“I couldn’t care less.” That’s how I felt in the months and years after I lost my 17-year old son, Michael. I felt like the life was taken out of me. I was stripped down on the outside, torn apart on the inside, and utterly vulnerable to the world.
In short, my very essence, my power to be the strong, tough and secure man was gone in an instant. I had no identity. I had no point of reference to reach out to because from that very young age, men are taught to be the ever strong and solid provider. That double-edged combination of nature and society telling men to just, in short, suck it up and deal with it on your own.
As a licensed psychotherapist, most of my patients are not men because of this type of thinking. And for those men, like me, who are faced with grieving, it seems like there’s nowhere to turn. Men do not reach out and help their own mental health as often as women do. Men are also not as sensitive to each other’s needs. So when they reach that breaking point, it often becomes something they feel that they need to do on their own. Their grief is a lonely grief.
The healing process, the stages of grieving, take a lot more time for most men because, quite simply, because they haven’t had the experience to work with those deep down emotions. Women share the ups and downs of life with each other on a regular basis so they are used to reaching out. When dealing with a man, more sensitivity is required because men don’t want to show any hurt in the first place. Relationships (i.e. marriage) go through enormous stress, so even more patience is necessary to work it through.
For women, it means a more gentle touch because the emotions are so hard-packed and deep down. Men often shut themselves out from even the simplest enjoyments. There is a desperate unwillingness to even talk about this ultimate life-changing experience. Women endure life’s challenges with each other’s help. Men often suffer in silence.
Avoiding breakdown is a step-by-step process. Fathers need to allow that body armor to come off. It doesn’t mean that they are weaker. In fact, there is a great strength and energy that comes from standing up and saying, “I am broken down now. But with good help and faith, I will make my life stronger than it ever had been.” The flood of emotion is powerful.
Let it happen because once these emotions are out there, you will have made room in your mind to allow for some much needed forward momentum.