Raising better men means being vulnerable
Article first published in Cornwall Today.
When my children were born, I didn’t shed any tears. I swallowed them. I was in the delivery suite as new life began, first for my son and then a few years later, for my daughter and I heard their first cries. But I didn’t cry, because I was living by the old rules.
In the intervening years, it has been a constant source of regret for me that mingled with that tidal wave of emotion (relief that everyone was ok, awe at this miraculous thing had just happened, joy that these precious little creatures were here and intense determination to care for and protect them) there was shame. The truth is I was ashamed to express my feelings in their most articulate and honest form, so I could not cry. I would not cry. I suppressed my feelings and conformed to the expectations of the day.
Not crying is the real weakness
I don’t live by those old rules anymore. Vulnerability, I have learnt, requires far more courage than repression and, counter-intuitively, less risk. Crying is a normal human response to a plethora of strong emotions running from sadness and loss through fear and hope to success and delight. Telling children not to cry tells them that something about their feelings, or their communication of how they feel, is wrong. And failing to allow ourselves, as men, to be visibly vulnerable sends the same message, particularly to our sons. Over time, this can make them feel isolated and many will struggle to form intimate relationships.
The power of vulnerability
In times of crisis, vulnerability is literally a life-saver because it enables us to respond appropriately. Thank goodness then, that men are increasingly choosing to reject cliches of manhood that don’t serve them, their loved ones or society. Phrases like “man up” are now so a patently sexist and flippant that they are only useful when we subvert them, as the brilliant Man Down group has done. As men, we rightly face many difficult questions in the twenty-first century, many of these challenging long-held beliefs about what it is to be a man.
Raising better men
This Father’s Day I’d like us all to think about how we be better men and raise better fathers of the future. In Raising Boys, which I highly recommend, Steve Biddulph emphasises the vital role dads play in healthy child development and the problems that can be caused by what he calls DDD: Dad Deficit Disorder - the absence of positive male role models. Our children, and perhaps particularly our sons, need dads who spend time with them, sharing their knowledge and emotions.
For men like me who grew up with the old rules, showing vulnerability can be very uncomfortable. We offer the safety of a well-guided group at Lifetime, where men can explore beliefs and emotions. This exploration can support us in being different fathers and husbands, different sons and partners and friends. We can move to a more empathic and compassionate way of being and experience the benefits of this growth in our lives and relationships.
By striving to be a better, more vulnerable father, I hope to free my own children from shame. And if my son ever has children, I hope he’ll feel able to cry when they are born.
P.s. As men we rightly face many difficult questions in the current environment. Many of these questions challenge long held beliefs about what it is to be a man. In the safety of a well-guided group, men can explore emotions, relationships and beliefs. This exploration can support us in being different fathers and husbands, different sons and partners and friends. We can move to a more empathic and compassionate way of being and experience the benefits of this growth in our lives and relationships.