In my last post, “Love You,” I spoke about how important it is to say those words in a meaningful way and to not be flippant about throwing those words around. In this blog, I am going to talk about how important those words are for MEN.
There is a lot of conscious awareness of Toxic Masculinity in our culture. I believe that it is something that definitely needs repair, not by condemnation of men, but through loving connection. The same can be said of Toxic Femininity, but I will leave that part for now and focus on men.
We live in a culture where men are often seen as “active agents,” meaning that their entire “purpose” in life is all wrapped up in being the best at something, be it sports, business, car racing, etc. Men are programmed to be out of the house as soon as possible and in a job or career that, hopefully, will pay an obscene amount of money so that he can support a partner and family. Materialistic things are seen as goals instead of occasional perks. So a man’s complete identity ends up encapsulated in accomplishments and material possessions and personal wealth…or the lack thereof.
As young boys, men are often filled with what is called “father hunger.” Father hunger happens when a boy either has a physically or emotionally absent father. The truth of the matter is that women cannot teach boys how to become men. That is a hard truth. Women can guide us in our understandings of women, yes, and they can teach us many other things about life, but they have no idea what it actually is like to inhabit a male body and live in this world. I look forward to the day…probably lifetimes from this one….where one’s gender becomes completely meaningless. But for right now, we do not live in that world. And so boys still, no matter how much one may want to kick and scream that it just isn’t so, need MEN in their lives.
The thing is that boys need whole-hearted men. Not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry can raise a boy to be a man. Let’s face it, there are a LOT of screwed up men in the world. So it is even more important to have boys interact with balanced and emotionally available men. This is something that a lot of people mess up on. They think that, with an absent father, all a boy really needs is a good soccer coach or something like that. But that soccer coach, although really good at coaching soccer teams, may not be as wise or emotionally connected a man as one would hope. And then the “love” is all confused with the kid’s performance on the field. Lose a game, the love is lost. Please do not get me wrong here. I think there is some value to organized sports. But when it comes to teaching a boy how to be a whole human being…it lacks a lot. And if that coach is the type of man who sees when a boy needs some love and guidance and is available to that, because of our screwed up culture, he is more likely to be accused of being a pedophile who is “grooming” his next victim, instead of a man who is caring enough to be there for the boy. That is just how screwed up our culture really is.
It is extremely important that we “get it” about this. If our culture is filled with toxic masculinity, we really need to do everything in our power to create a different paradigm for our sons. So how do we do that?
It begins with love. Boys need to hear their fathers (or father figures) say to them the three most important words…”I love you.” They do not need so much to hear, “I’m proud of you,” or, “Hey, Champ! Great job!” with a stupid fist bump. They need to hear, “I love you,” with a long and meaningful hug. They need to feel the warmth of their father’s hand on their back as he comforts them through their first heart break. They need to hear their father say, “It is completely alright to cry,” when they fall and scrape their knee or break a bone. That goes so much further than, “Walk it off, buddy.” And really, what the, “Walk it off, buddy,”mentality has created is an entire society of men who completely ignore their physical beings in preference for everything appearing to be “fine,” thus dropping of a heart attack at age 35. When we encourage boys to listen to their bodies, then the mind/body connection is nourished. People often joke about men doing ridiculous things that end up injuring or killing them. Perhaps that would change if we taught our sons to think ahead and figure out if this activity is going to be safe. They just might end up anchoring that wobbly scaffolding that is sitting on top of that other wobbly scaffolding before climbing up to do a job.
When boys hear, “I love you,” from their fathers they learn that their lives are valuable. Their very existence is important. There is nothing that any other activity can do that will teach that to a boy. And yes, sometimes, “I love you,” is expressed in different ways, such as, “Text me when you get there so I know you arrived safe.” But that is something that also can not mean much to a boy if he does not have a good foundation of, “I love you.”
I remember when a particular photo hit social media. It was a photo of an older man, kissing his son on the forehead, while his son was kissing his own son on the forehead in turn. There was a LOT of criticism about that photo that was being voiced by a bunch of closed minded people with homomesia (I do not believe in homophobia, as I think it has been mislabelled to imply some form of fear, when in reality it is a form of HATE). They were screaming their heads off about the photo being too gay and encouraging homosexuality. My mind was blown by their stupidity. To me, that was everything that is wrong with our society today. A man, at any age, should be able to express his love for his son, no matter how old, and show affection. That kiss that was passed down to the grandson was an expression of such divine love that it would bring most conscious people to tears because of the beauty that was displayed in the image. Another image that hit social media recently is of two male celebrities at the beach. One is putting sun screen on the other’s back. The photo is captioned, “Is he really gay?” To this, I have to say that men need to be able to care for one another without the social stigma of possibly being gay. There is nothing wrong with being gay. But when that is the go-to whenever men take care of one another, such as making sure your buddy doesn’t develop future skin cancer, then it says a lot more about society than it does about the men in the photo.
So what can we do to help males to connect more deeply with their emotions? I know that this question holds much fear for some, not just men but women who have been abused by men. A man’s emotions for some women have been expressed only if he is horny or angry. But this is exactly the type of scenario that I am talking about that needs healing. Because men who are connected to their emotions tend to not have just two emotions available to them. Emotional intelligence can be taught and learned. It is mostly up to the men to do the learning and to respond when other men are expressing themselves in ways that encourage and support rather than belittle.
As a man, have you done your daily check in? By that I mean going within for a moment and noticing what your feelings are. Instead of avoiding the knotted ball of yarn, look at it. Explore it. Pick it up at one end (does not matter which one) and begin to unravel the yarn. Emotions can be tangled and twisty at times. That is okay. The point is that you are beginning the process of untangling and untwisting them. Below that feeling of anger, there may be fear or a feeling of betrayal from the past or perhaps emotional abandonment. Look at that. Process that. Some of the best healers in the world have had the worst of experiences happen to them. The difference is in how they went about transmuting those experiences into a form of energy and emotional medicine that they now walk with and use to help others to do the same. If you are struggling a lot with the emotional road map, seek assistance. That old adage that men never ask for directions because it shows a sign of weakness on their part really needs to be put to death. Ask for directions. Find another man, friend or professional, who can assist you in the process of sorting out your feelings. He will provide you with extremely valuable tools for your tool belt. And once you know what those tools are and how to use them, they become invaluable.
Check in with your male friends. Don’t just invite them to go play hockey. Perhaps instead invite them to go for a dog walk with you. As you walk, ask him how he has been feeling lately? How is he doing today? What are some of the challenges he is experiencing these days? Often all it takes is the right, well-placed question to get a man to open up about what is happening in his life. You don’t have to try to “fix him” by any stretch. Simply be there to listen and show support for his process. Assure him that he is among many who struggle with whatever the issues are and that you have faith in him and know that he will work through this. Let him know that you will always be available to talk stuff through with him whenever he needs it. And because he may have difficulty asking for that, offer it frequently. So go for LOTS of dog walks.
Sometimes men have this thing where they struggle to open up to other men, mostly because in the past they have been ridiculed for being vulnerable for a moment. We need to work past that. So when that presents itself, it is important to have open conversation about the things that will make each of you feel safe to talk. For some it may be that you need to go for a drive so that it is just the two of you in the vehicle. That level of privacy is important. For some it will be that they need to know that what they discuss will go no further than the two of you. So no reporting back to the wife or partner about what was said. It is none of their business anyway. Whatever the need is that will be important for him, do your best to do that. And vise versa. And if what he needs is not workable for you, find a work around that works for both. For example, there was a friend that I had a number of years ago who felt safest in a sauna. Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand too much heat, and mixing it with steam will make me pass out. So we did a work around where we would go swimming and, while wading in the water, he would talk to me about whatever it was that was going on in his world. He still got the heat of the day and the water factor, albeit not steaming hot, and we got the seclusion that was required for him to open up.
Tell the men in your life that you love them. Don’t just do it with a fist bump or a quick handshake and light speed hug with a, “luv ha, bro.” That just is not even authentic behavior. Hug…long. Say the actual words, “I love you.” Look him in the eye when you say it so that he can see that you mean it…and that it is not intended in any way to be sexual. It does not have to be intense. It can actually be light hearted, such as, “You know, one of the things I love about you is…” It gets the message across. And that message will run deep. And it will make a profound difference in how he feels in this world.
The more we encourage ourselves, as men, and other men around us to open up and talk about our feelings, the less likely we are to sink into deep depression and the less fearful we become about having emotions. The world has done men an extreme disservice in making us think that we should not have feelings, and if we do that we need to kill them immediately. Or, sometimes even worse, if we see our fellow man having feelings we need to ridicule them out of him. That is so incredibly destructive, and not just in the moment, but further down the road as well. So talk about all the stuff that is going on inside. Talk about the stuff that is uncomfortable to admit, or embarrassing to experience, or completely humiliating. Talk about the beautiful stuff in life. Talk about the things in life that stress you out. Ask for advice on how to handle certain things. This is the stuff that creates real male bonding. This is the stuff that can actually save lives.