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[whitespace] Tony Soprano The Men's Club

By Jonah Raskin

TONY SOPRANO needs a New Age men's group: As almost every adult in America knows, the new season of The Sopranos is here, and Tony is in therapy with Dr. Jennifer Melfi. The therapy seems to suit Tony, and yet what he really needs, I think, is a New Age men's group like the one to which I belong. The seven of us who have been getting together in Sebastopol on Thursday nights for a decade think there's nothing odd about our relaxed get-togethers, though elsewhere in the country--and in conventional Sonoma County circles, too--the idea of a men's group prompts suspicion. No doubt, Tony Soprano would find the idea highly irregular. After all, we're not cutting deals or planning to cut out the competition.

I call the Sebastopol men's group "my group," but it doesn't belong to me or anyone else. We're between the ages, roughly, of 40 and 60. We're teachers, doctors, investment brokers, musicians, fathers, sons, husbands. On Thursday nights we gossip, write, read, tell jokes, laugh, eat ice cream, flex our egos, bare our breasts, give support and get it too. Most of all we talk about what men supposedly don't talk about --feelings. Usually, we don't try to fix things, though we can fix household appliances and mend backyard fences when we need to. We're still guys.

Sometimes the group has an identity crisis; we're not sure if we're a writing group or a therapy group. Yet we keep coming back month after month, year after year. The continuity and the kinship enable us to survive one crisis after another: illness, divorce, separation, and the death of a friend or family member.

Every so often we get together with a woman's group. But getting together with women isn't the main event. What makes my men's group work is that it's about men, for men, by men, without being pushy or aggressive about it. Sometimes being separate seems to be the best way to stay sane.

Is the rest of the country ready for men's groups? Probably not. By and large, the rest of the country still thinks that when men get together it ought to be for baseball, beer, and business. Mind you, I'm not opposed to baseball, beer, and business, but men everywhere--even tough guys like TV mobster Tony Soprano and his associates--might benefit from the sense of brotherhood I get from my close-knit, nonviolent men's group.

Jonah Raskin, a communications professor at Sonoma State University and frequent contributor to the 'Northern California Bohemian,' subscribes to HBO.

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From the April 19-25, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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