wellness — By ben checketts
With school starting back up and working from home being what it is, I have the rare privilege of dropping off and picking up my six-year-old son as he goes to and from school every day. As a dutiful father, I always ask how his day went and he entertains me with stories from class, interactions with new friends, and of course, recess.
Just the other day, he told me that his legs were tired. When I asked why he told me he spent the entire recess running away from a girl who was faster than a race car. “Well, did she catch you?” I asked. He nodded and then told me not to worry because he fought her off and escaped.
I was instantly transported back to the day I told my own father a similar story. You see, a girl who will remain nameless, took our football at recess and refused to give it back. She too was fast, really fast. None of the boys could catch her with sheer speed. So, I hid behind a tree, waited for her to come close and then clotheslined her (I was a really big kid). To the boys, I was a hero. To the girls, I was a villain. To the principal, I was in trouble.
Fast forward about three decades and the launch of the #MeToo movement. If you are anything like me, you watched, listened, and started to question everything you thought you knew about masculinity. I stood somewhere between completely understanding “toxic masculinity” and the other side, which refused to acknowledge there was even a problem. I saw the need for sweeping change, but I could not equate masculinity with immorality.
Ultimately, I should have talked about it with someone, but I wasn’t sure who, if anyone, might want to explore that middle ground with me.
I was lucky enough to have been taught at an early age to treat girls with respect. This came from my father, with his stern fatherly face affixed and his voice deepening, who reminded me that we never hit, push, tackle or otherwise touch girls. He went on to explain that we also do not demean, insult or otherwise belittle the opposite sex and asked carefully if I understood. I definitely did not, but answered in the affirmative and went on my way.
That was not the first, nor was it the last time I learned about what it was to be a man, a real man. I said I was lucky to have the father I did, and I meant it because this lesson was reinforced with many other components of masculinity. Honesty, hard work, brotherly love, loyalty, etc. The list goes on, but in my heart, I knew how to be a great man, because I was raised by one.
But the world in which I was raised seems altogether different from the one in which we are living, and wanting to do right by my son, I sought understanding about how I could be an agent of change and still support the best of what traditional masculinity entails.
What I learned is that this question is not a new one. In 1831, Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The old ideal of Manhood has grown obsolete, and the new is still invisible to us, and we grope after it in darkness, one clutching this phantom, another that.”
So while this isn’t a new problem, it is a recurring one and it’s clear that we need new solutions.
If you doubt the urgency of this, consider the statistics:
The leading cause of death for men under the age of 45 in the UK is suicide
Globally, 96% of suicides are male
1 out of 3 women have been or will be victims of contact sexual violence
It would be easy to look at these statistics and say that men are more violent, more irrational and angrier than ever before. What I think is even more abundantly clear in these numbers is that men need help.
This is the impetus behind one of our favorite brands, if you can call it that, EVRYMAN. The team at EVRYMAN believes in the power of men to recognize and act productively on their emotions. One of the group’s co-founders, Dan Doty, says it as, “Hurt people hurt people.” He believes that helping men to become more emotionally healthy will, without hyperbole, change themselves, and change the world.
The EVRYMAN curriculum and men’s groups target two major sources of pain for men. The first is emotional repression, that men have been conditioned to believe that feeling, sharing and being vulnerable are not important for guys. The second is social isolation, the reality that men often lack the connections and friendships we need to be healthy. When you start to fix the first, then you can tackle the second.
So EVRYMAN is addressing these and providing a toolbox that helps men be more authentically themselves, but also better men, fathers, husbands, partners, co-workers, and the list goes on. Because when you can acknowledge your own feelings, you become more tuned into the feelings of others, as well. They take masculinity, strip it of its pretense, and provide a path forward for those who really want to make a change. And the way they do it, with guys supporting guys, but also with individual accountability, is that wide, welcoming land between “beat your chest, you’re a man” and the best aspects of masculinity, that I began looking for a while back. And have now found.