The divorce rate is abysmal in the western world. Nothing new there. But the number of single mothers continues to rise, and the value placed on fathers is on the decline. Well… I should clarify -the value placed on their time with the kids is! The value of their wallet remains the same. More and more, men are treated as an accessory parent but still regarded as the primary financial contributor. The result is, fathers are more and more removed from their kids’ lives and kids get less and less time with their dad.
Unfairness in The Legal System
Father’s are treated terribly by the court system. Preferential treatment is far too often given to mothers. With little more than an accusation of the father’s fitness, women can generally get some type of preferred parent status. So fathers get the shaft. Boys raised by single moms get the message loud and clear. Women’s needs are more important than men’s. Is it any wonder young men are waiting longer than ever to get married and staying at home much longer?
While the assault on the value of fathers continues, men who have what is laughingly called a midlife crisis are ridiculed for it. For most of these men it’s not a crisis at all. It’s a midlife awakening. From the day we can focus our eyes, males are spoon-fed a ridiculous group of messages about what it means to be a man. The messages increase as we grow into adulthood.
“Be a big boy.”
“Don’t be a sissy.”
“No pain, no gain!”
“Tell me about your feelings.”
“You should be more sensitive,”
“You need to talk to me more.”
“Why are you so distant?”
First, we’re told to man up and be stoic about our feelings. Then we’re told to be sensitive and open. It seems men are expected to please everyone except themselves.
The Challenge for Single Moms
There are more single moms than ever trying to raise boys into men. But are they even capable of that in our society? Single moms have never been men. How can they be expected to know how to make a man from a boy? Boys raised by single moms get a mixed bag of messages tossed on them in their childhood years. The messages come from multiple sources: their mothers, society, and from school mates. And all the messages are conflicting. What we hear is “Be tough and aggressive.” along with “Be soft and tender.”
Masculinity is A Bad Word
While all this is happening to men, women are being told to embrace their femininity. They’re also told it’s good to be a feminist. “Be a hard ass.” They’re told. “You don’t need a man for anything.” But the evidence seems to say otherwise. Feminism doesn’t mean women don’t need men any longer. Feminism doesn’t change the way humans have behaved for thousands of years. And it doesn’t change how reproduction works. Women need us as much as we need them.
Sadly, while trying to improve the situation for women, the situation has become unbearable for men. Often, once a woman gets a man she goes to work to try to make him into what she thinks she want him to be. Most of us oblige, and try to be what they want. In the process we only lose their respect. Women don’t want some wimpy guy kissing their ass 24 hours a day. They want a man who is decisive, and has follow through. They want a partner who is strong -someone they can look up to and respect. It’s hard to be all those things when we’re so busy trying to shove ourselves into the box of sweetness and sensitivity were told we’re supposed to fit into. Is it any wonder most men say they don’t know what women want?
Women also get damaging mixed messages. The messages about their body and how it defines them, are the worst of all. The constant bombardment with images of women with perfect bodies assures most women will suffer through points of self-judgment throughout their lives. But at least they get messages that encourage them to be who they are, as well. They’re told to “Embrace the goddess inside.” They’re encouraged that they can “do anything men can do.” Men are essentially told it’s bad to be man, but don’t act like a girl.
In the modern world, if you want to be a feminist that’s great. But try to be a “masculinist” for a minute, see how that goes over. In our society it’s not okay to be masculine. Tell someone you are and you’ll probably be mocked or shamed. The message for boys and men throughout our lives is essentially ‘ Men aren’t good. Be a better version of a man.’ It’s as though we’re all being judged based on the way our worst members have behaved. It’s not okay to judge a group, based on its worst members. That’s a biased attitude, and stereotyping!
The Price of Breaking Free
Because of the way men are treated, somewhere around the mid-point in our lives many men chose to make a massive shift. Having accumulated enough wisdom, we stop and ask ourselves if this is the life we really want to lead. Then, the bravest of us make a drastic change and take of our lives in a truer direction. We shed the fake version of ourselves we’ve created and have projected our whole life as being our ‘true selves’. Then we embrace the man we are inside. We become the man we truly are at our core.
What most of us find is that the man living inside of us is a beautiful person. He’s not the man we’ve been told not to be. That man never existed. Through a process of reuniting with ourselves, we slowly learn to love the man in the mirror. Instead of seeing failure and sadness in his eyes, we see joy and wonder. We discover that we don’t have to be defined by what we do for others anymore. Instead we’re defined by how we feel about ourselves.
When this happens, it’s magical! When men in the middle of their life make this change they’re suddenly happier. They love life -maybe for the first time since being a baby. They live their lives for themselves, instead of living it to meet the expectations of others. They break free.
And society cruelly calls it a “mid-life crisis.”
This personal awakening doesn’t cross all cultures. For example, it’s virtually non-existent in Japan and India. In these cultures, men aren’t shamed for being men. They’re allowed to grow into their masculinity, so there’s no need to make a drastic change in the middle of life. And it’s not a new phenomenon in western culture. It’s been going on since at least the industrial revolution and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It’s so common it’s predictable! What’s also predictable is the backlash that follows.
When this change happens, the people we’ve known longest say things like “He’s not himself anymore.” Or “It’s like he became someone else overnight.” When wives are left behind, some mock us using the old insult “He’s having a midlife crisis.” After spending years trying to please the world and be what we were told to be, we finally figure out how to be our true selves. It’s a painful transition into a new life. We spent half our lives gaining the approval of ourselves. We sacrificed what was familiar and safe for the hope of something better. Our reward is the judgement or rejection of others. We leave ourselves open to ridicule and scorn.
The people around us don’t understand us. Our kids are confused, and our coworkers don’t get why we suddenly don’t want to do the same meaningless job we’ve been doing for the last decade or two. We’ve just suffered through a lifetime of torment, being told who we’re supposed to be -instead of being the person we are inside. We have just broken free from the cage society erected around us. But we’re not celebrated, we’re insulted.
People don’t understand this transformation. They don’t value the beauty of it. We don’t talk about it. Because of this, the importance of it isn’t widely understood. We’ve all heard stories about the torment someone suffers, having to pretend to be something they’re not. These stories are usually about homosexuals, spending their lives pretending to be straight. It’s hard to imagine how painful it would be to live like that. As a society we’re finally starting to understand their pain. But the plight of men is ignored.
Society Pays A Price
No one looks at the massive epidemic of men suffering through the identity crisis that is their life -or how it affects us all. If this wide-spread oppression was openly discussed in our society we could end it. There would be much less depression, much more connectedness, and many more successful families and marriages. But instead we have the opposite. Men are depressed, lonely and divorcing in droves.
Breaking The Cycle
At the mid-point of their lives, men are shifting to try to gain what’s left of our true selves. What’s left is broken homes and men in relationships that are unfulfilling or worse.
Men should be allowed to be men -instead of encouraged to be some contrived version of what society currently thinks a man should be. If we we’re allowed (and encouraged) to grow into our true selves, there’d be no need for a mid-life awakening. The massive ripple in family life would be minimized because men would already know themselves. We wouldn’t need to find the man we are inside. He’d already be there -on the outside. Instead of covering him up, we would grow into him.
It can be truly frightening to make this massive shift half way through our lives. It’s like standing on a cliff edge above water and deciding what’s in front of us is better than what’s behind. For the brave men who have the strength to make the leap, their lives are changed forever. But many (if not most) men never make the leap. They stay with what is familiar -but not fulfilling. They stay where they won’t be judged (at least no more than they have been). They continue to be the person they’ve been pretending to be their whole lives.
We’re Never Truly Ourselves
Is it any wonder that at men’s funerals, friends and family often hear unbelievable stories told by friend who knew them best? Maybe, when he was younger he did some wild things his kids or wife would never have imagined. When men are younger they’re much more themselves. They haven’t conformed completely. We usually feel safer around our friends -thought often we hide there too. Our wives and kids are less likely to know the true us. Going through our things after we die may give them a better understanding of us than knowing us for a lifetime.
The expectations are ridiculous. The messages men receive are bipolar. On top of that, men are a fair target to anyone who wants to slam them. And we get slammed plenty. One of the rare occasions when men feel we can allow ourselves to show weakness is when we’re sick. Even then we’re liable to be mocked by the women in our lives. “He’s such a baby when he’s sick.” She might tell her mom or friends. In some parts of western world they say he’s got “the man flu” when he admits he’s not feeling well and needs some extra attention. Even then -when we do get the extra attention- they say they’re “babying” us. How do they not see that’s condescending?
We’re expected to take this abuse, while at the same time be understanding when our woman feels crampy, tired, or cruddy. When they do, it’s our job to be sweet and understanding about it. Imagine how women would react if men mocked them for not feeling well! If a man makes fun of a woman who’s feeling bad, he’s an ass.When a woman makes light of a man feeling bad it’s socially acceptable. No one says a thing.
So, men learn to suck it up. We’re going to rub dirt in it, quit our whining, and be a ‘man’ about it. We’ve heard it enough that we know our place, and we know how we’re supposed to act. We lock it down and don’t show our emotions.
It’s Killing Us
In our modern world a disproportionate amount of men die from conditions that could be reversed if detected early. This lack of detection is a result of men being conditioned to “Work through the pain.” Think of all the heart attacks and cases of colon cancer that could’ve been avoided or treated early. But we don’t catch it early because we’ve been made to feel that talking about our pain means we’re a pussy. So, we tough it out, and march forward with our pain …until it kills us.
Men in our culture are hidden away in plain sight. We’re not encouraged to be ourselves. We’re not allowed to show our emotions the way we should show our emotions. We’re told the acceptable way to express our feelings, by the people who require us to do it in a specific way that works for them… Usually our wives. In our culture a man crying at the movies is usually seen as weak. The truth is -he’s being strong. It takes strength and courage to be your genuine self. Crying in a movie is genuine. It means you’re in touch with the tenderness inside.
Man On Man Cruelty
What’s worse is that we’re judged most harshly by other men. The culture of toughness has been so pounded into us that men will give each other shit when we express genuine emotion or admit to feeling pain. There’s an old image in our society that comes up in pop culture that defines the problem. It’s a group of friends drinking. One of the guys is very drunk and keeps saying -through slurred words- “I love you, man!” He’s wasted and sentimental. He’ll get a lot of shit about it when he sobers up. We laugh… because it’s uncomfortable.
Men love just the same as women: we love our kids, our women, and our friends. Sadly, one of the few times men feel comfortable telling their friends they love them is when we can use alcohol as an excuse for our sentimental behavior. Another place you can feel nearly as comfortable telling your friend you love him is at a funeral of a close family member. He’s suffering, and emotions are raw. So, you have permission to express the truth. You love your friend. The rest of the time you have to keep it locked down, or you risk being told to stop acting like a girl.
Men Are Less Valued Than Women
We aren’t encouraged to be genuine. Men in our culture are taught to fit into a very tight envelope of expectations. While women are supposed to be strong, and independent, and stand on their own… We’ve come a long way, but the old messages still echo in our ears. They’re still right in front of us. Here’s an example… When you go on a cruise you’re required to go through a lifeboat drill. During this drill you’ll be reminded “Women and children first.” In other words, you’re not as important as women – even though they insist on being equal! It’s understandable that women want to expand out of the role they been shoved in throughout history. ‘But you men… You’re not allowed to. You stay right where you’re at and keep doing what you been doing… But do it a lot nicer.’
Men aren’t encouraged to explore themselves, or live their lives on their own terms. And they’re certainly discouraged from exploring their sexuality. If a woman admits to “exploring her sexuality” in college, it’s acceptable. She may go on to marry and have a family. No one will think anything of it. If a man says he “explored” he’s likely to be labeled as a closet homosexual. Men aren’t encouraged to test the edges or to evolve into ourselves. Men are encouraged to get into the tight little box they’ve built for us.
‘Don’t be masculine, or real… Be what you’re told to be.’
‘Be strong, or sensitive if that’s what we want right now…’
‘Be brave, and die for your woman if she needs you to… ‘
‘Don’t open the door for her… she’s a strong, capable woman… it’s rude… unless she expects you to open it. Then do it!’
In short “Be who we tell you to be. Don’t be you!”