By Shelley Grieshop
Today's men may feel as if they need to be strong, hide their inner feelings and show no fear.
But that's not reality, says local family physician Dr. Jim Schwieterman.
"Opening up is hard, particularly for men. You've got the pretty wife, the beautiful home and nice car, but when you peel away that cover you see that a perfect life is a complete fallacy," says Schwieterman of Maria Stein during a recent interview. "Life's about much more than that."
Schwieterman, along with Bob Hibner of Coldwater and Dave Langenkamp of New Bremen, are promoting the Catholic Men's Conference slated for March 12 in Cincinnati. The trio is attempting to persuade about 500 area men of all ages to attend the daylong event, titled Answer the Call.
Dubbed locally the "2005 Grand Lake 500, GetOnDaBus," the program offers a variety of speakers and testimonials, as well as music, prayer and discussion in small and large group settings. The goal is to promote fellowship and a greater understanding of the role men have, or should have, in their families and communities. Langenkamp, an engineer at Crown Equipment, says he was uncomfortable talking about his faith before attending his first Catholic conference about nine years ago.
"I was in the dark about my own faith. I felt vulnerable talking to my wife and kids about it. I found myself critical of the church as a 'Sunday pew Catholic,' '' he says.
Langenkamp, 44, says the annual conference helps him understand he doesn't have to be perfect to be loved by Christ and neither does anyone else.
Schwieterman, 42, says he's discovered life is all about prioritizing.
"I've learned that we all need to put God in the middle," he says. "Everything else rotates around him. I find that my relationship with friends, co-workers and family are less conditional. Suddenly it clicks that all I was doing before was sitting in the backseat, a dormant Christian.
"When people look at me now, I ask myself, 'Am I helping make them a better person, closer to God?' I know now I have to walk the talk," he continues.
Hibner, 49, who has eight conferences under his belt, says the day produces a lot of "good sharing" as well as direction.
"Men need to have more active Christian roles in their lives. As priests become in shorter supply, we have to take a much greater role in our churches, too," says Hibner, a physical therapist.
Culture changes over the years have reduced the leadership stature of men leading to a host of social ills and dysfunctional families, the trio believe.
"If we let culture dictate our lives, we're in a world of hurts," Schwieterman says.
Schwieterman says the convention, which draws about 65,000 men annually, is definitely not about male superiority and, although it offers Catholic elements such as the sacraments, the "average guy will fit in. You can pick and choose how much you want to get involved," he says.
All three men agree that finding a network of support with other men who face the same difficulties as they is the primary benefit of the event at the downtown Cincinnati Music Hall. The conference may not provide attendees with all the answers they're looking for, but praying together will bring them closer to God, they say.
And the closer you are to God, the more successful your life will be, Hibner says.
The men want to encourage all males to take a chance and re-energize their lives.
"It's a guy day," Langenkamp says with a smile. "What could be better than a grandfather gathering up his sons and grandsons for a memorable day together?"