Dr. Mark Schillinger
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend took place the last weekend in July in Northern California, hosted by event founder Dr. Mark Schillinger. Here he shares a piece of that weekend including an impassioned speech he delivered there to the young men destined to be leaders for us all. The YMUW site is HERE.
It starts on Saturday night. Here’s what happens.
On Saturday, our mentors do a great job of getting the young men to trust us. One of the exercises we do is called “Take Off the Mask.” This activity was created by one of our mentors, Ashanti Branch. It’s where we invite them all to become aware of how they cover up their true thoughts and feelings by wearing a variety of masks.
It doesn’t take the young man very long before they feel safe enough to talk about the emotions they hide from the world, including their parents. Some of them begin to cry, others just put their heads in their lap in sadness and some of them can perfectly articulate that they do this to protect others.
One of the reasons we do this during the day is because we want to get them ready to release all of the tension behind the masks they wear later that night.
After dinner, when they’ve had some time to rest, they get blindfolded and go through a trust walk. Then they do a trust fall where they’re caught by teams of volunteer men.
Their blindfold is taken off and they separately and silently walk down to the water where they see the full moon reflecting off the waves of Lake Berryessa. This is all happening around 9pm in the evening. It’s mystical.
Once they all arrive, I tell them a story about the worst day of my life. It was the day my nephew completed suicide.
Then I ask, “How many of you have had a ‘worst day of your life’?”
And man, do they go off.
We’re all sitting around a firepit as the sky darkens and the stars appear. Everyone starts to share about their worst days. Most of these young men have never shared the stories they share on this night. It’s magical.
After that, we ask them if they’re ready for their initiation into young adulthood.
We lead them through a physical and powerful grieving ceremony to let go of all their past pains and disappointments as a boy. The young men do not know that their fathers are on the site and are listening to them nearby in the woods.
After the young men and the adult volunteer men grieve, we call in the fathers.
The young men are surprised to see their dads. The fathers come through and find their sons. The fathers are instructed to briefly say something bonding and healing… regardless of how poor or wonderful their relationship might be.
We tell them this is the moment they can start to build a relationship with their son as a young man, not as a boy.
Then we get everyone to stand in one big circle. There are about 150 guys arm in arm at this point.
Then I step into the middle of the circle and begin to talk. This is what I shared with them: