Manhood means being more powerful than feelings of frailty and weakness.
I’ve always been hypersensitive. Which isn’t something I’ve always been comfortable acknowledging.
When I was growing up it was a real issue for me. It’s still a thing that can be hard for me. But as I get older, especially after having kids, it’s practically unavoidable. When I was young everything I felt was turned into the only emotions testosterone could amplify: Rage, Joy, Jealousy, Sadness, or Frustration.
Having feelings, being filled with emotion was terrible. The loss of control was awful. It felt vulnerable. It felt dangerous and I chose instead to express my feelings, at least the joy, jealousy and sadness ones through stoic denial of them. Which conveniently turned them all to rage and frustration, the two emotions I felt comfortable showing the world. Somehow those two feelings felt invulnerable.
But sadness was there at times. Sadness is still hard. It tends to come out as rage, but I can at least recognize it now. Jealousy is mostly gone. Sometimes I might feel a touch of envy but it’s mostly for made up stuff like money. Sometimes I read something brilliant and wish I’d thought of it, but I don’t know if that’s jealousy.
The world instills in boys the misconception that painful feelings are the opposite of strength. They aren’t. The fact that I couldn’t kill them completely, those vulnerable, painful feelings is because they were important. They were protecting a part of me that couldn’t be fully removed. No matter how hard I might have tried, the part of me that is ultimately my greatest strength.
The only feelings that can own me are those I hide. The ones I keep to myself. The ones that I’m afraid of people seeing.
I would never have believed that I’d ever have been comfortable sharing so many of my concerns and so many of my worries with the world. So many of my shortcomings, failings and feelings. I was invested in them staying hidden. I’d made them shameful by keeping them hidden. I’d made such simple and beautiful things as feelings and need and frailties and worries my undoing by being so afraid of them that I loaded them into my bones and my body and my bags and anything I could carry and then dragged them with me wherever I went.
When they inevitably became too heavy and I’d become weary I’d crumble, drop it all in private, curse my weakness and then add that weakness to the pile that I’d once again pick up, pack on and carry around. It was untenable.
I don’t imagine that I would have carried this burden forever. I imagine that some event would eventually have shown me the light and taught me that I needed to unburden myself. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been an event. Perhaps it would have been the slow learning of a lifetime of pain that would have taught me my lessons and prodded me and encouraged me to finally let it go by putting it down, laying it out and sharing my load with anyone who’d care to see and take stock of it with me. I imagine I’d have gotten there some way or other had I not gotten there as I did. But thankfully I didn’t have to wait for either of these things.
What let me know it was okay to be my entire person in front of the entire world was becoming a father. I have two sons who will grow up in a world that is prone to teaching it’s young men that “manhood” means being more powerful than feelings of frailty and weakness. It’s an unfortunate tradition and residual instinct of a timeless enlightened than one I hope we get to some day soon. But until we do I need to be the proof that having feelings and being sensitive to them, all of them, rage and compassion and needing and passion and frustration and sadness and guilt and all of them, is a strength.
It’s in fact how you grow strong. Having feelings, expressing them, then putting them down is the only way to move on. It’s my duty and my pleasure to show them this, to be the proof of this valuable nugget of earned wisdom.
More so than that even, it’s my pleasure to show them gratitude for teaching me this lesson. For making my life so much more harmonious with the life that has been coursing through me that I could never fully come to grips with and feel comfortable in before meeting them and learning how to be brave and strong because of the love I have for them.
This is gorgeous. Thank you so much. I have a sensitive son and I know he struggles to control his emotions. Everything is so magnified when you are in Middle School. Posts like this can really shape the way we nurture our boys. Being vulnerable is so brave.