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What’s happening to our men?

July 8, 2007

I’ve often harangued my father’s generation for their poor performance as elders but aside from giving me the opportunity to pour out my own feelings on the matter it hasn’t ever been very constructive. I must have done enough pouring out though because recently I’ve started wondering exactly what is that happens to our men. When we see them doing their jobs they are often dynamic, purposeful and engaged but the rest of the time they are often tired, humourless and lost in a world that seems to exist only in their heads. 

I should warn you now, If you think you’re going to get a solid explanation about this from me you’re going to be sorely disappointed, I’m only at the stage of figuring out how to stop it happening to me. 

When I was a bit younger I used to be known amongst my circle of friends for my wisecracks (quality not withstanding) and I also remember the group of guys I used to hang with amusing ourselves by competing to make the most puns on any given topic. Naturally people listening to us would start off groaning at our efforts but as the number of puns increased they would begin to laugh and cheer us on. We took great delight in exercising our brains this way but now if I were invited to join in something like this I just couldn’t be bothered with the effort. 

I’m worried that I, like many who have gone before me, might disappear into my own head and become estranged to real things –  like my family for instance. This is no little thing either – I often see my father drift off (and sometimes even walk off!) when people are trying to talk to him. Not just my father either, a lot of men of his age are like that. I’d like to be the opposite, I’d like to be engaged and really listen to people who talk to me but it seems to require such a lot of energy to do that – to be specific it seems to require a lot of emotional energy which I just don’t have. 

Probably the emotional energy thing is a part of our problem. If we’re being honest though another part is that we shouldn’t have to bother with unimportant people when, as men, we have so many other important things to do (like, you know, keeping the wheels of progress rolling). But back to the emotional energy thing – where’s it gone?  For a bunch of people who don’t show any emotions you’d think it would be a non issue – or maybe we’re all just hoping it’s a non issue. 

Maybe that’s the problem though, maybe denying our emotions is what uses up the energy. Maybe it will just get worse and worse as we get older. Maybe there will be more and more to deny until we can’t actually do it any more. Karen’s grandfather was a fighter pilot and  POW in a German camp for most of WW2, he was shot down three times and had never told anyone about it until a few years before his death when Karen (my wife) asked if she could do a high-school project about his experiences. He told her things then that the rest of her family had never learned in the fifty years since he came back from the war. I hope he really is resting in peace now, because I don’t think he lived that way. 

Of course being shot down is some heavy stuff for people to deal with but there must be still be heavy stuff happening to our men. Sometimes I wonder if might be their wives that’s happening to them. And please don’t think we’re about to get into some good old fashioned women-hating here. A tempting as some people may find it, real life’s a bit more complicated and a lot more confusing than a simple answer would suggest. 

I see it in their eyes though. Some guys, they’ve lost their will, they’ve lost the battle and they’re just going through the motions until the day they leave the house in a box. They’re sad but they don’t really understand what happened because they don’t have a clue about the emotional landscape they live in. 

I’ve talked before about how, as parents, we all take advantage of the power imbalance that exists between ourselves and our children. It seems it’s impossible not to at some level. And likewise, I think there is such an imbalance in emotional comprehension between men and women that men are at a distinct disadvantage. They just have no idea when they are being emotionally manipulated. This is not to ignore or discount the physical imbalance that men have over women, like I said it’s complex but I think it’s an issue for a lot of guys – maybe all guys in our culture. For me, I’ve got to the point when I can sometimes tell when I’m being manipulated or tested and I’m really sick of it. I just won’t stand for it anymore – and yes that is buried resentment you see coming out in my language there. 

Some of you are probably wondering what the hell I am talking about. That last link (here it is again) discusses a small part of what I mean but I’m aware that you might think it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for women to ‘test’ a guy by deliberately putting doubt and confusion into the mind. After all she’s got to have something in her armoury right? Well maybe, but doing this to someone you love (or might come to love) is not the road to happiness, it’s the road to resentment and confusion. 

Here’s a tip for single women though, if you do try testing a guy and he walks, chase him and don’t let him get away because he might be one of the few guys you’ll ever meet who does understand emotions. (And yes, I do recognise that some of the stuff in that article is just harmless flirting). 

I think though that even if a guy develops a relationship with an amazingly well-balanced woman he will still find it a draining experience. Logically, it’s much easier to run your life when you only have yourself to consider but there is more too it than even that. A great metaphor for a relationship I once heard is of two stones being jostled together in a container – each stone gradually has all the rough edges knocked off it by the other one. 

It takes a lot of work to make a relationship function and clearly a lot of guys are not prepared for it. I think they find it much too daunting and would rather immerse themselves in their job which, in comparison, is probably a lot less confusing and easier on the ego. 

One of the results of this is that the woman takes most of the responsibility for making the relationship work and the guy stops maturing at about 30 (if you’re lucky). So know we’ve got men who have lost their youthful spark but are still immature at the same time. If only they’d work through it they’d come out the other side into a great relationship that functions really smoothly, they’d be more mature people themselves and younger men would finally have some useful role models. 

Now that I’ve mentioned work we’d better delve into the effect that has on us.  Even for those of us who don’t feel defined solely by our jobs we still have to do them well enough to stay employed and to be good at a lot of jobs you have to operate in a very different headspace to the one your family lives in. Once again it’s one where emotions don’t count. Only ‘getting the job done’ counts and you must put everything else aside to do it and it changes you. Well, it changed me anyway. 

So have I escaped this future? I spent 5 years in an office learning business patterns of living before getting out but I still had to keep using those patterns for the next 6 years while we developed our piece of land in an attempt to be mortgage free – I was once again putting much of myself aside in order to ‘get the job done’. I don’t really know the answer but I can tell you that last week (after not having worked for over a year) I took on some paid work and it was a bit of a mind bender. 

I’m currently doing some architectural working drawings at home on the computer. Now I admit it’s one of the worst things I could do, I don’t particularly like it and I’m working by myself but even so, the whole attitude of working quickly and efficiently didn’t suit anyone else when I came out to the dining room for lunch with my family. Kids are amazing though, they ignored my abrupt behaviour and on the second day dragged their chairs as far down the dining table toward me as they possibly could because they hadn’t seen me all morning. I guess I must be doing something right if they miss my presence that much. 

So I don’t know what will become of me but what about younger men. You’ve probably already seen the blogs of Dan, Devin, Scout, Mathew, Tom and Archangel. Derrick Jensen talks about how we spend our twenties vomiting up the effects of our childhood but these guys seem to be actively purging it from their system. I especially recommend Devin’s recent posts for an insight into that process. 

Will they become tired men though when the kids arrive and the responsibilities increase? Who knows? I’ll probably never find out unless the net stays up longer than we’re expecting. Maybe it’s too late for them to escape this future as well, maybe a childhood spent in school has already written some aspects of their future.  Maybe not. Maybe tertiary education and/or a career are the final nails in our coffin. Maybe if they can just avoid becoming ‘proper’ adults it’ll be OK. This is all conjecture but obviously the sooner we leave the beaten track the better. Maybe it’s never too late though, maybe if the stars are aligned we can hit reverse well into our dottage. 

I know that all I’ve done here is go round in circles in an attempt to sum up the situation but one thing that I’ve noticed keeps coming up is the emotionally retarded characteristic of our men. This may be where the problem – and the solution – lies, I just wish Casemeau was still living in a van down by the river because I can’t think of any other men who’ve gone to work on that particular issue like he did. If you are one though, please feel free to introduce yourself.

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