Don’t tell him to “man up.”
What he really needs is a hug, a listening ear, and unconditional love.
I am not sure what is obtainable elsewhere, but where I come from, the birth of a male child evokes excitement, relief, and expectations—he is indebted to the world even before he is born.
Congratulatory handshakes are usually firmer. Smiles are significantly broader. Laughter scales an octave higher than usual.
Fathers receive special recognition for a job well-done—receiving praise for simply releasing the desired “Y” chromosome. Wives earn a pat on the back for the safe delivery of such precious cargo.
Like every other baby, he cries inconsolably upon arrival. He craves attention, and it’s given freely. Self-expression draws no judgment as tears trickle down his cheeks. Emotional and physical support with no strings attached is accessible. He feels love and is loved.
There is a genuine connection, an open line of communication, between mother and child—between woman and man. He lets down his guard because he feels valued, seen, and heard. He chuckles, babbling arrhythmic sounds to the delight of all witnessing his growth.
The soul garden nourishing his entire being is green, full of life.
Life is good—fair. But is it really?
He doesn’t know it yet, but as soon as he can walk, he, like his father and father’s father, will receive an axe to begin his own journey.
He must be strong—it’s demanded of him—because he is a man. Exhibiting weakness will attract rebuke from his folks, jeers from his peers, and frustration from himself.
The baby is now a boy.
Thanks to testosterone brewing in his testicles (puberty), he must answer the call to manhood—to serve, defend, and uphold his father’s name.
In an unspoken rite of passage, he inherits name, land, wealth, debt, and responsibilities—a casting down and tearing apart of his emotional and mental well-being. He is a man and, therefore, must be strong.
He is tested, again and again, thrown in the deep end, with little or no attention to his psychological needs. This makes him shut down; he feels the need to be tough as nails, often resulting in passive-aggressive behaviour.
They don’t know it yet, but he, like his father and father’s father, will chop his way into a psychological cul-de-sac with the axe.
Every time he is told not to cry and “be strong because he is a man,” the ability and desire for self-expression will slowly fade away. He wants to say how he truly feels so that the world can better understand him and his needs, but guilt haunts him at night and shame by day.
What will my family think? What will my friends say? Won’t the world mock me for being open and vulnerable?
With no progressive options in sight, he swallows his words and projects his pride—his soul is a toxic graveyard of unsaid truths and unexpressed emotions, waiting to destroy him and others around.
When other men in his life abandon ship—lost in the abyss of their own perverse ways—he steps up and into shoes bigger than his; the added pressure to provide forces him to grow up even faster.
Life is hard—unforgiving. He must evolve or perish under the weight of expectations.
The boy is now a man.
The wall is complete. A monster, an unapologetic narcissist, is born. The once lush garden of emotions has become a valley of dry bones. He is a man who is both mentally and emotionally tone-deaf.
Powered by fully synthesized testosterone and increased muscle mass, his show of strength is a show of shame. He preys on the weak, forcefully taking that which isn’t his to take—but his to protect.
He is an absolute mess—an accident waiting to happen. He wanders the Earth destroying relationships, unable to communicate his feelings, thoughts, and emotions effectively.
Even when he attempts compassion, he lacks the tools to express empathy appropriate for the occasion. Perplexed by the demands of society, he wields an axe when a butter knife would suffice.
He is depressed, blinded by anger, ego, and shame, and is heading for ground zero—an implosion is imminent. He wants to cry out for help, but the stigma in his community is brutal.
He is a man—he ought to be strong.
Anxiety is crushing his soul. Reaching out to other men is awkward—they are either struggling themselves or painfully absent-minded.
His mental health is in free fall, leading to substance abuse—drugs and alcohol are his companions on the high way to hell.
With no progressive options forthcoming, he attempts suicide.
He is a man who was told to “man up” all his life. When he fell and hurt his knee as a boy, “suck it up” was the response. His tears dried up before they left his eyes for fear of being seen by others. No matter how full his heart was, everything stayed bottled in. “Be strong,” they said.
If truth anchors strength, then his entire life has been a lie.
The only way to find himself is to revive and reconnect with the beautiful garden that once was—a paradise of peace, a sanctuary for self-discovery. But his emotional bandwidth is too low to send or receive the signals required to ignite a spark.
He is a man—a disillusioned boy sold dreams as a baby. He is a man who is suffering in silence.
Trapped in his own mind, abandoned by his people, and stigmatized by the world, who will save this man who ought to save everyone else?