Law Ruler April 2024
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Freemasonry Might Be the Cure for Gen Z Men’s Desperate Loneliness

Yes, that Freemasonry.

By Bull Garlington

The following is adapted from an essay I wrote on Medium that got a lot of attention. And yes, writing about Freemasonry here may seem like a fateful, windmilling step off the edge of credibility, but I assure you the actual organization is nothing like what you’ve read about in Dan Brown’s novels. It isn’t the least bit secret and, seriously, controlling the world? We can barely make it through a fish fry.

Also, for members reading this from your invisible sky palace, please remember next Tuesday’s Illuminati meeting is lizard skin only. FNORD!

Credit: Dall-e

The Loneliness Epidemic Is Real

I was talking to my therapist about how I worry that my adult kids are so isolated. I told him that all of them — my nieces and nephews too, that whole generation — are the loneliest people I’ve ever seen. Turns out I’m late to the party. Or the complete and total lack of a party.

If you’re a man in your twenties or early thirties, there’s a good chance you are isolated as hell, possibly facing a kind of debilitating loneliness and despair.

I wrote this essay about men because that’s where my mind was at the time. I saw the difference in members of my fraternity versus non-member men who were the same age. But men do not hold a monopoly on social estrangement

The loneliness epidemic is equal.

A 2022 Cigna study reported that 57% of men and 59% of women are isolated. 

And let’s just walk right up to the big hairy elephant in the room: Freemasonry is a centuries-old fraternity that doesn’t admit women. That may seem discriminatory or sexist and I do not bear sufficient rhetorical skill to refute that claim artfully. The simple truth is that Freemasonry is a fraternity and always has been.

But what I’m promoting here applies to everyone.

Look, I’m a Boomer and No Expert

I don’t have a degree in psychology. I’m a moderately successful humor writer. So, regarding this article, buyer beware. I might just be another old guy yelling about those kids and their damn phones. Which is to say, I understand your trust issues.

What I’m about to tell you might seem to come from a place of privilege. It may seem disingenuous. It may come off as vintage blather from a dilapidated geezer, but I promise you it is not. I promise you that there is an antidote to the loneliness and despair wrecking the lives of young men like you, one your dad and your grandad knew about: Freemasonry.

Freemasonry Saved My Lonely Ass

Ok, stay with me here. Yeah. I know. Your bullshit alarms just shot into the “flat earther” zone, but hear me out. I know it works because I am a Freemason, and before I found my lodge, I was lonely as hell. I was in despair. Freemasonry saved my ass from going completely bonkers. Here’s how it worked for me. I think it will work for you too. Hell, I know it will.

A little about me. Back in the early aughts, my wife and I were looking forward to sending our kids to college and realizing we could never afford it. I was in retail. She was in environmental fieldwork. She went back to school to become an attorney and I prepped to become a freelance writer. She was hired by a massive, terrifying law firm and disappeared into a maelstrom of meetings and cases and all-night work sessions. I quit my job to be an at-home dad, and here’s where things got weird. I found myself at home, alone. We had moved to Chicago when I was 30, my daughter was five, and my son was a toddler. All my friends were back home in Florida. My family in Alabama. I had nobody.

I was doing fine when I had a staff and coworkers and a routine.

But suddenly I’m dropping my kids at school and then spending my day not talking to anyone. My wife left for work at dawn and got home when it was dark. I talked to my friends through email and sometimes over the phone, but this was way before social media and they’d moved out of state and got different jobs and Jeff didn’t have Bill’s number and Sheila was a ghost somewhere in Europe and Susan was a teacher and I’d lost her digits and here’s the thing. All of this is analogous to what you’re going through. Isolated. Alone. Few actual connections offline. Working a Zoom job you don’t completely understand — or trust — and you might just be finding yourself going ever so slightly insane.

I did. One day, I just broke down.

I dropped the kids at school, came home, and misery took over. I crumpled into tears. Now look, I’m a crier and I’m fine with it. Crying is a pressure release. The pressure tapers off while you’re crying. That’s what it’s for. That’s not what happened. My crying got worse. Its intensity didn’t wane, it built until I was howling and wondering what in the living hell was going on.

I called my uncle down in Florida, who talked me off the ledge and offered some wise words.

“You used to talk to people all day at work. Before that, you hung out with your friends all the time. Now you don’t do anything, and you talk to your dog. You need to get the hell out of the house.”

Then he said, “Find a lodge.”

I was skeptical, but honestly, if I didn’t shake hands with a grown-ass human and have an adult conversation soon, I was going to wander off into the desert.

And Freemasons are all about handshakes. So, I reached out. I was invited to visit a lodge near my house. I walked into a room full of men in suits. It looked like a family reunion. There were men in their eighties to men in their twenties — and Kevin, a guy I used to work with. I was overjoyed to see him. He introduced me around. I must’ve shaken hands with 30 people. I had a halfway-decent supper with perhaps an overabundance of green beans and enjoyed an unforgivably average cup of coffee.

I also had some real, genuine, decent conversations with grown men.

I went home with a warm fraternal afterglow and an application to join.

Which I did, and here’s what happened.

Every two weeks for the last 20-odd years, I’ve made the seven-minute drive to my lodge and sat there in that ancient old room with ancient old men to listen to them argue about dues and plan fundraisers and tell jokes from 1974 and drink that terrible coffee. Some of those men and I turned ourselves into a crew. We all came in around the same time and went through all the same stuff and it all just turned into this strong, unbreakable bond. A bond that is still there, still strong.

Now we’re the old men. We argue about dues. Our jokes are from 2003. Our hair is turning white, we have gout, and we can’t hang like we used to. Sure. But, for all these years, these dudes have had my back, and I’ve had theirs. They have taken the liberty of calling me on my own bullshit more than once. I’ve helped them move. We’ve come together to mourn for Sean, a loss that nearly killed us. My wife has Dan’s number on tap for emergencies. These guys have been in my house, eaten my food, borrowed my books. We are family.

Here’s Why I’m Telling You This

You’re somewhere between 25 and 35. You and your friends were already drifting apart in 2019. Jaimie had a kid and had to get real. Now he’s a union electrician with a mortgage and a wife and he’s got a schedule. Dana got a job in San Diego, so you only talked to her in game chats, which is cool, but still. Not the same. Then Covid hit. Holy crap, what a nightmare of isolation. You started working from home. You still work at home. Isolation and life online is your life now.

You probably haven’t touched another person in a month. Even if you work a gig job, you’re alone at it. Your mom keeps asking you what you’re going to do with your life. You can’t sleep. You find yourself doom-scrolling at three in the morning or rabbit-holing on the dumbest Reddit threads, or watching reels about all the places in the world currently on fire and praying the STEM kids of your generation can bring their ideas online fast enough to save the world.

And you just feel like nothing’s gonna work out.

One of the reasons you’re not getting out of the house is because there’s nowhere to go. The whole world comes to you. Books, booz, groceries … unlimited chicken sandwiches. Why even go outside? And you know the downside of this. It’s all the stuff I just laid out. And the awful, overwhelming, crippling despair.

Right now, your generation is unspooling like a feedback loop.

And believe me, we old guys are a little freaked out about it. I’m terrified for my son. I think about my daughter’s isolation and have to take a few breaths to keep it together.

So, I’m advising you, my generational zed friend, to join this storied fraternity. Join something.

It’s cheap (mostly). There’s a lodge close to you (probably). They will be happy to give you a tour and an application — and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the coffee, but there will be plenty, and you won’t like it.

Freemasonry ain’t no silver bullet. It’s not rehab.

This essay isn’t a membership brochure. The men in the local lodge are local men. I’m biased a little here — and so is the fraternity—but members trend towards the more open-minded, better-educated local men. My experience has proven this to be true. Still, a guy who talks too much at work will tend to hold court at lodge too. If a dude is a self-appointed expert on everything from industrial logistics to Australian zip ties his expertise will come with him to lodge.

And your troubles and anxieties won’t evaporate. The wildfires will still burn. Your job will still be weird, and those 6 a.m. Zooms will never be necessary. Dana still lives in San Diego. Jaimie’s still busy. Your rent’s still too high.

But something magical will happen: You won’t be alone.

These old Freemasons have developed their intangible assets, the soft skills all the resume mills are raving about, to ninja level. A retired septuagenarian has been through it. He may drink cheap beer and the worst Scotch, and he absolutely does not understand TikTok. But he listens with compassion. He is charming. He can turn a complete stranger into a lifelong friend in the time it takes the waiter to bring more fries. He survived decades of legendary screw-ups. He is the stand-in grandpa you didn’t know you needed. There’s a whole room full of these guys. And they will bring you in. You’ll be passing out flyers or filling the drink tubs with ice or running the slide projector. The 50-something leader calls you bucko and he doesn’t look anything like your dad, but when he shakes your hand, he’s got the same callouses and the same grip and there’s a whiff of Old Spice and cigarettes and it’s like hearing a long lost favorite song you forgot about. It reaches into your heart and taps out a familiar, comforting rhythm. 

After a meeting, some of you go to the local dive.

The oldest man you’ve ever met tells you a story that sounds like a lost Mad Men episode, and a guy more your age gets you into a conversation about good whiskey and you drop your bourbon knowledge like a boss and three people shut up and listen and here’s the thing.

You keep going to meetings and after a while, you develop your own crew. There’s a handful of guys who just seem to gel. You help one of them move. Another one starts a Facebook group of just you guys and it’s nothing but dark, dark humor that sends you into howling fits of laughter. One day Butler texts. Something went down at work and he’s thinking about giving it up. You meet up at that same dive bar and drink terrible IPAs and play a run of late 90s classics on Touch Tunes and you don’t really say anything about his job. You both just sit there, watch the game, drink your beers, and grunt. Which Butler could do all by himself, sure. But he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t have to.

He’s got you.

Look, I’m not promising anything. Freemasonry has millions of members all over the world. Your experience will be your experience and maybe I’ve been lucky.

I know a lot of Freemasons who complain about their lodge and talk about how things need to change, and it just ain’t what it used to be or it’s nowhere near as good as it should be. Maybe they read a little too much into the internet’s idiotic fascination with Freemasons as secret conspirators running the world arm-in-arm with the lizard people and Bigfoot. Maybe these guys thought they were joining a wizard school and they’re disappointed. Maybe they should be. 

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll have an experience like mine.

Maybe you will join a broad collection of good and sometimes extraordinary men who will become your brothers. Maybe you’ll find yourself among these men, like I do, and think back to when you were alone and facing that impossible thundercloud of dread. Maybe you’ll reach out and put your arm around Tony’s back while he’s telling Franky about how he sets up his lathe, and he doesn’t even look at you, he just keeps talking. But while he does, he reaches around and hugs you back. He doesn’t have any idea why. But his reaction is everything. No questions. Just reassurance: 

I got you, buddy. I got you.


Bull Garlington is in his 29th year of Freemasonry, is a past master of Kelvyn Park-Willing Lodge, a former District Education Officer for the 5th Northeast District of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Illinois, a contributing member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, and a noted speaker in the fraternity. He is not a lizard person. Yet.

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BULL Garlington Bull Garlington

Analog Attorney columnist Bull Garlington is an award-winning author, columnist and public speaker. He is the author of the books “Fat in Paris,” “The Full English,” “Death by Children” and “The Beat Cop’s Guide.” He prefers South American literature, classic jazz, Partagas 1945s, a decent Laphroaig, and makes a mean chicken and andouille gumbo. Follow him @bull_garlington.

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