I think the thing my father hated most about me was that I started expressing my feelings at a very young age.
And to him, they were all the wrong feelings. They were the feelings of a kid raised on the gentle fun of Captain Kangaroo, of getting up early and watching the sun rise from my bedroom window and experiencing a kind of religious epiphany. They were the feelings of sadness for caught fish who had to die, deer my father killed and hung up outside in the cold, for aquarium fish I could never quite keep alive and for a beloved cat killed on the road by a car who just made it to the porch where I stood before dying.
I cried. My God how I cried. My sister too. My mother came home in the car and though the house was on fire. When my father buried the cat in the backyard, I felt the sting of tears on my face as I watched from my bedroom window.
Just thinking about it now, 45 years later, I can still see our kitty, taking one last breath in my arms on the porch. And I want to bawl all over again.
When my father went hunting and killed animals it excited him. There was never a second of concern for the animal that died. It was a sport and one he enjoyed more than anything including spending time with his snowflake son.
But the one thing absolutely, positively guaranteed to unglue my father was the sight of me in tears.
Part of how he would yell at me I have blocked out of my mind. The things he would say that would cut right to the bone of my personhood. These words, piled on top of each other time and time again, made me believe that I did not have the guts or the will to be a man – that the real world would chew me up and spit me out – that I was ungrateful for what he had done for us and that I was soft and an embarrassment to him and his hunting friends.
Walking off the parade field at Ft. Jackson having completed Army basic training in December 1987 should have put most of that deeply-felt invective to rest; but it didn’t. I proved I could do something real men do – to me, but not to my father, who had died four years earlier.
Even though the official cause of death of my 51-year-old father was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I am convinced that whatever demons he kept inside killed him earlier. Real men don’t go to doctors and complain about lumps on their necks and when they finally do, they do as they are told and believe the doctor when he says the tumor is nothing more than fatty tissue because my father was fat.
I’m writing today because it’s National Mental Health Awareness Month but also because the statistics for the strong and silent men are not good according to this article in Men’s Health: Not Talking About Mental Health is Literally Killing Men
From the article:
“What’s real is the fact that 9 percent of men experience depression on a daily basis. That’s more than 6 million men. Even if we understand what depression feels like, we rarely admit that’s the culprit. We lie and say we’re tired or just cranky. More than 3 million men struggle with anxiety daily. Of the 3.5 million people diagnosed as schizophrenic by the age of 30, more than 90 percent are men. An estimated 10 million men in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. . . (W)e retreat from friends and instead drown sorrows in numbing substances. One out of every five men will develop an alcohol dependency during his life.
Male suicide is rising at such an alarming rate that it’s been classified as a “silent epidemic.” It’s the seventh leading cause of death for males. That’s a staggering statistic. Drill down into the numbers and suicide is the second most common cause of death for every age group for men 10 through 39.”
My father had his good moments, his happy moments, but for too much of his time on earth he lived with a smoldering rage that he could not talk about. He was a pressure cooker always ready to go off on me, my sister, even my mother, on the slightest sign of disobedience or respect.
I have a host of mental conditions, of course. They tend to make me far more emotional, at least outwardly, than most men. I have been made to feel uncomfortable around other men for broaching certain subject that contain, well, ‘feelings.’ I don’t even bother anymore. I find it much easier to speak with women and the vast majority of my friends are women because, in general, they’re more in touch with their emotions, generally more intelligent, and talk about far more interesting subjects that sports, money or guns.
When I see fraternity brothers led in front of the docket, accused of rape or allowing pledges to die over drinking games, or see videos of typical bro’s engaging in racist and sexist talk, I thank the Gods that I wasn’t put together like that.
Because I will live longer.
And because I want to be a decent man but a decent human being as well.
I can only speak for American men but it will be a monumental, if not hopeless task, to undue centuries of social conditioning that create the man who will not ask for help.
You know, I can’t blame them for keeping quiet. I felt the social pressure among my peers to can the feels stuff before some of the guys questioned your sexual orientation – out loud – in the locker room.
And too often this is what happens when a man confides in another man. From the commenting section of the Men’s Health article:
“I opened up to a person I thought was a good friend. Not only did he tell other people he kept egging me on to what I told him. I couldn’t go a day with that constant reminder. I drive (sic) me to wanting to commit suicide. So you men should open up? I’ll keep it to myself I know what really happens to you when you open up to someone. Thanks but not (sic) thanks.”
All it takes is one person to fuck you up for life. The writer will never say anything again and I don’t blame him a bit.
But people ask – what about The Rock? What about the Cavs’ Kevin Love? Many men will respond that they are wealthy and famous and can get away with such admissions without many repercussions. In the real world, admitting weakness could cost you your job, your friends, maybe even your girlfriend if she buys into the strong and silent archetype.
In my own way, with this blog, Facebook page, podcast and You Tube channel, I am trying. But the only feedback I get is overwhelmingly from women; say by a 20-1 ratio.
The job may be impossible. Right now a Canadian professor named Jordan Peterson is gaining a huge audience of mostly young men by telling them that the strong and silent archetype is ordained by nature. This is akin to cheering your own death warrant.
But too many men would rather die than talk.