by Michael Gray Beckett
One day my father and I were driving to the grocery store. I didn’t see my parents often; we weren’t very close. Out of nowhere, he brought up his bout with prostate cancer a few years earlier. I’d heard through the family grapevine that it had been resolved but knew little else.
Dad said that when he got the diagnosis, he didn’t tell anyone. He drove to his treatment sessions alone. “I was so scared,” he said.
And how did I respond? I wanted to jump out of the moving car. Fear, worry, vulnerability: it was all way too intimate for us. This was the man who probably said a total of 10,000 words to me from birth through high school. As adults, our infrequent conversations centered on politics, the old neighborhood, and how my car was running.
My father passed away last year, not from cancer. Although he reached his mid-80s, he died young compared to his parents and siblings. My sisters and I always said that dad would live forever. I believe that his health and longevity were impacted by everything he held inside, the difficulties he never shared.
This isn’t just a hunch. Consider a few differences between the sexes. Compared to women, men have fewer close friendships. They talk less about personal issues. And they have a shorter average life expectancy—by five years. Researchers in psychology, gerontology, and other fields have been exploring the possible connections between these statistics.
Men don’t get stuff off their chest; they lug it around like pack mules. Work stress. Money problems. Family tension. Regrets about the past. Fears about the future. The everyday angst of living in this unfair and unpredictable world.
That emotional dark matter builds up inside, festering like a garbage pile in a heatwave, keeping the body’s fight-or-flight response on alert. The constant state of internal tension produces inflammation, increasing the risk of disease, and accelerating physical and cognitive degeneration.
The thought of my father carrying the weight of cancer on his own is tragic. Yet I realize that in this regard I am my father’s son. I may share some of my inner life with people, but in many ways I’m like most men. When faced with a tough situation, I never ask for help; I don’t want to look weak. If someone slights or takes advantage of me, I let it slide. I wouldn’t want to sound like a crybaby! But those unmet needs and unspoken resentments gnaw at me and wear me down.
Thoreau wrote that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” But being silent while feeling troubled and burdened inside is a choice. I’m choosing to let go of that heavy load. And inviting men to do the same.
June is Men’s Health Month. This year it also falls in a period of unprecedented distress in America. So beyond eating less sugar and getting more exercise and all the other familiar wellness tips, men can do one more thing to improve their health. Talk.
To borrow from an airport security announcement: If you feel something, say something. If you’re feeling anxious about work, talk to a friend. Feel like you’re in over your head? Ask a buddy to lend a hand. Kids stressing you out? Call a support line. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by personal, community, or global concerns, find a counselor.
For generations, men have been socialized to be strong, independent, and silent. Yet like all human beings, we experience difficult emotions. Talking about them doesn’t make you weak. Holding them inside makes you weak, makes you sick. Share your burdens with someone. Your shoulders weren’t meant to carry the world alone.
And while you’re at it, listen. Be a sounding board. Check-in with the men in your life—brothers, fathers, sons, friends—to see how they’re doing. When they toss off a quick “great, no complaints,” call them on it and ask how they’re really doing.
Men like to fix things; that’s what keeps hardware stores in business. But these conversations don’t have to produce solutions. Just talking about difficult emotions can help relieve some of the pressure they place on the body, mind, and spirit. That alone is beneficial.
So gentlemen, enough with the stoic silence. Talk. Be open, be vulnerable. You’ll feel better in the moment. And maybe for years to come.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all-access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class, and all our online communities.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher and our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
stock photo ID: 1759488383