"Project Wildman - men wanted for hazardous journey."
Rob Cope is on one and to get other men interested in his project he is hitch-hiking around the country promoting it on a fridge he is pushing on a sack barrow.
"I'm smashing the world record of hitch-hiking with a fridge," he says in Picton this week at the end of his South Island journey.
It is also a book launch trip.
Rob's fridge is packed with copies of his book, Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey, hailed by comedian Mike King as "the best exploration of Kiwi manhood I have ever read".
Rob says it is his attempt to let men lift the masks they have been wearing for generations.
"I'm going through my own journey ... no one taught me how to do this man thing. No one taught me how to be a husband and a father. And my father's generation weren't taught either, nor was his father, nor his father."
Indigenous cultures did things differently, Rob believes. "There used to be great pride in taking a young man and recognising his strengths and gifts and leading them into manhood."
In our culture, though, men often work in jobs they hate and never identify their passions, much less follow them.
"Most Kiwi guys know there's something missing, they just don't what it is. Kiwi men hide behind masks. We don't know what's going, we don't discuss what's important."
It has been recognised before, Rob acknowledges and quotes a passage from Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph's book, The New Manhood: "By the time he is a man, he is like a tiger raised in a zoo, confused and numb with huge energies untapped. He feels that there must be more but does not know what more is."
"That quote says it all. Because we hide behind masks, we don't know what the ‘more' is."
Rob says some men have taken theirs off and names Mike King, who disclosed his battle with cocaine and led an anti-suicide campaign in New Zealand; and former New Zealand rugby union coach John Kirwan who openly discusses his experience with depression and assures others that help is available.
Everyone's journey is a personal one, Rob says, but talking about it can make the navigation easier.
That is the aim of a "Project Wildman" group he started in Wellington. Two years later, five wildman groups meet weekly in the city.
Members sit around a fire, take their masks off and tell their real stories, he says. Issues talked about include the environment, marriage, having children, financial and employment concerns. "All that stuff that normally doesn't get talked about."
Asked by this (female) reporter what men usually talk about, Rob laughs and says: "Sex, sports, drinking!
"And I love talking about that stuff, but there has to be the other side as well."
Positive change can happen, says the builder by trade and father of three, aged 9, 6 and 3.
"As soon as you start talking about dropping the mask, most guys know exactly what you're talking about. They just need someone to say it."
Rob recognises his sons' strengths and gifts and sees it's his duty to nurture those over the next 20 years. Ideally other men will help, too, he says.
"What I want around my sons is a group of good, strong men ... to mentor them."
● Rob's hazardous journey starts its North Island leg next week. Follow him on facebook.com/projectwildman. Links to a site selling his book (17 each) are available from there, too.
- The Marlborough Express
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