Matt Greenly and Rick Brausch, both 33 and wearing shorts and T-shirts, stood by a refreshment stand at Anaheim Stadium Saturday afternoon deep in conversation.
They weren’t talking about the Angels or the Rams. They weren’t discussing cars or women.
They were trying to remember whether their fathers had ever told them they loved them, and saying they hoped the 1990s would be the decade when men realize it’s OK to cry and open up to other men about their innermost fears and joys.
The Sacramento friends were two of about 52,000 men who filled Anaheim Stadium for “Promise Keepers,” a Christian men’s conference that blended hugs and tears, clergymen’s speeches and boisterous hymns into what organizers hoped was a strengthening of men’s integrity, responsibility and reconciliation with people of different ethnic backgrounds.
“I’m with my family 364 days out of the year,” said Greenly, a Hewlett-Packard financial analyst who lives in Sacramento. “So if I can come here for one day, that will make me a better father and husband the other 364, then it’s worth it.”
Promise Keepers began four years ago in Boulder, Colo., the brainchild of Colorado University head football coach Bill McCartney. The first conference was held in Boulder in 1991, drawing 4,200 men. Last July, the Boulder conference drew more than 50,000 men.
The group, a nondenominational Christian organization, plans to hold similar men’s gatherings in Indiana, Texas, Oregon and Colorado later this year.
Speakers throughout the day urged the men, who ranged in age from the early teens to the 60s, to throw out the chauvinism they said society imposes and replace it with a healing, reassuring perspective.
“We have been taught that we can live as men in isolation,” Glenn Wagner, the vice president of National Ministries, shouted through a microphone set up on stage behind second base. “We focus more on competitiveness than camaraderie. But even the Lone Ranger needed Tonto with him.”
At times, the crowd was almost rowdy, rising in sections to form a “wave” that went around and around the stadium. Beach balls floated in the air, as did Styrofoam airplanes and peanut shells.
But as soon as Jack Hayford, a Van Nuys minister, invited the participants to form circles of four men apiece and tell one another what addictions or relationship problems they were struggling with, the crowd settled into a more serious mood.
In every row, men put their arms around each other’s shoulders or held hands, talking quietly about their shortcomings. As they finished their discussions, many removed sunglasses to wipe tears and to give each other encouraging bear hugs or simple pats on the back.
Hayford then asked everyone to join hands across the aisles for the singing of a hymn. Men in cowboy hats and pointed-toed boots joined hands with tattooed bikers, raised their arms and sang.
The all-male nature of the conference, speakers and participants said, was in no way a backlash to the feminist movement, but rather affirmation of many feminist goals. The men, they said, were trying to become more open to their emotions and more involved with raising their children.
Las Vegas painter Jim Cameron, 39, the father of eight, recalled a previous conference when one of the speakers told the men to “treat your wife like you would want your daughter’s husband to treat her.” Tears welled in his eyes as he recalled the effect that exhortation had on him.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got to sit down and have a good talk with myself.’ And I did.”
Participant Greenly said he came to the Anaheim conference hoping to bond with other men who also are trying to be better husbands and fathers by listening to women’s advice.
“I think this event is very pro-woman. We’re out here saying, ‘We’ve messed up, we’ve made mistakes.’ Women have been telling us the same thing.”