When a group of male executives get together over lunch once a month, business is usually the last topic to make the table conversation. The 12 mates, who work as property developers, architects and radiologists, have created a circle of trust where feelings about divorce, business pressure and illness come to the table and it's not always easy to digest.
For the past 20 years, DKO Architect Principal Koos de Keijzer and Director of Dominion Hotels Antony Spielvogel have been hosting these gatherings. Dubbed the Dirty Dozen, they're high flying executives running teams of people across various continents by day, but away from the workplace they're ordinary men with everyday problems.
But it's navigating the post-divorce blues that's seen the bond between them flourish. Half of the men in the group are divorced and have since met somebody new – but to get to that point took it years of emotional hard work.
According to Paul Wiseman, managing director of the Greensborough Office of Relationships Australia, getting the conversation started with a group of friends is a great way to break the ice if you're struggling with divorce.
Post-divorce blues isn't cured overnight, but Wiseman says men shouldn't bottle their feelings. He says it can take 12 months for men to get back on their feet –some sooner – but it all comes down to taking one's time to move on from a long-term relationship. The key is not to fall into trap like alcohol abuse or starting a new relationship too soon after ending one.
"Most men think they can manage on their own and deal with divorce themselves," says Paul Wiseman.
"When men catch up with other men, they tend to talk about sport or politics and leave the vulnerable stuff aside. What's great about this group of men is that they're willing to expose their feelings and share what's really going on. That's the beginning of a healthy way of getting on with your life."
A place to talk
Wiseman says this friendship model is what divorced men need – somewhere safe to open up about what's going on in your private life.
Other services like Dad's Link is specifically designed to provide support to separated fathers and their children. The YMCA run organisation hosts weekend events throughout the year for dads to spend quality time with their kids. They also hold evening seminars for divorced dads to join the conversation with other men going through similar experiences.
"Support for divorced dads has come a long way in the last five to 10 years," says Wiseman.
"I think that's in part due to the fact we see more AFL and sporting men speak up about mental health. It reassures men that they are not alone and it's okay to reach out for help."
Secret men's business
According to Antony Spielvogel, when the Dirty Dozen meet they aren't chest-beating their achievements to one another, but rather it's a chance to show there's nothing to be ashamed of.
"At the end of the day, men are human and have feelings too. Sometimes we aren't as open about sharing them, but the beauty of our group is the bond we have created and we don't have a problem telling the others if times are gloomy," says Spielvogel.
So why aren't more men engaged in support networks like this? According to Beyond Blue, on average one in eight men will experience depression and one in five will experience anxiety in their life. The number of men who die by suicide in Australia every year is nearly double the national road toll.
Food for thought
Deep and meaningful conversations can't always happen on the phone among these gents, but over lunch, plenty of therapy is made available.
"Apart from knowing someone else is going through the same shit as me," says De Keijzer.
"It's good to know you can share what's on your mind and let it go by the time we leave and go back to work."
Wiseman says when it comes to the coping with the fallout from divorce, it's important to have a social network available.
"We always encourage men to do things for themselves – like go to the gym or fishing. Spend time on your own to feel valued and valuable," says Wiseman.
"Having a social network is an opportunity to talk but the key is a good friend, somebody who listens, does wonders for your health too."
Those requiring support can contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 224 636.