A Discussion with Frank Ritchie

Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Culture  Maker Channel. It's great to have you here, whether it's on YouTube or on a podcast. Today I am interviewing Frank, Richie. Frank is a news Talk ZB radio host on Sundays at six here in New Zealand.

He's a media chaplain. And he runs a church. He's a pastor of a church. So he's a busy man. Today we talk basically around the need for men to talk to other men. I think we all  acknowledge our need for men to talk. And we just talk about that today.

It's challenging and it's encouraging and it'll help us in both our work and our family. So, let's get into it. 


Hey, so thanks heaps. Frank for joining me. I really, really appreciate you being with me on the show. 

Oh, it's a pleasure. Thank you so much for asking. It's always an honour when anybody feels like they can entrust their podcast to, to the voice of somebody else. It's a risky venture. 

Totally, man. But honestly, you come highly recommended by a couple of really good friends of mine. And, obviously I'm actually a big listener to News Talk ZB as well….

… So you're a media chaplain. Gosh, start there. I don't even know what that means. What does a, what does a media chaplain do? 

Yeah, there's a whole lot of media people who don't know what that means either. Uh, back in, back in 2014, I was working for a Tear Fund. I'd been working for a TearFund for a number of years in Aid and development, uh, specifically around education. Uh, very much in the church environment. Before that I had worked for Life FM, I'd done talk back on Life FM for about eight years on Sunday evenings. Right. I had done their night show for a couple of years and their drive show for a couple of years. So I still very much saw myself as a radio person. And, I was at TearFund and coming to the point where I felt like what we had hoped I would achieve at TearFund I had done it.  And found a, a call, a sense of pull back into media, but I'd been ordained as a minister, so going back as a full-time radio announcer didn't quite feel like the right fit. Yeah, so a few of us. Myself and a couple of people at Christian Broadcasting Association, were looking around the media landscape and just seeing where we might be able to fit in.

What Is it that I could, that I could offer, what is it that I could do? And we saw a real lack of care in the media industry. And when you think about what reporters do, whether people like journalists and reporters or not, when you think about what they do, there's a lot of trauma Involved. When you think about the stories that they're telling?

Like you think about all the horrific stories that we hear, we're hearing those stories because there's a journalist on the scene witnessing it, experiencing it, and telling it to us. But when we, when we looked around, there was just no care in the industry for those people. And we were familiar with chaplaincy in hospitals, universities, the armed forces, and really like that, that proactive friendship model of care. Being someone who's not a counsellor, but is proactive in building relationships, is the friend that you can trust to talk to confidentially and just offload a little. And then if counselling needs to happen, know how to take you through that process. And so we started up media chaplaincy. So my job effectively is just largely sitting in cafes with media personnel and drinking lots of coffee and chewing the fat about life….

So that's effectively what we do. That's so powerful, man. I was thinking,  I've been talking a little bit actually with a few family members and people about, you know, the issue we have with screens and the lack of connection in the real world, and the lack of community. And actually that's probably quite profound. I'm guessing this lack of community in our lives and how most of us guys. I think our partners are better. Maybe our partners have sort of half a dozen people they talk to, but most, most of us guys, we don't really talk to anybody about stuff anymore.

….If we don't find someone to talk about and talk about it with, it will bubble up and it will come out in some way…..

Okay. So, are you saying that, and this will sound like a really naive question, but are you saying that actually part of getting better is just the process of talking about things?

Yeah, and it can sound really dumb, and sometimes that's not going to be enough and we might need to explore counselling or various other things. Medication maybe, if there's really serious stuff going on, there's chemical imbalances. But for a lot of us just talking about stuff, externalises it. It stops it from being this thing that's just festering in our head and our emotions and it externalises it. It's a sharing of the burden per se, and it's amazing how much perspective comes just by sharing something. Just by externalising it and getting it out of our head. But us guys are not great at just sitting across a table and sharing our deepest, darkest. We are really generally better if there's an activity going on… 

Man, that's quite profound….I guess, a lot of men would jump straight to the medication. I know they're hand handed out pretty fast. I know a lot of men self-medicate, I guess, with drinking and drugs and gosh, and you know, the research is pretty clear in New Zealand at the moment. We've got a bit of an epidemic, you know, with the amount of drugs being used in New Zealand. And this is all probably just an effort just to try to deal, just to try to ease, deal with some of the pain, because we're not talking about stuff…

And so what would you say would be some common stuff that, from your experience as a pastor and as a chaplain, that guys need to be talking about more? 

Us guys are like me, think about my wife and I think about the woman in my life - they talk about stuff fairly, openly.

Whereas I think we, I dunno if it's been conditioned or it's just how we are. I think there's an element of conditioning having travelled a bit and been around men in some other cultures. I think we have this almost lone wolf element where we feel like we've got to be in charge. We've got to be the provider, we've got to be the strong one. So I think there's some of that cultural conditioning that we need to push against a little so that we don't feel like we have to do all this on our own. There's that classic line - no person is an island. It's true. None of us were meant to do this on our own yet, I think as guys we're relatively conditioned to do it on our own. And even when we're around, our mates, it would take some special friendships to really own up to some of the stuff that we truly struggle with. I think as guys that there's that loneliness. I think loneliness for guys is a significant issue in  Aotearoa, New Zealand. And I think we need to continue to gently address that.

And there's all the sense of expectation that goes with the sense of needing to be the provider, the strong one, the one who's able to get it all done. And I think there are cultural narratives in play as well.  I think, everybody, not just guys, I think everybody's subject to these, when you think about our advertising culture, there's a message that's being bombarded towards us all the time that says, your life is not quite good enough. And it's never going to be good enough. But good enough is always just over the horizon. So if you buy this product or you do this course,  you have this holiday, or you get this thing, then life is gonna be better. But it's always just out there. But at the same time, we also exist in a culture that tells us you're amazing. You can be everything that you want to be. You can do all the things. You are phenomenal. Now there's an element where that's true, but when you buttered up against the narrative that says life is not quite good enough. Then we are set to feel like failures all of the time. Because we are being told that you can do anything. You can be anything. You are amazing, but life is not quite good enough until you do this and you have this. So we are conditioned to feel like a failure almost all of the time.  And until we recognise it, it's almost like the matrix until you see it. It's really hard to deal with that. I think that, almost more than anything  in our culture, is something that most of us need to become more aware of….

I remember, and, this will be a struggle for some people to relate to. I'm a person of faith and I remember, and this sounds really big, but it's easy enough to relate to daily life. I had an experience in what we call the Holy Land, Palestine, Israel, right? And I was over there for some work with TearFund because TearFund was supporting some Palestinian organisations that we were working on,  youth development, youth leadership development, teaching young Palestinians how to have their voice heard without picking up a gun without resorting to violence. And working on poverty alleviation as well. And, if I was really honest, and I think most people who end up working in some sort of charity or Aid and development, had this playing out in their subconscious. And It certainly was playing out for me. I think if you were to examine my subconscious, I thought I could save the world, right? And so then the Palestinian Israeli conflict, which is the area that I know best away from home. I've studied its history, geopolitics, and religion. I know that I know that area quite well. I know the conflict quite well. And if you were to dive into my subconscious - It probably would've said, the only reason this conflict is still going on is cause they haven't listened to me. If they just sat at the table with me we could probably solve this…. And then I remember getting there and up until then, my faith, my sense of worth,  everything about me was built on the difference I could see myself making in the world.  So how many children could I get sponsored from poor communities? I was dealing with the human trafficking issue at the time, particularly sexual exploitation. How much money could I help raise for that? So then when I got to the Palestinian Israeli conflict, I was like, okay, how can I help reduce this conflict? How can I bring people together? And if I can see that happening, then I'm worth something. And I remember getting there and then spending a couple of weeks largely in Palestinian territory listening to Palestinians. I spent some time in Israel as well, listening to Israelis. And just got the sense that I couldn't solve this at all, that I was really naive and that faced with this conflict, I'm actually useless. And I remember sitting in the Church of the Nativity where tradition holds, Jesus was born. And it's this amazing old church. You literally go up and you smell the stones and you can smell the incense that they've burnt in there for centuries and centuries. And the pilgrims come. And the altar is built on top of the cave, whereas supposedly Jesus was born. The pilgrims will come in, make their way under the altar and they'll kiss the spot where it's supposed to have happened. I'm guessing that wasn't happening during the pandemic. And hopefully it gets cleaned regularly cause I kissed it when I was there. But, I was sitting there and the priests were doing what's called the liturgy of the hours. They prayed, each hour and the incense was burning. They were praying it in Arabic. You've got all these old icons and it has that classic, window with the light that shines down on the altar, and the incense was wafting through and like, this is a really holy moment. I'm a really spiritual guy. This should be phenomenal. But I remember sitting there and thinking, I should pray. I should talk to God about this situation. I know that'll sound weird to some people. But I remember sitting there thinking, I've got nothing. I don't know what to pray here. I don't know what to ask for. I don't think I can change anything. And all of a sudden I lost this expectation on myself. I was sitting there with no expectation that I could do anything. I just felt useless, had no expectation that God, whatever God is, would change anything in this situation. Didn't lose any belief in God. And I just sat there in complete silence. No sense that in that silence I had to be anybody, and it was really profound. The fact that I'm still a human being, I'm still worth something. As a person of faith, I still believe I'm created in the image of God and I'm loved by God. But here I am relatively useless and it doesn't matter. I'm still okay. The world's gonna keep on turning. Whether I fix this or not…..

I guess you still feel this strong desire to, to change the world, you know? 


What I think I'm hearing you saying is that you thought you were the hero of the moment. I'm not saying you personally. I think we all feel like we can save the world and we have this, you know, we see through our eyes perfectly, and everyone else needs to see it our way. And that can be with family, we can come home and feel like that and it can feel broken a lot of the time. And partly what I'm hearing you say is that it's normal, actually it's probably every dad's experience. But I don't know whether you can actually process that as a guy without processing it with someone at the very least talking to someone, which obviously you've been able to do. And in your case, you were talking about sitting there with God and the presence of God and actually telling him. And there was a bit of healing in that, in that moment. 

Yeah. And a realisation that it is what it is. So in  your home situation or your work situation, if it's not perfect, it is what it is. It is just simply, this is what it is. And, and what it is, is, okay.  And then with the reality that's in front of us, what do we do with it?  And how do we act with integrity? And how do we put the best of who we are on the table? And just be okay with whatever that is as well. I think through the entertainment industry, we're fed narratives and stories about what the perfect marriage should look like, for instance. Or what it means to be an amazing dad who makes all the time in the world for his kids, and responds in the perfect way with the perfect line every time, because that's what's scripted in the movies that we see. And so then again, we're being set up to think it's always a failure, but what's in front of us is what it is and it's okay. And I have something to bring to the table here. So it's just a question of what do I have to bring to the table? It's not gonna change the world. It's not gonna fix everything. But the best of what I have to bring to the table is okay. And it's good as well. 

So how, what do we do about finding people to talk to…..

It's hard. I think, first and foremost, it's worth acknowledging that it's hard. That it, not easy. Good relations don't form magically. You've got to be intentional about them. You've got to decide that you want those sorts of relationships and then you've gotta go out to work to make them happen. And it's hard because that comes with a vulnerability because we don't know when we put our stuff on the table, how someone else is going to react and what they might do with that information. So there's a sense where you've got to be okay with the vulnerability of that, and there's an element where you've gotta be okay with the fact that you might get hurt. Because in good relationships, in that opening up, there's a sense where you might get hurt. But if we don't do it, then the hurt is going to be even worse, eventually, and it will come out in ways that aren't representative of the best of who we are. So, workplaces can be good. Depending on the type of workplace that you are in. And you don't have to bare your whole soul to begin with. It might just be, opening up at some point with a work colleague or someone that you connected to somewhere - that you had a bad sleep the night before, and just watching how they react. You don't have to bare everything to begin with. Just starting with the smallest struggles that you might be going through. Oh, I felt, quite tired for a number of weeks - that sort of thing, or, I was having a chat with my wife and my kids at home and, I reacted in a way that I'm not overly proud of just putting those smaller things on the table to begin with \ and seeing what happens can be a great way just to get the ball rolling and seeing who you feel like you can trust and who you can't. 

Yeah. One, one thing I've done is, from when I was quite a young man, was I've found guys that were sort of ahead, ahead of me in their journey, parenting journey, man journey. Because, you know, I dunno who it was that said - show me your five closest friends and I'll show you your future. And so often we've got people in our lives that aren't ahead of us, that are maybe not good for us, that are struggling with the same stuff and maybe they're not even dealing with it as good as we are. And I know for me that's been really important and maybe  that's older men that have got an older family, they look like they're holding it together pretty well some of the time or most of the time. I think those guys are guys that we need to seek out when life's feeling really hard. 

So a question for you then, Mike, is how did you find those guys? 

Well, for me it was inside the church community, I think, predominantly, 

I think, and I think for those of us who are around church communities, I think we, even when it's not an overly healthy church there's still community there and there are still relationships that you can seek out. So for those of us who are in churches, I think we need to be aware of the fact that the community that we experience is not experienced by the majority of New Zealand anymore, the majority of Aotearoa, New Zealand is relatively isolated. So for people who aren't in a church environment or a faith environment, I'd probably encourage 'me to think about what recreational activities they enjoy. So if you enjoy tramping, there's probably a local tramping club. If you're into fishing, hunting, chess. There are clubs around. There are things that you can get involved in, where you start to encounter people outside of your normal sphere and in those spheres when you start to venture out into some of those things and use the hobby as a catalyst you might discover people who are, as you've said, further along in that journey and handling things in a way that you would like to, handle things. And because us guys do well, talking around activities, those hobbies and those things that we enjoy, great places to spark conversation and just to let conversation flow.

And listen, let, let's address the CEOs, the business leaders for a moment cause we spend so much time at work. You know, all of us dads we're at work for at least eight hours a day, some of us for 10 or 12 hours a day. And we have the opportunity to create environments where guys can feel safe, at the very least. But also we, maybe we can create environments where people can talk. I know for me, I've worked really intentionally on this. I was talking to one of my guys about his mental health yesterday, in fact,  he's going through some stuff, so I'm just very aware of it. That's not something I could have just started, you know, I can't,  just walk up to people and go, Hey, how's your mental health?

You know, there's a journey I've gone on with, a handful of those guys. But what would you say, that we can do as leaders to go on that journey? To sort of create environments where our guys can talk at work. 

I think it probably just begins with how we see them. And not seeing them first and foremost as production units. That each person that we deal with is a human being. That if we treat them as a human being, actually their productivity and loyalty to the company is probably going to grow anyway. But treating them as human beings. So when you ask how you're doing?  Letting them know over time that you're genuinely asking that question, setting up an environment where they feel like they can, they can talk about how they're doing.

Yeah. And it's not going to affect their job or their work or their sense of how you view them. So I think it starts, right there. It starts in how we're asking, how are you doing? And there are just so practical tips on how to ask, how you're doing?  How you emphasise the words and the tone that you bring to that question is gonna completely change everything.

And not necessarily having those conversations in front of other people, cause no one's gonna offload in front of a whole team unless they really trust that team. So finding ways to have those conversations in a way that is non-threatening. So it's not the high pressure environment of doing it in a work review either. But finding ways to ask that question in ways that are non-threatening, relatively low key, but genuinely express that you are interested, really interested in, in how they're doing. And remember things about them. Remember? If they've got a partner, remembering their partner's name, remembering their children's name, if they, if they throw little, little tidbits on the table about things that are going on for their wife or their children, try and remember those. And then ask them about those later. Because that shows that you are interested and you genuinely care……

So there's a challenge I think for us leaders is working out what it looks like for us to try to create environments that feel good where people can turn up and and the chaos of the life that they probably have at home is to not feel like it's too chaotic at work. At the very least. That's a good starting point. But, then also having places that actually feel good and where they can maybe find people that are safe to talk to. That's good. I like that. So that is the challenge I think for us guys, finding people to talk to. And, we've talked about finding some older guys, finding some community around us. 

Any other thoughts, any other tips that we can, I mean, obviously it's counselling, that's the next level - it's counselling and finding a good psychologist. I did that last year. I talked to someone about some issues I was feeling around, my dad, who's not with us anymore, and there was one really interesting thing - I'll talk about just now, where my greatest fear was not giving my kids enough time.  I feel like a failure around the amount of time I give my kids. And I was talking about how I felt my dad never gave me enough time. And I didn't wanna become like my dad. And she asked me some questions about  If i have enough flexibility in my work life to actually be a leader, can I modify my week, to bring my kids into my week? And I actually worked out that I could, that on a Friday, I could actually have a lunch date with one of my kids every week. And I made that change and it's been great. Now, that doesn't apply to a lot of people. I know they don't have that kind of freedom, but I, for me, I just found that counselling experience quite helpful because she asked some good questions, and enabled me to sort of make some changes in my  routine and my life to overcome my sense of failure in one area of my life. 

Yeah, I really like that. I really like that because it's a different perspective coming into what your head is doing as well. Our brains,  I'd highly recommend Lance Bette's book,  Dark Side of the Dark Side of the Brain.  Lance Bette used to be a police negotiator. So if someone was standing on a bridge ready to jump, Lance would be the guy that would be called in to try and talk them down and to work it out.  And he was doing that while he was going through his own stuff. But the brain is fascinating. Our brains, our whole human body, is geared towards safety. So when we are, we are geared towards recognising danger and trying to find danger. So often when we are left to our own devices in our head, our heads will spiral into chaos. So if we start with a, really little issue, a lot of people will relate to this when they're awake at night and there's something going on in their head, will  it hardly ever at night when you're lying awake work itself towards a good solution?  Usually our head in that situation will spiral and it'll spiral and it'll get darker and darker and darker. Because our own brain is looking for danger. It's working out where the danger is and working out whether it needs to fight and whether it needs fight or flight. Whereas when you sit down with someone. They're able to bring another perspective rather than just your own brain spiralling towards more and more chaos. So sitting down with a counsellor in your instance, allowed that worry about whether you are, giving your kids enough time, just brought a whole different perspective where if you were lying awake at night, worried about whether you're giving your kids enough time I can almost guarantee it's probably gonna end up in a whole lot of self-condemnation.  It's not gonna offer any really good solutions because your brains are just doing what your brain naturally does.  So sitting down with someone else is really healthy. 

Man… I think this is so helpful and now just sort of wrapping up - what would be the last thing that you'd like to leave dads with as a, as a big thought for the day?

Yeah. I think it'd probably be that you, that you're okay. That you are, you're good. And tune into the narratives that you're being fed all the time. Once you see it, you can't unsee it. Once you see that, you're being told all the time that you are both amazing, but your life isn't quite good enough. You don't quite measure up. Once you see that in play, there comes a freedom to go, ah, okay, so these things aren't true. What is, is. Life is not a Hollywood movie. You are okay. The situation is what it is. It's just a question of how we bring the best of who we are to the table, and that's the best of who we are. Not the best as we would often measure it based on what everybody else tells us. Just the best of who we are.  Who is the best of me at this moment? What is the best that I can do? And when we stuff it up, it's not the end of the world. It's okay. It is what it is. We move on and we work on better. Just relieve some of the pressure. 

That's awesome. Thanks so much for your wisdom and for making the time.  I hope to get you back one day. 

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