by Sumner Swanson Shaner
Fathers out there, let me ask you this: Have you ever witnessed your son slam the front door after a long day of school, crying? Have you been stuck in a stalemate with your partner, fighting a silent battle of who comforts your child? Was it your job to talk to your son, but you found yourself at a loss for words? You aren’t alone. Many fathers feel the same way. Does this sound familiar? You sit next to your son and ask him what’s wrong. He admits he got pushed on the playground at recess and was laughed at for crying. Then you say, from a loving place, “You need to fight back, show who’s boss.” Words that can change your son forever. Words that changed me forever.
You’re most definitely asking, “What? Why?” — the million-dollar questions whose answers are deeply rooted in our societal problems. The problems that define what a “man” is. Well, Dr. Henry A. Montero of PYSCOM.net can affirm that signs of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and social awkwardness have become more prevalent in men. Dr. Montero says that according to Mental Health America, 6 million American men suffer from depression. Even worse, depression diagnoses have increased in boys ages 6–15 from 4.3% to 5.7% nationwide. He points out that lines commonly said by fathers to their sons like “Boys don’t cry” or “Man up” cause negative emotional responses. The response from boys shows us an increase of violence and uncontrollable rage — signs that are parallel with abuse.
Let me tell you my story and how I fit into this mold. My dad was a master manipulator. He always used to convince me to invalidate my emotions, leaving a young violent kid to face his school environment without support. As a young gay autistic teenager, I experienced lots of traumatic bullying, which I faced with violence. Shunned from school to school, I realized what was happening. I needed a lifeline — one that my dad wasn’t throwing me.
So dads, I ask you to remember what your father said to you. Did he tell you to fight violence with violence, not to show weakness in front of an enemy, or dismiss your emotions? How did that make you feel? Angry, ashamed, anxious? Nevertheless, the outcome remains the same: You fight off your tormentor, you assert yourself, get a partner, get a job, have a kid. Finding yourself caught in this cycle — and feeling unable to escape it — is common. With slight variations depending on the household, what you were taught and are teaching to your sons is dangerous.
So, what’s the alternative? Instead of making negative hurtful comments, try telling your sons to document those emotions. Dr. Montero agrees that in a dangerous situation like a fight it’s a perfectly normal response to fight or run. So, don’t pressure your son to fight, don’t ingrain the thought that retreating is a cowardly move. If your son chooses to fight, accept that but then ensure that your child can healthily release their emotions. That could be through talking, or writing, or anything your child likes to do. When there is not a crisis ongoing, you can explore emotions with your child. Avoid patronizing your child. Let them tell you how they feel, and listen. By defining and changing what the Toxic Masculinity Cycle is and how you fit into the cycle, you are raising your children to be the best they can be, and that truly shows a loving parent.
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