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We live in a world that is—for the most part—afraid of men being vulnerable and expressing their true emotions.
This needs to change.
A friend who is also a single parent called me on Christmas Eve to tell me that his kids (older teenagers) had bailed on going to Christmas Eve church service with him. He was also unsure whether they were going to follow through with the plans he had made to spend time with them.
He said he needed to talk about it and asked what my thoughts were on the issue.
We owe it to our kids, indeed to the world, to live and speak from our hearts, to recognize vulnerability and have the courage to speak from that place of pain/joy/authenticity.
It is the only way, in my opinion, that our children will learn how to be true, authentic, compassionate humans—only if we model it for them, and even if they do roll their eyes at us.
He expressed his indecision in that moment, just because he hadn’t yet had time to meditate on it, about how to handle the situation. He admitted to his desire to keep a stiff upper lip and just hand them their Christmas presents and leave, giving in and trying to respect that maybe they really didn’t want to spend time with him.
He expressed more when he said he wanted to have a talk with them about honor, respect and family. I could feel his sadness, pain, confusion and anger through the phone—and his indecision about into which of those he might finally land.
As a single parent, I must admit to having done much the same. My daughter and I enjoy an authentic, vulnerable, joyful, fun relationship most of the time. But I have also kept a stiff upper lip at times, not wanting to express my hurt and pain to her over something that might have happened between us.
I’ve done that to preserve some sort of peace that I seem to think is necessary between us. But what peace can be had when I’m holding back my authentic self and not allowing myself to be vulnerable?
Even more importantly is the fact that he is a father and a man. And he is a man that I know is willing and able to live in his masculine, as well as vulnerable, heart. We have often talked about how important and difficult it is to live from that vulnerable, strong place.
Yet we live in a world that does not value a man’s vulnerability, that does not welcome a man who is expressing emotions—especially if those emotions involve sadness, pain or indecision.
We accept anger from a man—indeed most men express anger first and foremost in adverse situations—mainly because our society teaches that as appropriate and that is what is so often modeled as normal for men. But we very seldom welcome pain, tears or sadness from men.
Men repeatedly told Brene Brown, the amazing shame-vulnerability expert, that women couldn’t handle their true, deep vulnerability, that we women kick the emotional shit out of men when they express their true pain and sadness. So they admitted to pretending to be vulnerable, and they only tell us what they think we can handle.
Remember ladies: men are basically hard-wired to make us happy. It’s just the way their brains work. So of course they want to be vulnerable when we ask it of them, but can you blame them for not showing us the true pain when we kick them emotionally for it?
Can you blame them for pretending to be vulnerable?
My first thought was: How masculine of them—how very chivalrous and protective to not want to upset us.
My second thought was the same one Brene had: Oh my gawd, I am the patriarchy, the oppressor.
We ask, even beg, men to tell us what’s going on inside, what they’re feeling, what emotions they are experiencing. “Please let me in,” we demand of them. We get upset when they won’t share with us. But according to her research, when men do share the real emotions, the real pain, doubts and fears, we women very often can’t handle it—and men know this.
I relate the story of how it showed up in Brene’s life. She came home and saw that her husband was upset about some extended family issues. She immediately got angry and wanted to pick a fight with him.
Instead—and because she had done so much research about this very thing—she pretended she was in a movie taking direction, playing a character that knew how to handle that sort of situation without anger.
Anger is very often fueled by fear. We live in a world that is afraid of men being vulnerable and expressing their true emotions. And this fear is often expressed as derision, as shaming. This must change.
How are we going to change this?
As a woman, I am committed to learning how to carefully, lovingly and authentically sit with and support a man who is feeling and expressing emotions—especially the “negative” emotions. I am committed to learning to stop and think before I act and speak if, like Brene, my first impulse is to get angry with him.
I am demanding of myself something better, something braver, something much more humane and vulnerable (scarier!). I have made a vow to not shame anyone, especially a man—who we women have trained to not be fully vulnerable—for having emotions and expressing them. I am committed to learning to peacefully allow them, even when I might be feeling fear.
I am going to do these things because integrity demands it. The future demands it. The world my daughter is inheriting demands it.
I hope you will join me.
In doing my own work, in learning how to allow men to be vulnerable without letting myself be overcome by fear and then anger, I am asking men to meet me there in that scary, vulnerable place.
As a woman, I am asking men to please consider being brave enough to be vulnerable. I’m asking you to do your own work too—the work on yourself that will allow you to meet me there. Brene Brown points out that you can’t get to courage without going through vulnerability first.
Men, I am asking for your trust.
And in asking for your trust, I am also admitting to failing at this at times, too—even now, when I have become so aware of its importance. So I thank you for your brilliant patience as I am learning.
I am asking you to help us heal our children, ourselves and, indeed, everyone on the Planet. I am willing to “go first” (thanks Steve Horsmon!) by offering that to you. I am willing to learn to sit with the discomfort of allowing if it means healing, for everyone, will take place.
I believe healing will take place one person at a time, one vulnerable exchange at a time. And men, I’m going to ask you to be even braver by living it out loud with me—by expressing this vulnerability on the stage of the world.
We are going to be even more courageous than that though, ladies and gentlemen, because we are going to be this vulnerable and brave in front of our own children, in our own homes.
Because everyone knows this is the real test of walking our talking, isn’t it? Not only by how we treat our friends, co-workers and the random person-in-need we help on the street, but by how we interact, breath-by-breath with those closest to us—at the kitchen table each morning, in the car on the way to soccer practice.
“If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—”
“Atticus don’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don’t do in the yard,” I said, feeling it my duty to defend my parent.
“Gracious child, I was raveling a thread, wasn’t even thinking about your father, but now that I am I’ll say this: Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.”
~ To Kill a Mockingbird (Miss Maudie in a conversation with Scout)
We are going to teach by example. We are going to show up, be vulnerable, express our sadness, pain, joy, concerns. And when society tries to shame us into submission, we are going to take Brene Brown’s advise and not let them. And we’re going to teach our children, chiefly by example, that is not okay to shame anyone else—ever.
How do we not allow society, which most often shows up as a person trying to talk/shame us out of our emotions, to shame us? By simply stating, with calm, and even kind, conviction, “I refuse to let you shame me for my emotions. I am sad/in pain/upset/etc. right now. If you are not comfortable with that, then you might want to leave the room (my life?).”
“Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your holy ground.” ~ Brene Brown
I am confident my single-parent friend will choose the correct path for him, his children, the world, because I know and trust him to be a man who is willing and able to live in that authentic, necessarily vulnerable place.
And I sincerely hope you will join me in this vulnerable (scary!) quest. I hope you will be kind to yourself when, like me, you find yourself slipping and falling back into old patterns as you learn to move into a new, and hopefully better, way of being.
I hold a hope, a vision, that you and I can learn to be kind to, not only others, but also to ourselves when we “fail,” because that form of sweet, vulnerable self-allowing is also a most needed saving grace in our world.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Grace Cooley
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Jasmin Porčič/Pixoto