“He who masters the power formed by a group of people working together has within his grasp one of the greatest powers known to man.”
― Idowu Koyenikan, Consultant and Author
This year’s eating disorder awareness week is coming to a quiet ending. And once more, I am left with the impression that fathers, husbands, grandfathers, boys, and male siblings for the most part continue to be largely ignored by the eating disorder community. Let us look at some facts:
By way of example, in the last 7 years at iaedp’s annual conference they have had 418 educations sessions. Only 3 were specifically about boys and men.
Toward the end of 2020, Project HEAL announced a change in its mission to, “We’re committed to anti-racism, anti-oppression, gender equity, and taking action to create justice.
NEDA has a history of excluding dads and men. From paying lip service to a bold, new program, a “Dad’s Initiative” approximately nine (9) years ago, and then mothballing it before its launch, to generally excluding boys and men in its “Everybody Has a Seat at the Table” theme for its Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
It should come as no surprise that Men have been, as a matter of course, excluded from leadership positions in the eating disorder organizations. Of the 41 leadership positions listed in the top eating disorder organizations, 37 leaders are women and 4 are men.
There are numerous research studies indicating that the father–daughter, father-son relationship is incredibly important in the recovery process. And yet, this important part of the puzzle is being largely ignored by the eating disorder community.
However, there is at least one residential treatment program which has a monthly session of exclusively men. It is led by a male psychiatrist employed as a Medical Director at that eating disorder residential treatment program. This past year, I had the privilege of appearing as a “guest speaker” at one of these sessions. That week, it was attended by 40 men.
With no script prepared, I just began to talk with them. Of my past experiences. Of theirs. Nothing rehearsed. The questions and comments began to come from the dads and husbands. A few of them reached out to me afterwards with their stories of strength and resiliency. I was also advised that one dad, in a counseling session the very next week was more engaged and interactive than he had ever been before.
After consulting with a number of medical and mental health treatment professionals, we decided that this type of Men’s Group on a national scale was not only very much needed, but could be the foundation to allow men, dads, husbands, sons, grandfathers and siblings to find their voice, to become more active in their loved ones recovery. For men to understand that they are not alone. That a shared brotherhood exists and binds us all.
And so, I reached out to a number of treatment centers to ascertain whether they would support a Men’s Initiative. A program that would involve the participation of the dads, the husbands, the siblings of their patient population. If so, we would simply ask that they circulate information of these meetings which we would supply to them. That was it. No financial commitment. No long term commitment. No formal recognition or public statements indicating their commitment.
We stated that the educational and information session would be led by a male medical doctor and conducted once a month, probably on a Sunday afternoon via Zoom and would include an open discussion on eating disorders, father’s and husband’s, sons and sibling’s roles, providing a forum so men knew they were not alone and giving them a safe place to talk and share their emotions and thoughts.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. In the first 48 hours, EIGHT (8) treatment centers not only stated they would be involved but thought the initiative was very much needed and could provide an invaluable service.
By working from the ground up, by approaching men directly, by providing a safe place where their self-awareness, strength and passion can grow, where men will know they are not alone, perhaps the seeds of something mighty can find root … and start to grow.
In the next week or so, information will be released discussing this initiative in much more detail and welcoming participation.
Dads, husbands, sons, siblings, for far too long have been left in the shadows. No longer. For the sake, for the love, for the lives of our loved ones, our beloved children, wives, parents, our voices will be heard.
We will stand tall with all of the knowledge, courage, strength, passion and intelligence at our command.
Our loved ones demand nothing less.