Being a modern man can be a complex assignment. And our upbringing may not leave us particularly prepared to deal with the emotional consequences.
What’s that old saying? Never work with kids and animals? Oh no, wait. I think it was the things that should never be discussed at the dinner table with Mum: politics, religion, and sex.
I think we should maybe add advocacy for men’s issues.
The multi-faceted man
The modern man is a complex creature, facing many challenges and demands. You need to be a good parent, husband, boss, provider, dishwasher, taxi driver, iPad repairman, educator. And on and on it goes.
Fortunately, I am reasonably accomplished in all of the above. Well, most of the time anyway. Although I must admit stacking the dishwasher in a way that pleases the bossd continues to be a mountain too high.
I find it’s quite hard to change speeds when I get home. My working day is varied and full of pressure. Basically every 30 seconds someone walks up to my desk with a problem to solve or some drama they can’t work out. So that’s my day: 30 seconds an issue, solve the problem, and move onto the next one.
When I get home, I have learnt the opposite is required: actively listening, focusing, and not offering solutions, just listening.
It’s all a bit Jekyll and Hyde really.
A larger problem
But the biggest issue I find as a self-declared modern man is loneliness. It is, I would propose, entirely possible to be surrounded by people the entire time and be incredibly lonely.
Many relationships we have in these modern times are transactional in nature. It sometimes seems that everyone gets what they want out of the relationship or interaction with us, professional or personal, and we are left wanting.
Our busy, modern life is filled with people, customers, suppliers, staff, family. Whatever it is, they have something they need from us and we invariably give it, as that is the role we have been trained for.
This is where the lonely bit comes in. We are busy, constantly interacting, but always with a purpose. There is rarely time where you get to have an interaction that doesn’t serve some other purpose, like making a living, or helping someone else achieve a goal.
Life stages and upbringing
Another issue that contributes to this is the fact that we as modern men seem to go through cycles that loosely coincide with either life stages or family responsibilities.
In our teens and 20s we have lots of male friends. Some of these relationships endure, but most do not. As we move into our 30s, get married and the ‘tin lids’ arrive – aren’t they just the best? We get distracted by Saturday morning sports, Nippers on Sunday, and kids’ sleepovers. More and more of our relationships with our male peers deteriorate. Until we wake up at 40-something and realise that we no longer have any male friends to talk about stuff with at all.
This may be further compounded by the household we grew up in. As a child of the 70s I can tell you that the mantra at my place was “don’t make a fuss” and “stop crying”. In general it seems that it was drummed into us to just not have those feelings. Any feelings in fact. And so we learned to be stoics.
There is a whole other story to be written about nature versus nurture. Are we a product of our environment or is our environment a product of us? Boom! My head just exploded.
The value of a good mate
So now I sit here in my late 40s and I head into yet another part of the journey. Thankfully, it’s one that sees me developing again a few close male friends with whom I can discuss my most intimate fears and worries, in a totally open and authentic way.
I am incredibly grateful for these friends. I don’t know if I should count myself lucky, or if it’s just part of the cycle.
It is invaluable to me to have a contemporary male friend with whom I can discuss my latest work drama. It is also necessary for me to discuss the fact that I sometimes feel a bit depressed and wonder what the purpose of it all is, how I fear I will let down those that depend on me, or what really annoys me about my wife or that new person in the office.
We all need to have that one mate who can listen, not judge, and offer the occasional bit of advice.
A bit of stoicism is good, but a true friend is better.
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