What it takes to be a man
In England, around 1 in 8 men has a common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD]. Some research suggests that men who can’t speak openly about their emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support.
Here, Tom writes about what it takes to “be a man” and why it’s important to open up, show emotions and teach children that it’s OK to do so.
When masculinity ruled the world
I’m an 80s child and for those of you who weren’t around back then, it was a time when men where men and we had any number of role models we could really look up to. Names that spring to mind are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude van Damme and Burt Reynolds among many others.
These men were strong, emotionless breadwinners – these were the day masculinity ruled the world. But, let me tell you something…this was all just a myth!
How do I know this? I grew up with just my dad as a parent from an early age which meant my house was overstocked with masculinity with not a woman’s touch in sight!
My dad was “a man’s man”.
He had a favourite quote back in the day and, when I close my eyes, I can still see him standing tall, pointing one hand to his clenched fist and proudly announcing: “Many a man has tried and many a man has died!” before swigging a hot toddy [whisky mixed with hot water].
He was my hero. He was the man I wanted to be when I grew up.
As a youngster I would sit wide-eyed listening to all his stories from his past about fighting in the British Army, drinking till his heart’s content and his many tales of womanising. As I grew up, this became my reality of what it meant to be a man.
There is a reason why 75% of suicides and 70% of murder victims are male. It’s because the male stereotypes that existed before the millennium are fading away fast and what’s left are an older generation lost because they don’t know what the world expects from them anymore and a younger generation consistently being let down, consistently being told about toxic masculinity in all streams of media before they have even had a chance to participate in the real world.
Empower men to be depowered
I find it so hard to open up – to cry, to be unhappy, to be stressed, to express any other emotion than a positive one and it’s not because of my partner or my friends; it’s the years of being told to man up, to be strong, to be a leader.
Now as an adult I understand people were using these words without ever explaining what they mean. It is clear to me now that they themselves did not know what it meant and were just using old clichés they were told themselves.
The point I’m trying to make is, when we are telling our children to do things without explaining to them what they mean makes it challenging and probably impossible for them to understand what you mean so they end up putting their own meaning to it and what that means is this…
…being strong becomes “who’s the best fighter”, being a leader becomes “dominating” the situation and “man up” becomes “hold back your emotions”.
When your child is feeling any type of way, it is your responsibility as a parent or carer to discuss the emotions they are feeling, what it means to feel that way, why they are feeling it and getting them to feel comfortable expressing themselves. And when using words to try and empower your child make sure you reinforce the message by discussing what is meant by the terms you are using to them.
We need to empower the young males in our lives to feel they have the ability to be depowered, let them understand that they don’t have to be the only superhero, that everyone is here to listen, that when they are falling, others will catch them. I myself have only just come to understand this but because of years of holding back, I’m now finding it extremely hard to come to terms with this new man who is trying to unleash himself within me. But that is a story for another day.
What we really need to teach our children and the men in our lives is that there is no such thing as what a man should be — that the only definition of being a man that should really matter is to be your own man.