Sunday, May 6, 2012

Taking It Like a Man...

Chris McCosky at the Detroit News just wrote the best article I've ever read.  In light of Junior Seau's death McCosky was moved to say something...anything...but few, including him, I'd guess, expected him to empty his heart out onto newsprint.  The number of lives he'll surely reach in print, and via the web, might astound him, not because so many people might read his opinions...they do that every week...but because all of those people will now know that he has suffered through a clinical depression diagnosis for over twenty years.  He even briefly considered suicide.  That's not your every day article in the well perused sports section of a daily in a major US media market.  That's not your every day admission, and that's not the kind of thing that anyone expects...and that's a problem.

There is a giant, almost ubiquitous notion that prevails in our Western world, perhaps around the entire world, that overwhelms education, and fact, all rational thinking. It contradicts logic and reason, and it's regularly ruining good people's lives.  It's a misunderstanding of basic humanity, of masculinity, and of communication and honesty.  It's what inhibits people's sexuality.  It plants the seeds of inadequacy.  It's what inspires bullying and encourages bigotry.  It's given us, without apology, the male myth.  It makes talking about your problems and often times, being who you really are, almost impossible.  It destroys families.  It kills men.  Oh, it kills women too, but I am a man, and I'm talking about the toll I see it take on sons, brothers, husbands, and friends.  I can look in the mirror and see the toll that takes on me. I am a man, but it wants to tell me otherwise.

It was this same omnipresent notion that made me so desperate for daughters.  It's, tragically, what made me sigh with relief when we heard that our soon-to-be second child was a girl.  It's tragic because no one should think that way, and because something so ridiculous shouldn't be so insipid and carry such an influence.  I just didn't know if I had the strength to fight it.  I didn't know how I would combat the messages and the images and the skewed opportunities.  I didn't want my definition of "man" to contradict with society's and then watch society's watch my son slip over to the dark side...and society's version of "man" most certainly has a dark side.  I didn't know if I could fight that.  It's sad.  I've said it aloud in presentations, on stages, and in front of hundreds of people with an ear tuned into every word that you are saying, and it's undoubtedly been a sad revelation,  I've watched tears swell in the eyes of mostly the women watching.  No one should think such a thing, but I did.  But it was the women who teared up, not the men.  That's how insidious  the notion is.

I'd venture to say that it's a complicated recipe of at least a dozen issues.  Depression is a poorly understood, often misdiagnosed, deadly disease, but it doesn't exist in isolation.  I'll take the criticism that might come with saying that it's more than that.  It's a gender issue as well.  For me, and a million other men, even for Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and Clint Malarchuk, it's about the male myth and the power of that myth.  Sports makes you a man.  Strength makes you a man.  No tears, No talking. No hurt. No help.  No way out save with a fight.  It's bullshit.  It's not true.  It's the boldest of lies we perpetuate...and it's the most insipid because we don't even realize that we're doing it.  We're doing it every Saturday in the Fall.  Every Friday night under those lights.  Every hockey night in Canada...every time a young boy chooses to listen to his coach but not his teacher.  Every time we put men on pedestals and women in the crowd.  Each time that we stereotype sexuality, and condemn ambiguity.  We perpetuate this exhaustive notion that real men are something that the rest of us are aspiring to.

I'll say it out loud and then get busy backing it up in the real world.  Somehow we have to address the awesome power of this male myth that is making us feel less than...that is impossible to define and yet so easily referenced.  Somehow we need to talk to boys about being men.  Somehow we have to convince men that what they've been being isn't necessarily what they've been told it is.  We need to take masculinity back and we need to move forward with a new notion of what it takes to be a man.  It might be that the enterprise has a short life span...that it begins and ends with chromosomes and then the rest is up to us to define individually, and uniquely.  What we need to do is find the sunshine through the clouds, to poke holes in the shadows that hide our best versions of being born a boy.  What Chris McCoskey wrote about was depression, and it was oh-so important, and oh-so timely and flat out incredible...maybe one of the best things that I've ever read, but what I'm writing about precedes even his well laid out ideas about what we come to expect from someone suffering.  It's impossible to be anything...better, healthy, happy...if you don't know who you are to begin with.

For the first time in my life I think I've just stumbled into something I have to do something about.  I might need some help, but I think it's time to talk about all of those things that we aren't, and eventually all of those things that we are and should be.  Depression will still be depression, but maybe we won't have to prop it up so securely with the dangerously false ideas that we do now, and maybe it doesn't need any better of an anchor than what it already has.

I am a man, and that is just a word, just a collection of chromosomes, and everything after that is mine, including the definition.

Nice article Chris.  Thanks so much for the inspiration to forget where I was this morning and just type what I was feeling.  It felt good.  I think about my friends, the parents of boys...boys who will be men...and I wonder what I can do to help dismantle the myth.  I think that you just started something that I'll be hard pressed to finish, but I'll try.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home