I am in the process of writing my ninth book, which has a working title, The Male Machine. It is a book about men, for men and women to help us all understand men better, and hopefully navigate and negotiate the struggles and pitfalls men face on a daily basis. The chapter I am writing at the moment is all about damaging male stereotypes. The male stereotype that has possibly had the most destructive impact on my life is the shut-up-keep-it-to-yourself-no-one-want-to-hear-your-problems mindset.
I was an insecure child and person for much of my life, so, as a result, I was scared to speak my truth, share my concerns and be vulnerable because I believed I would be judged and condemned. Couple that with the male stereotype that states, just tough it out, don’t show weakness and keep it to yourself. Can you see the problems that can arise from this mindset?
I was the kind of guy who, when you asked me, how was my day? I would reply with Good. I was the guy, when asked what is wrong, I’d reply with, Nothing, even if it was plastered all over my face that something was wrong. I felt enormous pressure every time I was in a situation to have a conversation, whether one-on-one with someone or in a social setting. So, I avoided them or, if I had to be there, I would make sure I had drunk enough alcohol to give me the confidence to talk with lower inhibitions. That way I didn’t care as much about what I said. In fact, consequently I spent a lot of time as a young adult apologising the next day to people for inappropriate things I said whilst under the influence.
This is a dangerous stereotype that will devastate your life, in many ways. Firstly, it will have a crushing effect on your relationships, as it did mine. I am sitting here with three marriages and three divorces, with firsthand perspective to give you painful evidence of that. I never shared my feelings and I rarely spoke up when I was unhappy. Instead, I put on my mask and pretended everything was okay, when clearly it was not. You know what happens when you cover up an issue, or try to avoid a feeling, don’t you? It will set off a ticking time bomb, that will absolutely explode at some point. Unless it is diffused earlier, of course.
Well, my time bomb exploded in my face several times, leaving a devastating mess in its wake. Not only was it a large part of the reason for my three marriages, three divorces and many broken hearts, but there was another heart shattering revelation I faced. It came a couple of years after my beautiful mother had passed away. My father found her journals in a box and gave them to me to borrow with an invitation to read any or all of them, if I wanted to. As we know, people wear masks and try to cover up the deep pain and insecurities they don’t want others to see. We all do it, and I have spoken ad nauseum about the masks I wore.
I didn’t realise my mother was wearing a mask until I read one of the journals. In fact, the decision to read even one journal was a hard one to make. I sat there looking at the box of journals thinking, this is really not my business. But my desire to hear her voice again through her written word was strong, so I picked one up and started flicking through it. As I saw my name, I closed it and put it down, thinking again, this is none of my business. However, my curiosity was too strong to resist and so I picked it up again and read. As I read just a few paragraphs, my heart shattered, and tears filled up my eyes.
This male stereotype I had lived with for so long has caused nothing but devastating problems in my life, and now this! In that journal I read about my mother’s desire to talk with me on a deeper level, and her own frustration and pain as a result of my unwillingness to share my fears, insecurities and feelings with her. She wanted to talk with me about her journey, her experiences and her own fears and insecurities, but I avoided it because I was terrified to hear the truth of her illness, and to share how I really felt. So, I never told her how I felt, and she never got the chance to tell me. Can you imagine the pain and regret that filled my heart as I read those words?
Enough about the regrets. It is a new day, a fresh season, and the time to start to speak your truth. As you celebrate this festive season, I encourage you to make honesty and vulnerability the gift you give yourself and others. I am a different man, in a different place in my life now that I can openly share my truth, my insecurities, and my vulnerabilities. It is a powerfully uplifting experience and will bring you closer to yourself and to the people you care about most.
Yes, it is the season for joy. Yes, it is the season for celebration. Yes, it is the season for eating and indulging? Yes, it is the season for resting and renewing. Yes, it is the season for reflection. Yes, it is the season for family. Please, for your sake and the people you love, make it also the season for honesty. Have a wonderful holiday season.
PS This week’s podcast with Perry Venakis, called ‘Tis the season to be healthy‘ is all about eating mindfully at this time of the year. Couple your season with honesty and health and see what happens. My love and wishes to you and your family.