Desperate Times Call for Wise Measures

Dan Kempner
Atlas, Team M’ORT [Men of the Round Table]

Atlas was born of desperation. Me. Mine. I was the desperate one.

Look, I had moved my family to Vietnam, 12,000 miles from my awesome men’s team in New England. 

I called Dave Plante – remember Plante? – who was running something called ‘Special Ops,’ an outreach program to men in places where there were not currently any men’s teams. 

Of course, MDI men’s teams were in places then. Backyards. Living rooms. Around a fire in a state park. No place, no team. 

I called Plante and said, ‘Help!’ I’m changing countries, continents, hemispheres. There’s new food, new money, new career, all new people, a new language to learn, a new family (my wife’s), and a new daughter, who was born here in Saigon a few weeks after we arrived. 


I ended up on the Special Ops call – Plante, me, a man from California, and Clarke, a Canadian on Vancouver Island. It was a phone call. It was not yet a team – just one MDI man leading me and a couple of far-flung MDI possibles through some men’s stuff for an hour.

Then Plante’s position was eliminated, Special Ops was dissolved, and we three were left in space, dangling. “Heeeeelp!” 
I called then-MDI President Geoff Tomlinson, who got us a Zoom line, found a few scattered men in need of a team, and suddenly there was a meeting of seven men, all looking at one another, all of them hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

Kempner top middle on his team M’ORT.

There was Estes in the California mountains; Bowland, north of Toronto; Malouin in the Ozarks somewhere; our other California Sterling Mens’ Weekend grad from the Ops call; Clarke in Vancouver; and me leading the meeting at 7 a.m. Ho Chi Minh City time. Tomlinson and Stan Snow were there, from Toronto and Maine respectively, to see if this weird meeting could work. 

There was, in fact, a good deal of skepticism around MDI about the quality and value of a meeting over Zoom. Deep skepticism. This was two years before COVID, and Zoom was a wild novelty used for Board of Director’s Meetings and little else. The idea of an MDI team meeting without hugs, with no way for a hurting man to “push,” no wood and water, and no dancing sparks, cigars, or bug spray, was almost unthinkable.

But of course, there was no travel time, either, or men coming late because of snow or traffic. Just a few men looking at one another’s screen squares across the ether, from their dens or living rooms.

But it worked. It just worked. What a meeting! There was intensity. There was intimacy. There was humor. A man went very, very deep and was sobbing in the electronic arms of men he’d met an hour before. It had everything. We were just ‘the Zoom team,’ but, man, we had oomph.

A month or two later we had a name, Team Atlas. We had standards. We had a logo. We had a few more strays, voices from the wilderness begging for a team. We had workarounds for the lack of fire; we had workarounds for a “push;” men could meet in the “parking lot” before meetings, “arriving” early and hanging out online as they used to in men’s driveways. We had a process for guests, for accepting new men, and for all Atlas men being MDI members. In short, we had a bona fide MDI team.

We marked our one-year anniversary with two or three teams and Tribal status. Then more teams split, and we had meetings on five separate days weekly. Recently, we marked four years by becoming a full-fledged Division, with seven teams and more than 60 men (including a land-based team Atlas spawned in Ottawa, Canada).

Atlas has proven that men’s teams aren’t about proximity or geography, and they aren’t about a fire. Atlas Division meetings now include men from across 16 time zones on four continents and six countries – Brazil, Canada, England, Taiwan, the U.S., and Vietnam.

It is, truly, global.

This happened with no loss of intimacy. With the same core values operating. With similar depth and follow-up, the same masculine affection and care. In Atlas, the commitment to MDI’s mission of excellence and greatness operates with no loss of efficiency. 

It’s not about place. It’s not about geography. It’s available to any man, anywhere, who has an Internet connection.

It’s Atlas. And it’s awesome.

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