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We tell men when they are boys, “Be careful… you might hurt yourself.” We physically protect them because the ground is hard, and pain is to be avoided. We hold our arms up to catch them as they climb, but we cannot hear their inner monologues. We are there for them but also, strangely, not there. Men’s health, particularly their mental well-being, is overlooked too often.
When you lie on the grass and look up at the sky everything looks different.
We play this game, he and I – making shapes of clouds.
He sees one thing and I another.
He turns the cloud around, and it becomes a dog, playful.
I didn’t see it and he tried to show me, but clouds change imperceptibly and
dogs disappear into blue.
I say, “Where did your dog go?” and he says, “it went inside out”
While we lie there, I get distracted by the sky
The blue is unending, and I feel small.
I wonder, “How can something so small have any value?”
Then my boy speaks and nothing else matters.
“He was my everything,” said Phillip. “We knew he had some demons, but he had just made a new life, and everything was looking up.”
We heard it. Everyone heard it. The police drove quickly, yet, it was all too late. Now there is a grim relaxation into numbness. Why couldn’t we have said something? Why didn’t we speak up? Why didn’t we reach out when we all knew he needed help? These questions return to haunt us after our beloved sons have left us.
I feel even smaller when I see the ocean from a cliff.
My legs always shake, and I have to stop my thoughts from taking me to free-fall.
I ask myself, “Did I do this in another life?”
Why does my heart race and my thoughts jump…?
Though I didn’t know Phillip’s son, I knew his devastation. The same devastation occurs every four hours – where a man takes his own life.
I will forever embrace these men for I see them as incredibly strong, for feeling. Feeling the full extent of their emotions. I keep saying there is strength in vulnerability. Men must learn this because toxic masculinity will teach us to repress our feelings and put on a fake smile.
We all are vulnerable and need help, especially those who have been taught not to ask for it.
They hold vulnerability but do not know how to protect themselves. They need other people to help them. To listen. To normalise.
I feel unknown. I feel far away from everything.
I will have a beer, laugh at your jokes, watch the footie.
But between my laughs, there is a vacuum seeking to be understood.
A silence seeking warmth.
Uncried tears seeking expression
Just an emptiness that I cannot fill.
Gym memberships do not understand every aspect of men’s health. It only knows the shell, not the heart. It knows muscular pain but not the emotional turmoil.
In education, there is a constant movement for the syllabus to reflect the real world. Yet not once have I heard of a curriculum that inculcates teaching the language of emotion and feelings.
There is no. 2 Unit Empathy course that is a mandatory inclusion. Evidently, these things are believed to be caught not taught, and young men estranged from themselves is the inevitable result.
When men are not even given an education in mental health or recognising their emotions how can they know themselves?
Ross said, “It was a gutting feeling.” I asked, “What is that?” He looked at me.
John said, “It was an emotional moment.” I said, “You felt disappointed?” He looked at me.
I said to Sam, “It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. You tried hard and unexpected things are happening.”
Sam’s tears fall and he grabs a tissue.
He needs a hug, but it will wait.
Does it matter that Sam is thirty-five?
Six men die each day from suicide in Australia.
More than learning, we need to unlearn. Unlearn the gender stereotypes that men need to be ‘the rock’ or ‘men don’t cry’ or ‘therapy is not for men’. Until this is understood and promoted, we will live in a world where many mothers and fathers will outlive their sons.
We need to re-shape how we educate our boys so they become men who embrace vulnerability. Mothers and fathers must teach their sons how to be in touch with their inner thoughts and how to process their emotions in a healthy way. Schools must turn the curriculum inside out, and starting with what is needed to survive and thrive is the beginning.
*Names have been changed upon request.
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