Sometimes, good men need to hear that they’re doing a good job.
It’s no secret that men have needs. All one need do is read the writing here at The Good Men Project, and you will soon discover any number of guys crying out to be understood, not forgotten, held, cuddled, sexed, listened to, fed, promoted, not laughed at, laughed with; told that we are right, smart, sexy, good-looking, not too fat, a love sponge, sensitive, manly, a good Dad, better husband, great cook, decent mechanic; and still got moves on the playing field, bedroom, corporate boardroom, and dance floor that are second-to-none. Yes, our needs are as diverse as the men demanding them. Some are more realistic and important than others (actually, I am a damn fine Tango dancer), and some are met, while most are not. A lot of times they are never acknowledged, and, as men, I think we realize that; well, we have a long history of repressing many of these, and that’s OK. But they are still there and whether we, or others, give voice to them, they continue to drive and haunt us.
At the core of this man is a need to be needed by those I love, and this intense desire to be a good man can only be judged not by me, but by those around me. Every day the need to be needed is met, I know. Whether it’s thanks for cooking a meal, putting in a 10-hour day that helps pay the bills, helping with housework, picking my son up from his summer job or some other random item that gets my family’s attention; I understand that my effort is appreciated. On the good man front, I am less confident of my prowess and sadly realize that being a good man is a work in progress and requires that I be in the moment and maintain daily credibility that will mostly go unheralded. It’s a life-long body of work that typically gets judged. Of course, there are those exceptions and exceptional moments where my worth is laid out in front of me.
I had one of those moments one morning this past week that left me weak in the knees. My wife has been going through a few challenging moments, of late, that have been quite emotional for her. In the abstract, and by themselves, their importance could be minimized, but she can never itemize these events that way; not since she contracted an illness that will surely and eventually change her life—and mine. What I have come to understand is that when you live with a potentially life-altering illness—one where the “other shoe” will surely drop and change things forever—making even the smallest decisions or being confronted with life’s day-to-day stuff comes with an added layer of emotion that you and I will never understand, but as husbands or life partners must accept.
It can’t just be “I was frustrated at work,” or “the waiter gave me medium and I asked for medium rare,” or “Paul, I told you before how much that thing you do works my very last nerve.” When you are sick, each experience is lived through a prism that is foreign to the rest of us, and any reaction to a disturbing event begins at the baseline of an illness, with any additional angst heaped upon an already burdensome existence. I can never tell her “not to worry, it’s nothing; it will pass, it’s not important,” because that’s not true. It is something, will remain with her forever, and is incredibly important. Her illness dictates that.
Anyhow, I was driving her to the train station one morning, and we were revisiting the events of the last few days and how much they had upset her, and she turns to me and says how she could not have gotten through all this without my help and support, and how fortunate she is to have me in her life. Need I say how her words and the love behind them seared themselves into my heart? I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh, cry, shout, or just be silently gracious and grateful.
We men, who are do-ers; just do, and we mostly do it pretty selflessly without any thought to thanks or acknowledgement. So, when somebody as important as my wife says what she said that morning; well, you can sign me up for another 50 years on this moment alone. And I tell this story not as an opportunity to boast, (although, what the heck, I’m human) but rather as an acknowledgement of the scores of men on this site and elsewhere who have similarly heroic moments in their lives and, like me, are on their way to becoming good men. That, we really need.