This was previously published on Higher Unlearning.
“We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability”.—Brene Brown.
Hey. Do you want to watch a video that is guaranteed make you weep???
Ok, we’ll get to that in a bit, but first …
Whenever my father walked into a room at home, he’d say, “What’s the problem?” Not because there was any indication or reason to believe that there was a problem: it just was his greeting. The glass was always half-empty. My father passed on April 17th, 2003, ten days after his 64th birthday, to a heart attack. I lived almost my entire life in the same house as him up to that point and was never close to my father. I could probably write on every line of a full sheet of paper all the conversations we ever had. In my TEDx talk I ask the question: out of the over 6,000 words in the English language to describe emotion, how many are men ‘allowed’ to express? Around the 3:14 mark of the talk, you hear a story about my father.
The day he died, I turned off my cell (which I never did) to save the battery for meeting up with my partner after work. When I finally turned it on, it lit up with a phone call from my brother who was feverishly calling me all day to tell me Dad passed away. (In his state of shock, he didn’t call me at my work). This was around the time of the SARS outbreak in Toronto, Canada. When my partner and I arrived at the hospital, it was under construction and the whole place was sectioned off in plastic sheets due to the virus with everyone wearing masks. After getting our masks, my brother came up to walk us back to the room. Like a ghost he appeared out of a hallway filled with wandering people which was all a slow-motion blur. No words spoken, he just turned around and we followed him into the blur. Into a space with three rooms, we walked into the last room, where there was a bed with my mother next to it, and my father in it. Dead. His body lay like a punctured balloon. As if in mid sentence, his mouth slightly open. Eyes closed. Drained. Less of Life.
The glass was empty.
I caressed his cold face and just kept stuttering “that’s … my daddy … that’s my daddy.” My eyes welled up, but I remember not allowing myself to cry. Forcing myself to go somewhere else and not be in the moment. I thought of calling funeral homes and starting the process of burying him. It was an automated, programmed response, I went into leader-mode. Leave a message after the beep, I am here for my Mother and Brother. I am here to make the arrangements and sort through the aftermath. I am here to speak at the funeral. My Man Up Moment. I must be strong. My spirit responded to that vulnerable state as if it touched the hot coals of sorrow, and leaped back.
Brene Brown gave a famous TEDx talk about Vulnerability. She shared her manic journey trekking through six years of research, interviews, focus groups, reading people’s journals and thousands of pages of data. She found that the difference between people with a sense of worthiness and belonging versus those who struggled for it, was that they believed they are worthy.
Brene says what keeps us from connection is fear of not being worthy of connection. Looking into the themes and patterns, she found that “ … what they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage … it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart—and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and—this was the hard part—as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do for connection.
The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.”
The glass is empty.
Our good friend Carlos Andrés Gómez also gave a TEDx talk about men and fear. Carlos and I created an event called ‘Behind The Masc’ where as a collective audience, we dive into his spoken word pieces around masculinity and manhood, one at a time. We pause after each to discuss our reflections and reactions. How to Fight is a good example of one of those poems. He wrote it after an experience at a nightclub in NYC where a man wanted to fight him for stepping on his shoes. Carlos became very present in the moment, but then he became more present in his own moment. The thought of so many young men laying their lives down over something so insignificant as scuffing a pair of sneakers, how this cost lives of loved ones, made Carlos shed tears. The man in the club reacted to Carlos’ tears as if he pulled out a gun. So Carlos went home and wrote this.
A conversation starter Carlos likes to bring up is Men and our fear around the word ‘beautiful’ when it comes to describing ourselves. Go ahead guys, stop reading for a second and think of yourself as beautiful. Feel that awkwardness wrap around under your skin. At one of our Behind The Masc shows at University of Toronto, the president of the co-sponsoring student union spoke in response to the word beautiful. He had cerebral palsy and his interpreter helped us understand his words. He said he could never consider himself beautiful. The other day a man said to him how much he admired him. “I don’t know how you do it,” he said. “If I were you, I would kill myself … .” He explained then how he actually has been told that many times.
The glass is half full of holes.
Carlos writes in his powerful piece ‘Men & Grief: Staring Down the Eye of the Storm’.
“I was fifteen when I heard about my closest childhood friend being killed in a car accident, and I will never forget this tremendous burden I felt to “stay strong” and “tough my way through it.” I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was hurting. I didn’t want to ask for help. I accepted it as a given that I would bottle up all of my emotions and deal with them alone. I took great pride (at the time) in the fact that I excused myself from the table to cry alone in the bathroom after my father told me the news. I never shed one tear in front of my sister and dad, and it somehow felt like undeniable proof that I was finally ready to be a man. I quietly celebrated that moment of shutting myself down emotionally, as though it were an accomplishment. I wore it like a badge of honor that I could conceal the hurricane of emotions in my chest. Now if only I could not cry at ALL, I thought to myself, Wow, now that would be a real man.”
… so about that video?
Carol Burnett once said “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Meet another comedian, Anthony Griffith. Here he shares a Man Up story unlike no other. Watch how he fights his tears as he talks about going numb and fighting back a unbearable tidal wave of emotion. Watch him let go as he talks about letting go.
“They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.”
You are worthy
You are beautiful
There is nothing to fear.
The glass is full of freedom.
Photo credit: Bohman/Flickr