- “Kids these days are pansies. I’m trying to toughen my kids up.”
- “I told my kids I loved them once. If it changes, I’ll let ’em know.”
- “I shouldn’t have to pat my kids on the back for doing the right thing. They should just do it. Now, if they mess up, I’ll be sure to let them know about it.”
If these sound familiar to your childhood, you probably aren’t alone. In fact, in this era, it’s very likely that you had a dad who said some or all of these things to you or around you.
Somewhere down the line in history, our western culture bought into the destructive notion that men are supposed to be emotionless creatures, completely devoid of feelings and definitely incapable of articulating any feelings that they might dare to possess. Especially in the South, the thought has prevailed that men are supposed to be these tough, silent old codgers who grunt when the kids ask questions and are only nice to their wives so they can benefit from it later that night. People fearing to approach you is actually a desired trait, and who cares if I actually show love for people, as long as people know that’s “just the way I am”. I mean, I don’t actually tell people that I love them, and I certainly can’t be bothered with other people’s problems, but they should know at the end of the day that my heart is in the right place.
And I don’t just want to pick on the South. This is an attitude that has really eaten us up as a nation. We have encouraged women to be very open about their emotions, and we encourage them to build closely knit relationships with other women wherein they spill their guts, often with the conversations ending in tears, whether they be of joy or of sorrow. And this SHOULD be encouraged, because it is healthy.
But men? Nah. We go off in our own corners to grunt and do “man stuff”, or sit at our own desks and pour ourselves into our work with no thought as to the lasting impact of what we are doing. What ARE we doing? How do we impact the world without relationships? How to we have successful relationships without communication? How can we communicate if we don’t even know how to articulate what we feel? How can we articulate what we feel if we don’t even allow ourselves the luxury of feeling?
I’m pretty lucky in the sense that my dad wasn’t/isn’t like this. Growing up, he told us that he loved us, he spent time being silly with us (he still spends that type of quality time with my kids now too), and supported/supports us in the things that we did/do.
But maybe your story is different. Truthfully, in this country the opposite story is more likely to be true. Let’s say your dad never told you that he loved you (you were just supposed to “know”) or never showed you that approval that all kids are looking for deep down from their parents. You have a choice when you have kids of your own. Either you will continue the cycle and try to “toughen” your kids up (whatever that means), or you can try a different approach…one that gets on their level, participates in discussions, encourages them to use their words and articulate, and thus fosters growth in them as people.
If you take the hard-nosed approach to raising your kids and not being there for them emotionally, you might actually luck out and raise some pretty nice people overall, but ultimately you will raise a house full of individuals with “daddy issues” who will always be looking for that approval from someone else and will stop at nothing to get it. The compromise is worth the attention, because their “dad” never gave it to them. Approval from questionable individuals and groups is worth it because their “dad” was too busy nitpicking everything that they did. Oh sure, next comes the excuse from dads saying “Well, I just wanted my kids to be the best they could be”, but isn’t there a better, more appropriate and constructive way to do that? What about tearing your kids down and embarrassing them seems like a good idea to you?
Fortunately, we are beginning to progress towards more freedom to express your feelings and aren’t holding on to the archaic thoughts of the stone age, but the damage has been done by some generations (not all) who decided that it was better to put ourselves in a box. It sure was easy. All the men of our country had to do was to grunt and act tough and people thought “Oh! That must be what a man is”. No, a man is strong enough to stare down his own feelings right in the face and share them even if it makes him feel vulnerable. A real man knows how to use his words, not just his muscles, to get things done.
These are all thoughts that I’ve had at this point in my journey. I’m sure I’ll be able to write something far better after I’ve been through the full cycle of parenthood and having teenagers, but as for right now…this is what I’ve got.
Men, it’s time to STAND UP. It’s up to you and me to show love and to have the tough conversations that we need to have in order to cause change in our communities!