A while ago I had the pleasure of meeting a great bloke by the name of Hunter Johnson, who together with his mate Jamie Heppell created The Man Cave, a fantastic program that works with boys to support them on their journey into becoming men. Since meeting Hunter, I continually reflect on how vitally important the work of The Man Cave is to our boys and our society as a whole. The Man Cave is genuinely designed to make a difference, and it does.
Both Hunter and Jamie were passionate about making a social change having seen the impacts of mental illness, depression and domestic violence in their own teen years.
“We saw a lot of guys who we really cared about experiencing years of anxiety and depression and unfortunately suicide – but no one talking about it. And so we thought, if we could just create a space where young me could open up, start to develop some language and have the permission to be a bit more intimate and vulnerable and make that cool and normal, then the world would be a much better place.”
So, in 2014 The Man Cave was created with their first ever workshop kicking off at Frankston High School and since then, the program has gone from strength to strength reaching over 17,000 boys across Australia and also receiving international recognition – when the Royal Family flies you over to accept the Queen’s Young Leader Award, it’s a good sign you’re on the right track!
The Man Cave concept is to send relatable charismatic male facilitators into high schools who create a safe space for young men to “take off the mask they wear every day.” The workshops are designed to make the boys realise that some of the challenges they face are widely shared by their peers, they’re not alone, and then give them the practical and emotional tools to navigate through this part of their life.
The Man Cave’s team of facilitators were hand-picked to connect with the boys at a level that engenders trust and engagement. Hunter describes his facilitators as wide-ranging;
“…from your classic Melbourne hipster to a salt-of-the-earth country bloke to an indigenous Australia to a former refugee, former child soldier. The idea is that our boys that we work with see a piece of themselves in the role models coming into their schools.”
The program creates a safe place amongst the boys to discuss how they see the societal rules of being man in comparison their own version of masculinity.
“A lot of these boys have never really questioned the rules around being a man. A lot of the policing that goes on in the playground is familiar language like, don’t be gay, don’t be a girl, toughen up, things that we used to say as throwaway lines. And there might be times where these guys need to be stoic and strong and hold themselves together. But what’s missing in the narrative of their school setting is the choice to open up, to be more vulnerable, to shed some tears. And once we give them the space to question that social conditioning, often what comes up is they realise that they’re all abiding by these rules, but are they serving them? And from there we open up a really powerful conversation where the boys get to describe and open up what type of masculinity do they want to create for themselves.”
As a mum of a boy heading into his teens myself, I asked Hunter what we could do at home to help our young boys as they grow into men.
“Make an effort to sit around as a family and chat about fun stories from your youth. Can you escape and go camping somewhere with no distractions? There’s no better place to connect than over a campfire in nature. Try deliberately connecting with your boy with positive male role models outside of the family. Remember the old adage: It takes a village to raise a child.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about The Man Cave’s story, programs and workshops head over to https://themancave.life .
Thank you Hunter and Jamie for bringing your concept to life and helping us to raise our boys into the men they want to be.