As the proverbial Hammers of Hell (heavy rain and snow) raged outside our frost-proof windows, St. Louis refused to delay its milder days for our annual chapter presidents’ retreat beneath its famed silver arch. Though for a handful of our Southwest and Pacific Island-based brothers, this was the first time they had seen snow (a few guys ran out to touch and/or roll in it). For the rest of us, aside from fears of airport closings or blocked highways, it was a typical Midwest winter weekend.
Inside however, all was calm and bright (including some leftover holiday decor to compete with our Phi Delt flags and banners) as we gathered — 300 strong — for this January rite of passage. T-shirts, mugs, and other swag for sale claimed attention as brothers checked in and grabbed their packets, assignments, and temporary roommates. The latter is designed to enhance the shared experiences of small groups (eight to 10 brothers) into pods, renamed for the Greek alphabet. My Xi Chapter met eight times in sub-groups and then came together in plenary for more serious discussions around stress, alcohol, and sexual assault, and lighter forays into midnight poker and bro humor.
The food was great, including an intro to St. Louis barbecue — met with some trepidation by our Texas brothers and great delight by our ribs-deprived Northeasterners. Midst the surfeit of snacks and good cheer rested the real purpose of the convocation — to learn what it means to be a true leader; how to display real and authentic masculinity; and how to emulate the examples of some well-known and lesser-known Phis who daily walk that talk.
Our keynote and large group speakers ranged from our own GHQ leadership to business leaders to clinical psychologists — all bearing their own Phi Delt banners with messages of inspiration, caution, and life lessons designed to help us become the best versions of ourselves.
In our small groups — intimate on purpose and scattered throughout the now familiar airport Renaissance Hotel (gracious hosts indeed) — we reviewed the key messages and dissected their application to our own chapters back home. Every sub-meeting began and ended with ritual, a reminder of how powerful are these shared practices to each chapter, gaining greater pride, proficiency, and comfort with each re-enactment (though our singing could probably be improved exponentially!).
As a new addition, there were some specific breakout educational sessions, self-selected, on a range of chapter topics. The conversations were intense and illuminating, with subjects ranging from depression, drugs and alcohol, to difficult conversations, conflict resolution, and celebrations. For a guy like me, fifty-eight years since my own initiation, these discussions were revelatory in their honesty and personal exposure. “Shifts do indeed happen” and, almost sixty years out, I could not have been more impressed with the range of opinions and healthy dialog that accompanied each break-out.
So, another successful PLC is in the history books and a great way to start the new year. Group hugs are in order.
Brother John “Charlie” Ford
Maryland Alpha, ’64