What is the earliest childhood memory you can recall? I pose this question many times – and reflected on it myself the other day. I can remember making skateboards from my sisters roller skates to swimming in the local stream during those long hot summers where innocence and time seemed to merge with laughter, fun and Clegg bites from famers fields, and exploring old ruins and collecting Owl pellets to unpack and discover the contents of their last meal. Danger and risk assessments were farthest from our concerns – as the sun set and hunger pushed its way to the front of our thoughts.
However, behind the doors of respectability another story and memory of childhood lays hidden and undiscovered, unknown to the rest of the world
Before I said farewell to my mother – she had terminal cancer and passed away in an Aberdeen hospital – the words she spoke echoed back through the decades of her journey and touched me profoundly – to the core of my being. As I leaned in to hear her voice, she said “I’m sorry I didn’t find you a good father”… comforting her and hearing her regrets; encouraging her that she should not blame herself; that this heavy burden, carried for so long, was now ready to lay it down…” I cried for her, such honesty of words of love. I cried for that young child too, as I remembered the tears of that young child being wiped away by his mother and saying “Hush! Don’t let your Dad See You”. The childhood memories were in full view – raw and naked – they had been fuelled by physical and emotional violence laced with alcohol – both child and mother quickly learned the survival skills of masking and pleasing – not saying too much to attract attention and escaping through reading and playing with family beyond the home.
I made a contract with myself – that I will only show this much of me…never bear my soul to him, as the emotions of constant anxiety and fear lay under the surface – also punishment for never being good enough. This mask of protection was firmly placed and was the filter in childhood and early adolescence grew.
What happens to the child ? Many of you may already know, through your own experiences; reading; research – the creativity, curiosity and light in the child was crushed. The curiosity of music, art, nature never allowed to be explored – it didn’t match what was expected – Boys don’t do these things.
So you play the game, wear the mask – find what is acceptable. Grandparents take you to Church, encourage sports, swimming, a feeling of belonging – join the Boys Brigade – uniform, medals, awards. The Proud father figure appears – and then to another uniform – with pride greeted – yet, behind the screen – it was a role I had learned to be from those early childhood traumas of violence – it wasn’t really me. Just get through and over it – don’t show any emotions it is a weakness and will be exploited.
Was I being engineered by circumstances and what society expected me to be. Being aggressive, competitive, emotionally closed and no time for tears, to avoid being the victim or the easy target that would be to admit men have vulnerabilities, weaknesses – and we cannot have that at any cost!
So how do we view men of physical, emotional, sexual violence – when if victim is seen as weakness of vulnerability and by default loose their voices to speak.
What role has society played in perpetuating this need for silence – just reflect for a moment on our historical, political, social and cultural structures – where the characteristics of what it is to be a man — required that “Stiff Upper Lip” approach to all things connected with emotions – you have to be strong enough physically and self reliant, aggressive and dominant – no room for emotions “Hush! Boys Don’t Cry” – seen as a weakness.
So when confronted with sexual/emotional/physical abuse, men will internalise their emotions and feelings of being weak, afraid to speak out of fear of being seen as less of a man, blaming themselves for what happened – as somehow being complicit in their trauma.
As parents we treat children differently according to their gender – unintentionally or by choice – and this has an impact on their development as they grow – many men continually find great difficulty in expressing or even identifying with their emotions/feelings. For this has such a lasting impression leading into adulthood, trying to form healthy relationships, many find the emotional connections a minefield too fearful to embrace and navigate.
So, what if we stopped to consider the cost to society, relationships, and the individuals themselves – where having encouragement to express their emotions, that having a secure frame of reference that it is acceptable and healthy to voice their feelings in the secure knowledge that being true to ourselves – needs us to embrace vulnerability as a strength to step from the silence and reclaim and live life as whole beings, accepting all of ourselves.
Thank you for reading my blog, till the next time look forward to hearing your views and if you want to share that is fine too.
Books and Articles of Interest
Andrews B. Boys don’t Cry: Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal, BACP, July 2014 Vol 14 No 3.
Brown B. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Avery, 2012.
Real, Terrence, I don’t want to walkabout it: overcoming the secret legacy of male depression, New York, Fireside, 1998
Struve, J. (1990). Dancing with Patriarchy: The Politics of Sexual abuse, The sexually abused male, Lexington Books/D.C. Health and Com.