe how open the men are – there are definitely  moments from each roundtable that have stayed in my mind.

For our second men’s roundtable, I had invited Camden County Metro Police Chief Scott Thomson, who oversees the police force that serves Camden. I had never met him before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I think most would agree he has a tough job, so I expected him to be tough, to be a little stressed considering all he deals with. But he was the exact opposite. He was humble and soft-spoken.

He talked about a 4-year-old boy named Brandon Thomas, who got caught in the crossfire of two drug dealers and was killed. He said, “I have to look a mother in the eye who just buried her child, and I have to answer the question of what am I going to do to prevent her from burying her next child.”

It was a powerful moment. We all felt the weight of what he was describing, and we felt the importance he placed on his role in Camden.

Many of the men speak about their parents. Some talk about how their deaths affected them, others talk about how close they are now. At this last roundtable, Pete Ciarrocchi, who owns Chickie’s and Pete’s, talked about his dad, about how hard he was on Pete as a kid. He expected Pete to always be working, always. As he went on about how difficult it was, Pete said, “But I wouldn’t change any of it.”

That surprised me. “You wouldn’t change any of it?”

Pete looked at me like he thought the answer to that question was obvious. “He made me who I am.”

The men have also surprised me with their nonchalant feminist beliefs. Many have talked about the pride they have in their wives’ accomplishments. 6ABC’s Rick Williams called it macho to think, “I’ll share my life with a woman who has ambitions to be as successful as I am.”

And then there’s this statement: “Now it’s ok to be warm and kiss and love.”

That was said at our men’s roundtable in 2015. Bryan Morton, from the North Camden Little League, was talking about what he teaches his son. I was so taken aback when he said it, I feel like I should have it printed on a T-shirt. They are such great words of wisdom. Yet if I took a survey and asked people to guess if the comment came from the men’s or women’s roundtable, you know what the majority would answer. So these men accepted my invitation to dinner and then, much to my surprise, they shattered a whole slew of stereotypes.

June 2017
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