From Broken Boys to Whole Men: #1 – Men Defeat Themselves
June 7, 2019
In 2015, a sabbatical enabled me to explore the phenomenon of young men ages 16-26 and their failure to launch into adulthood. I read widely, attended workshops and gatherings, and had meaningful conversations with other men about our struggles and triumphs.
So, after a 5-month hiatus, I’m resuming my blog with a series on men’s issues. The simple fact is, we as a society “break” boys by the way we raise them, and then we expect them to grow up into whole human beings. It’s not working; in fact, it’s self-defeating.
At 57, I’m struck by how vulnerable I feel to health crises, even though I haven’t had one since I got sober at 31. Male classmates are already dead from heart attack and stroke, cancer, and suicide; subtle changes in my body, within and without, give me pause: Is that mark on my cheek an incipient basal-cell carcinoma? Gee, this chest cold is taking forever to clear up. Oh, my God—“leg day” at the gym with my 16-year-old son took me four days to recover!
At the same time, one of the gifts of this phase of my life is discovering my vulnerability and needing to pay more attention to self-care. But as with most men, self-care has been a struggle. As a man raised in a small, industrial town in northeast Ohio in the 60s and 70s, I mostly saw men who put their feelings and self-care needs aside daily in order to get things done.
Psychologist Terry Real observes that our society makes men prove that they are men over and over, and it’s killing them by the violence, workaholism, and self-medication that result. Even when it
doesn’t literally kill us, it renders us spiritually dead by the effects of trauma, “covert depression,” and disconnection from parts of life.
I grew up in an open-minded, medical household, yet my parents modeled traditional provider and homemaker roles, with my mom handling the emotional end of parenting and my dad setting aside his own health and personal needs to take care of his patients.
Much of the research into how we raise children reveals that although early in life, kids are all emotionally more like a stereotypical girl, sensitive and expressive, newborn boys are taught right away to suppress negative emotions.
What is the fruit of our default way of raising boys?
Self-reliance at the expense of connectedness, teamwork, and interdependence: we fear asking for help.
Suppression of negative emotions, which doesn’t make them disappear, but rather come out in violence, self-medication, and other anti-social behaviors, which further isolates men. And while women have higher rates of attempted suicide, men are three times more likely to die from suicide.
All these affect men’s attitudes toward dominance, emotional control, power over women, presenting as straight, risk-taking, sexual promiscuity, work, and attitudes toward violence, winning and status.
Yet, the late Virginia Satir observed that it only takes a single person to have an impact in the life of a child. There have been men in my life who were a “reality check” on the fallacious assumptions on which we base our boy-breaking ways of raising men.
I’ll be telling you about some of these transforming relationships in my own life in posts to come.