Vulnerability isn’t high on the list of character traits that have been typically imbued into growing boys. I was taught from a young age that there are things that boys and men don’t talk about. Some of us turned out angry, others ended up in therapy, and many became adults with difficulties bringing up their sons to be genuinely masculine, healthy men.
A quick definition from inside my mind, for the reader: I see healthy masculinity, and define it as such, as men who are able to be passionate and powerful without losing their capacity for vulnerability and emotional intelligence. The full package, perhaps, of what is available to men in this world if they are allowed to develop properly.
It was complicated for me to both learn and teach these things simultaneously with my son. I failed, a lot. My kid experienced my unbridled anger, my unexpressed resentment, my pent up frustrations, and many other not-so-admirable parts of my work-in-progress male human form. That being said, he saw me as fallible and struggling, and I would always, inevitably, talk to him with complete sincerity about what was going on inside of me.
I have always maintained a house rule that lies yield a greater punishment than honesty. Even if my son did something relatively bad, if he were upfront about it, he would earn much more respect from me. I have always tried to reward sincerity and vulnerability, but kids are kids, and lies often come easier than facing the fears of consequence for actions. It’s been a slow process, one that has improved over the years.
I can recall two specific moments in time when my son was able to speak his truth to me when it was so very difficult for him to do so.
The first was when my wife was going to move in with us. He loved her, but as she isn’t his biological mother, an internal conflict arose, and it brought him to tears. He sat in front of me and let it all out. A truly profound emotional catharsis followed. I created ample space for it, but it was tense and challenged me as a father and as a person. It was messy, and we both got angry in certain instances. He hated the idea of her coming into our lives and was capable of voicing it. He was terrified of losing my love and felt threatened. It was horrendous for me, as I felt sandwiched between my child and my wife. We both cried.
The second occasion that comes to mind was just before my daughter was born. Up until that moment, my son was my only child. It made me so proud as a father that my boy had the courage, openness, and confidence to express himself in front of my wife and me. He “advised” us that he thought that the idea of a new baby was awful and stupid. But he had the most fascinating insight into it all. He explained to us that he would initially hate her, and probably be angry with us, but that after a while he would soften and be alright with it – so we oughtn’t to worry. Once again, he wept many tears.
So how did it all turn out? It didn’t take very long for my son’s love for my wife to facilitate her arrival into our home, and most importantly – his home life. He was also the very first person in either family to hold his baby sister. He was taken with her from the day that she was born, and even though her crying isn’t popular with him, he is the sweetest and kindest big brother a girl could have.
As a youngster, I learned to bottle up these heavy, potentially embarrassing feelings and to swallow them deep into my psyche. It created stomach problems, stress issues, and emotional unhealthiness. I was told that boys and men are a certain way and that it entailed keeping these edgy and conflictive feelings from public view. I’m grateful for having had the good fortune and desire to liberate myself from that prison and to be part of the healing process for these newer generations. I look forward to seeing the man that my son will become (he’s a teenager presently).
Life is chock full of things that aren’t simple or neat. I’m a proponent of having space in the family home for speaking uncomfortable truths. It rarely feels good to hear them, and requires plenty of effort to be expressed, but the end result is consistently a healthier environment. Real men can resolve problems, and that means learning about the nuances of honest communication.
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Photo: Getty images