“The simple art of connection – ask what was it like growing up where you grew up”

Frank Cowell – SHED Happens Mackay

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SHED-Happens-Mackay-196465987746044/

SHED Happens Mackay…Working on hearts, not projects!

‘Shed’ has been operating in Mackay for the past 6 years. It provides a safe, non-judgemental  place for blokes to be lifted up and encouraged. As our founder Ian ‘Watto’ Watson says often, “No bloke ever went backward with encouragement”. We celebrate the uniqueness and importance of a blokes story, the good, bad, happy and sad. Other blokes need to hear it to know that there are  blokes available to talk with who have been in the same situation. We are talking about the personal story, not the career. What better place to really connect with blokes than around the ‘barbie’. We offer a man sized BBQ with what you can fit in your fist…. no plates or knives and forks for us! We inform blokes of what is going on in the ‘man’s world’, tips on being a good father and husband and of course we listen to a blokes life journey. We don’t have grog at ‘Shed’, because we want the real story, not the embellished story. There is not a bloke born who couldn’t benefit from coming to ‘Shed’, our challenge is to ‘give it a go’; if it’s not your cup of tea, don’t come back, but come once and you may just be really encouraged to be the bloke you were born to be.

Connect with Balance Minder’s
Leanne Simpson

Podcast Transcript

Leanne Simpson:              Hello and welcome to Tribe Talk on this beautiful day in Mackay. And I’d like to welcome to the show our special guest today, Frank Cowell, and he’s the convenor of Shed Happens in Mackay. Frank, welcome along to Tribe Talk.

Frank Cowell:                     G’day. Afternoon, Leanne. How are you?

Leanne Simpson:              I’m really, really well and I’m so excited to have you here. So, first thing is, you’ve got this beautiful sign behind you that says Shed Happens. Tell me all about Shed Happens.

Frank Cowell:                     Well, the bit that I’m blocking out says Male By Birth, Man by Choice and the bit that’s missing that’s not on there is Champion by Grace. Shed Happens is about encouraging men. We meet monthly at a blokes place and it’s a safe, non-judgmental, non-threatening environment where men can tell their story, the good, the bad, the happy, the sad. It’s a place where blokes can connect with other blokes. As we go through life we inevitably stumble and when we do it’s very easy to feel isolated and alone. Shed Happens is about bringing those blokes together and letting them know that they’re not alone on the journey. There’s no blokes that are banned, who are not allowed to come to Shed Happens. We’re not interested in a bloke’s past, we’re more interested in helping him to go forward in a positive sense.

Leanne Simpson:              Well, I remember going and listening to you speak at somewhere around town as we do, and I remember you telling me that even dads and sons could come together, so maybe if they haven’t had that way of having a good discussion between themselves that they could come along to Shed Happens and see how blokes could talk with each other.

Frank Cowell:                     Absolutely, in fact, we encourage, where possible, blokes to bring their sons or men to bring their dads along because there’s a lot of stuff said and done at the shed that resonates with the father son relationship. We tend to focus a lot on relationships, particularly the marriage relationship and, as I said, the father son bond relationship.

Leanne Simpson:              Yeah, so one of our themes for Tribe Talk is about connection and we talking about how connection is the key to community wellness, so for yourself, personally, Frank, when I say the word connection, what does it mean to you?

Frank Cowell:                     Connection to me is about blokes coming together and supporting other blokes. There can be good and bad connections, but I think when you talk about connection you’re generally talking in the positive and in that way I mean we’re designed to be connected. The best way to punish people is to isolate them. That’s why we have things in prisons called solitary confinement, which is a harsh punishment. We’re designed to be connected.

Frank Cowell:                     And last week you were talking with Deb Rae about the handshake. I am very, very much a believer in the handshake, particularly with the men, it’s so important, and so many men have never been taught how to handshake effectively. It tells a lot about a man, or any person, for that matter, in that first half a second when you are shaking hands with somebody.

Leanne Simpson:              I noticed that some of the fellows are actually doing this like elbow bump and I thought, oh, that’s silly. And then after you were explaining this to me I was thinking that was really important because that’s still making that connection without breaking the C-19 rule.

Leanne Simpson:              You talked about how there was different prisons. I remember going down to Port Arthur and they’re showing us a facility that they had back right when Port Arthur was working hundreds of years ago where they actually experimented with prisoners by putting them in solitary, and also even covering their faces and their body and found out how detrimental that was to people.

Frank Cowell:                     Yes.

Leanne Simpson:              So, I think it’s really important that we remember how connection is and at the moment now we can still do the other part of the handshake, can’t we, which is that looking into others eyes?

Frank Cowell:                     Yeah, well a lot is said when you look in somebody’s eyes or if people can’t look you in the eye, it sends you a lot of messages depending on the facial gestures and all the other, you pick up a lot in that first, as I say, half a second when you’re shaking hands with somebody.

                                                We had a fellow that came to Shed Happens, in fact, it was a surprise to me because he was a salesman, and his handshake, he was a very short man, but his handshake was like the grip of Tarzan and it was so tight that I said to him one day, “Mate, people avoid you.” And he said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Blokes avoid you because of your handshake. Your handshake is threatening and it’s very, very hard and people are just not talking to you because they don’t want to shake your hand.” And he was absolutely stunned. But it was an aggressive, hard handshake that it felt like he was trying to drive you to the ground.

That’s another advantage that comes from meeting with an organization and for the fellows to go to Shed Happens because you can have those honest conversations, can’t you?

Frank Cowell:                     Yeah. The other thing about connection too is shared achievement or shared hard times. People who share those experiences have a strong connection as well. You look at people like the Holocaust survivors, people who survive, the two blokes down the Beaconsfield Mine, they have a connection the no one else will ever be able to understand because it was fired in adversity, so that’s another area of connection that’s just unique and specific, or special, I should say.

Leanne Simpson:              With Shed Happens, you’re trying to get that connection to group and you say like sometimes there can be 30 or 40 fellows turn up?

Frank Cowell:                     Yes. We do it in two ways, Leanne, at the start of Shed Happens we do a bit of an icebreaker by saying, “Okay, you’ve got 30 seconds to shake the hand of every bloke in the place.” Now, 30 seconds is nowhere near long enough, but they’re all running around bumping into each other shaking each other’s hand and saying each other’s name. The second way in which we do at Shed Happens is we have a session after one of the interviews called thumbs up, thumbs down and this is specifically designed to get the blokes that are new to start to talk because we don’t interview about their life straight up. They have to get comfortable with what we’re doing at Shed Happens and understand the concept in what we’re doing, so we have this thumbs up, thumbs down where we ask them to share for a couple of minutes, a very positive thing that’s happened in the last month and something they may have struggled with in the last month and that gets them sharing with the bloke beside them who they may have never met before. So they’re the two ways in which we get blokes to connect and then start to talk.

Leanne Simpson:              Sometimes you’d have no one to listen to your achievements. Often you could be very excited about something that has happened and then realize there’s no one to be excited about it.

Frank Cowell:                     Yes. No one to share with.

Leanne Simpson:              Which I think’s really interesting because often we find that, I call it the home-and-away syndrome, that often you’ll find people that want to hear about what’s going wrong, but when it comes to the achievements … So, I really like that idea that people get to have that both thumbs up and thumbs down, so you’ve got that really good balance with it.

Frank Cowell:                     Yeah.

Leanne Simpson:              For someone that’s listening out there and maybe they know some man that would benefit from connecting with your organization, how do you suggest we go about that?

Frank Cowell:                     Well, first of all there’s not one bloke out there that wouldn’t benefit from being involved with Shed Happens because it’s for all blokes. During the interviews we don’t ask a bloke about his career generally, and that’s because every blokes on the same level. We don’t have doctors in this corner and concreters in that corner or anything, everybody’s the same and we don’t focus on career, we focus on the personal stuff.

Frank Cowell:                     Our Facebook page is the best. We’ve got a Facebook page and it is the word “SHED” in all uppercase and then the words “Happens Mackay” with an uppercase at the front of the word and lowercase letters throughout. That’s the best place. That’s got my number on it and another connection number. We have a brochure that’s available at a lot of the health and welfare facilities around town.

Leanne Simpson:              And the exciting part is that we’ll be putting a link to that Facebook page and also the flyer will be also available to have a look at after this.

Now, as we talk about connection, what would be another way that as a family member and you’re concerned for the fellow in your life, what is one of the ways that we could help connect with the fellow when we know that they’ve probably got something to say, but it’s not the norm in our family for the male to say something, so what could be a little couple of hints that we could use for changing that norm in the family so that the males in our life feel like it’s okay to say how they’re feeling?

Frank Cowell:                     Probably the best way I think is to ask a bloke what he was like as a kid. Particularly with children, I mean our children want to hear our story, and we blokes tend to not understand that and we think oh, we just had a normal upbringing, whatever it might be, but every bloke’s story’s unique, even though we go through similar experiences, the way we deal with that is unique, so the best way, I think, is to start asking about a bloke’s childhood.

What was it like growing up where you grew up?

What was your family situation?

What did you learn?

What was the big takeaway from your dad?

Because in most bloke’s lives dad is the key role model and in some they’re not. Who are the other role models that you had growing up? Was there a teacher or a football coach who impressed something on you that you’ve sort of lived with for the rest of your life and thought, that’s a good idea?

So, I’m asking those sorts of questions, I think, will get bloke to draw out. We all like talking about our childhood if we get the chance because most of the time for most of us it’s a pretty good experience.

Frank Cowell:                     For some unfortunately, it’s not a good experience.

Leanne Simpson:              And if it’s not, it probably give an insight into where this man has come from

Frank Cowell:                     Yeah, definitely.

Leanne Simpson:              Yeah, so it’s just taking that time to ask that question and just sit and listen and allow them to do it and if it becomes … Like it could become a really good habit for the family to have that conversation, so if they go to meet up with their grandfather, or their father, or whatever and you’re sitting there with that silence that sometimes happens, nothing … And it’s quite interesting to find out what it was like 50-odd years ago.

Frank Cowell:                     Exactly. I was only reminiscing about that this morning with my wife about how different our lives were as kids compared to children of today.

Leanne Simpson:              It is quite …

Frank Cowell:                     Yeah, I mean, my grandparents were on a small farm in New South Wales and that’s where I first learned to shoot was with the 22 knocking over rabbits, of which there were thousands.

Leanne Simpson:              Yeah. My dad tells me about like I remember when I was a kid, he took me ferreting up, because he’s from Tumbarumba.  So we went ferreting , I remember a container of 60, 70 rabbits and him saying we have to get rid of these-

Frank Cowell:                     That’s right.

Leanne Simpson:              … because of the damage they cause. So, yeah, and now we don’t have that experience anymore.

Frank Cowell:                     No.

Leanne Simpson:              So, the takeaway item I’ve got is taking that time to listen to the men in our lives because I know we have daughters, so our house can be fairly noisy with all those girls around, type of thing. And yeah, the fellows, they just quietly sit back, so I really enjoy that thought process. But let’s just remind people again, if they want to get involved in Shed Happens, you’ve got Facebook, so they ring you up and then what’s the first thing they do? They’ve rung you up and what’s going to happen?

Frank Cowell:                     Yep. Well, oftentimes I’ll say to the bloke, “Would you like to meet for a cup of coffee and just you and I sit down and have a bit of a chat?” Because for a bloke to walk in on Shed Happens on his own is a pretty hard thing to do. So, oftentimes if we don’t make that initial connection, we’ll have the conversation on the phone we never see them again. So, I like to sit down with the bloke and just have a bit of a chat with him, so he can see who I am and I’m just the sort of average bloke and at least when he fronts up he knows somebody. And just on that point we were talking earlier, Leanne, about having the conversations at home with the males in the household, when they say, “Oh, no. My growing up years were nothing special.” Press them. Press them to answer it. Not just retreat back into the shell because if they share it with the family it’s a huge step forward in the relationship with the children.

Leanne Simpson:              Right. Well, that is really good. And I know that you just said you were average. An average bloke, but I don’t know. I think you can take a little bit being above average, you know?

Frank Cowell:                     Oh, I’m not too sure about that.

Leanne Simpson:              So, yeah. It’s because where the average is I suppose. It’s bigger than what you’re looking at, I’d say. And it’s a bit like normal. Everyone keeps saying, “Oh, we’re going to be back to our normal.” And I’m like, “What is normal?”

Frank Cowell:                     We don’t know what normal’s going to be.

Leanne Simpson:              Yeah, like what is the new normal?

Frank Cowell:                     Exactly.

Leanne Simpson:              And I think that we have an opportunity to kind of define our own normal at the moment and one of them might be that we’re going to really savour the connections that we have with people and really take them onboard and realize how precious they are and how wonderful they are and not take them for granted.

Frank Cowell:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Leanne Simpson:              So, thank you, Frank for joining me.

Frank Cowell:                     I tend to agree with you.

Leanne Simpson:              Thank you. And thank you for joining me on Tribe Talk

Podcast Details

TitleTribe Talk with our guest Frank Cowell SHED Happens Mackay
ArtistLeanne Simpson
AlbumBalance Minder
CommentThe simple art of connection – the key to community wellness
Copyright© Balance Minder, 85 Nebo Road Mackay 2020
URL for transcript blog https://www.balanceminder.com.au/tribe-talk-with-our-guest-frank-cowell-shed-happens-mackay/
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