By Nathan R. Kitchen
On the evening of Friday, March 18th thirty four GBT Fathers in Affirmation began to gather from across the country in the home of Troy Mitchell and Ryan Hales in Lehi, Utah for the first annual retreat entitled: “Reflect. Rethink. Refocus.”
As participants arrived for the evening social, they were met with dinner and a night of camaraderie and fellowship. Many present had only interacted together online through Affirmation’s various affinity Facebook groups, so this was a joyful event as online friendships were cemented in person.
The next morning after breakfast the fathers heard from Chad Anderson, LCSW. His presentation entitled “Faith, Fatherhood, and Sexuality” really hit home with the group. He spoke of living an integrated life, where all parts of you are whole and healthy. He presented challenging concepts, discussing the difference between guilt and shame; the journey from our secret self to integrity; and navigating the expectations of others (and quite possibly ourselves) through the realities of our life. Chad writes of his experience presenting at the retreat here.
In the afternoon session George J. Limberakis, LCMHC presented “Mind and Body Connection.” He spoke of who we really are and how to find our center, which he identified as “Okayness.”
He taught that self-worth is not tied to “what we do” or “what we have.” We are of infinite worth independent of outside achievements or accolades from others. Gratitude focuses us on what we do have, not on what we don’t have. Therefore gratitude grounds and centers us.
He also spoke of the connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind. He taught methods for dealing with stress, which he spelled S.T.R.E.S.S.S.S.S.
This is an easy acronym to the formula for wellness: Sleep hygiene, Time management, Relaxation, Exercise, Sound nutrition, Self-knowledge, Social support, Sensible allocation of financial resources, and Sobriety.
However the true magic of the day was this unstructured time where fathers could share their personal stories and offer a listening ear. One father expressed that “there is healing in being able to share, as well as strength to be found in empathy for others.” Another father shared his gratitude, “I just want to thank all of you who made the effort to come and share in this wonderful experience. I could sense many burdens being lifted and much strength being given.”
Sunday was the concluding day of the retreat. After breakfast Dwight Lindsay and Fred Coyote spoke to the group about “Spirituality and Being Gay.” Their presentation was one of healing and of love. It awakened the question: No matter where YOU stand, no matter where YOU are on your journey, are YOU projecting love?
After the presentation, the group received Deeksha, a non-denominational blessing which helps heal, clarify and awaken individual growth. Troy Mitchell, the host of this retreat, shared his reflection concerning this experience:
“I have a new understanding of those who attended the retreat. There were so many souls with pain and hurt in our group. Pain that they have been hiding for years. Many still carried that pain with them. It filled my heart to see so many let go of pain and just be at peace with themselves. I have to wonder how many of us do the same thing with our lives? We carry unneeded pain that can be let go.”
“I think that we need to remember that we are all brothers. Giving Deeksha gave me an insite into a lot of souls who are still hurting. Carrying pain that doesn’t need to be there. I hope that we can remember to ease one another’s burdens and help them carry their load. The retreat was a great experience for those who put themselves out there and freely participated in the activities. I thoroughly believe you get out what you put in. Those who grew were those who were most vulnerable. If we open our hearts, love and light will enter.”
Once the Sunday session finished, the fathers ate lunch and processed the events of the retreat together. As goodbyes were being said, many expressed their gratitude for this event. One participant said, “I had such a loving and positive experience with all of you. It helped me focus on what is most important in my life, for which I am very grateful…God, my children, and my relationships.”
Another said, “Words can’t express the gratitude I feel for all that happened this weekend. Thank you, thank you! Can’t wait for the next one!”
At the conclusion of the retreat the leadership team left the participants with this message:
“Each of us are called to ventures that we do not know the ending.
May you leave this conference filled with much courage. May you leave with the strength to journey your path yet untrodden. May you successfully meet your perils unknown.
Be present in your journey and center within your “OKness.” You are not alone as you travel.
You are not alone.”
Fathers in Affirmation has its own Facebook group that provides a safe and affirming space for those who are fathers or those wanting to be a father and identify as gay, bi, trans, questioning, or SSA. This community within Affirmation provides a place to not only discuss the challenges of fatherhood, but to move forward with confidence to claim the privilege of being a whole and worthy father even though you may not fit into a traditional straight father’s role.
Please contact Troy Mitchell if you would like to join the Fathers in Affirmation affinity group at [email protected] for additional information. We would love to have you share with us your challenges, successes and triumphs in being a father! We have much to learn from each other.