This is an adapted excerpt from my November 2013 TEDx Corpus Christi Talk titled "Redefining Strength in Manhood."
When I married Olivia, I brought into my marriage the ability to express myself in only two ways, anger and humor. This would seem perfectly fine for many men in the U.S. I know personally because it is considered unmanly to cry, be afraid, worried, or anything else that can be construed as weakness. Men are supposed to be strong, and anything not strong is considered unmanly. Nothing can be worse for a man than to not be considered a man, right?
Showing love came easily when no one else was around and when things were going well, but in tough times I would resort to expressing myself through either anger or humor. I would often take on a defensive stance by expressing myself through anger, which scared my wife. When I managed to refrain from showing my feelings through anger, I would take on a boyish stance by laughing off the situation with a poorly timed joke or off comment. That would really frustrate Olivia when we were trying to resolve something serious in our relationship, because it showed a lack of maturity in the man she married.
Arguments between Olivia and I would be very frustrating for me as well. At her disposal, Olivia was, and still is, able to express everything on the full spectrum of human emotion translating her feelings into something called "words." While she would express herself clearly, all I could express was anger. I was never really equipped with dialogue that would allow me to express to others in a safe manner how I felt.
Over time, I learned that my wife did not need a "strong" man in the sense of a man who never showed any signs of weakness like emotions. In fact, my approaches did not show strength at all. They were actually demonstrations of immaturity. I took the tantrums I would express as a child and perfected them into something that was menacing. Olivia needed someone who was strong enough to show weakness. What I mean is that she needed someone who was strong enough to express the full spectrum of human emotion with her. She wanted me and needed me to be that someone.
That spectrum includes emotions like the following:
- And so much more
What if we redefined strength to include allowing men to express emotions without ridicule from others? How much better would our relationships be? Not just marriages, but also the relationships of men with their children. Only showing anger drives fear into the hearts of the children we were gifted to raise. Some will think that not showing anger somehow removes discipline from child-rearing, or that discipline is about how menacing we can be in front of our children. Keep in mind that that a 20-something or 30-something year old man will appear like a giant to a child who is only 3-years old. Plus, a child at that age cannot rationalize like an adult, but can experience emotions. It is possible to discipline our children without screaming at them. We can discipline children through modeling of behaviors that we wish them to exhibit in themselves. Children learn from what we do, and how we do those actions, more than they learn from what we say. We limit our own experiences and cheat our children when we show them only a part of ourselves emotionally.
- The Sociology of MMA: Do "Real" Men Have Emotions by David Mayeda from Sociology in Focus.
- Managing Emotional Manhood: Fighting and Fostering Fear in Mixed Martial Arts by Vaccaro, et al in Social Psychology Quarterly. Link is to an article abstract.