Cabot O’Callaghan looks in the mirror to find out what kind of man is staring back.
Well I feel
Deep in your heart, there are wounds time can’t heal
And I feel somebody, somewhere is trying to breathe
Well you know what I mean
It’s a world gone crazy
Keeps woman in chains
—Tears For Fears, Woman In Chains
Where are the good men?
I think this question is asked all too often. I know they are out there. They can’t be the exception. Right?
It’s a male dominated world. It’s been that way since … forever?
The masculine has wounded me exponentially more than the feminine. Enforcers, not nurturers. Stone, not flesh.
At least that is my experience. It’s also the experience of those I love, many of which are women. Their stories …. So much violence—tales of rape, tales of abandonment, tales of physical and emotional abuse, tales of indifference.
Every day I am witness to it. And the most disturbing fact is that it’s usually subtle, like music in the background.
Obviously I’m critical of men. Which means I’m critical of myself. Am I a good man? Can I be a good man even though my male influences have been toxic? Would I doubt myself less if my father had been a good man?
By “good” I don’t mean infallible. Or do I? Are my scars so deep that men will never meet my expectations? All it takes is one trespass, one betrayal, and any chance of respect is lost. Have I not failed someone at some point? I have certainly betrayed myself more than any other. And in wicked ways.
It would explain my struggle with self-hate. It’s hard to be me. I believe I’m a good man but it’s a counterintuitive conclusion. I have to revisit it, convince myself over and over.
I like women. Not as objects or possessions, but as the counterweight of our species. I’m more trusting of their motivations initially. They tend to be givers rather than takers. I mean, if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be alive today. I don’t mean this as simply a matter of reproduction. I was raised and loved exclusively by a strong woman. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but my mother did the best she could to raise me to be a good man.
When I see women suffer at the hands of a man, I can’t help but come to their defense. I was raised to be a champion of women, not a dominator. The legitimacy of feminism’s tenets is evident. Fact, not threat. It’s not free of polarity though. Repression breeds resentment which can lead to a nasty backlash. In a way, I feel like an ambassador between the sexes.
Sadly, I have yet to meet a woman who has never been wounded in profound ways by a man. I don’t know if I should attribute this to a contagious legacy of dysfunction or a devastating truth about our culture. Maybe both.
The oldest and deepest wounds often are from their fathers. It’s an uncanny similarity. I see their pain, the internal conflict, the push-pull of their deep-seated fears and needs of the masculine. I understand how this first wound echoes throughout their lives because it happened to me. It’s a painful reminder of my experience and I can’t help but feel their pain. It’s a reflection that haunts twofold.
The insight has been invaluable in my relationships with women. But there is a complicated cost when it comes to love. There’s their pain, my pain. There’s their triggered critical response, my hypersensitive self-critical response. I’m navigating their scars and my own simultaneously while trying to keep the two from ending in a tangled mess. Sometimes I’m surprisingly adept. Sometimes I crash and burn.
That’s when I wish I was the stereotypical disconnected, if not bitterly indifferent, male lover. Better not to understand or care. Better to make it all about me and break out the defenses.
When I was young, I wasn’t able to differentiate between my mother’s male inflicted scars and my identity. I was praised, but rarely heard positive words concerning men. “If you grow up and treat women like that I’ll have your balls,” she would say in a half-joking, half deadly serious way. Her expectations were high, and she’d take every opportunity to use a man’s bad behavior as an example. The problem was, men could rarely be good enough. Then she’d say what a good boy I was.
It kinda fucked me up.
I had no positive male figure to emulate, to counter her bitterness or my painful feelings of paternal abandonment. A duality grew inside me.
I’m angel and devil.
I avoided the truth by avoiding intimacy. It didn’t work. Now I know I’ve got to find ways to turn curse into blessing if I want to love and be loved. It’s hard. The wounds are still tender despite the passage of time.
I have to physically restrain myself from wincing when I witness one of my sisters lash out at her husband, their sharp words stained with the blood of our mother’s demons.
I have to refuse the instinct to flee emotionally when my lover confesses her complete lack of faith in men. I have to steel myself from judgment when I see her suffering, when I see her stumble. I have to remember we know the same pain, that our feral hearts beat in time.
And maybe that’s it. We are both hopelessly empathetic creatures. I give, she gives. I am what she needs, she is what I need. We can defy our legacies because we see ourselves in the other. Loving her means loving myself.
I don’t know if there can be a greater bond.