What purpose do men have in society? What need is there for men today?
As the family unit breaks down around us on a daily basis, there are an increasing number of men who are feeling cut loose, drifting on a sea of meaninglessness. Some of these men are fathers who returned home today to an empty house and a letter on the kitchen table. Some of them knew it was coming and will admit they deserved it. Others are not fathers yet, but 8 year old future-men whose childhood hero either just left that note on the kitchen table or who themselves tumbled into a car with their mum to live somewhere else, perhaps safer. Some of these are 'men-in-development', teenagers grappling with their male identity in a world of unprecedented sexual confusion.
Today even the definition of calling yourself a 'man' is under question. Is my gender a biological gift imprinted in my body, or is it a social ideological construct in my mind that I need to deconstruct, try to rediscover and then create myself? What a crazy time it must be to grow up as a boy in the world today. No solid concrete upon which to build a healthy construction. Instead, boys are handed a shifting beach on which to build a sand-hut that falls apart every time the waves wash in. It's a whole new ball-game.
Recently I attended a camp for men organised by a group called 'Men Alive'. I had attended a few of these before so knew what to expect. Some blokey joking and laughter, always good for the soul. Some honest, gut-wrenching sharing from guys you wouldn't normally expect to hear it from. Some singing and prayer on the Saturday night, a major highlight and turning point for many. Normally my role at these events is to turn up, help out by playing some music, connect with a few good fellas, get some inspiration for living stronger as a husband and father and go home. But this time I was struck by something more profound.
As I sat in a circle with 5-6 other regular guys from different places, we introduced ourselves and one by one slowly began to share a bit of our own stories, where we had come from, and some of the stuff we were dealing with in life, right now. Wow. I have not felt so humbled in quite a long time. I remember thinking 'and I thought I had s--t to deal with?' It was good for the soul to hear the honest, raw struggles of other men whom I had only just met. The trust they offered to let me in on their struggles was impressive, which challenged me to try and be as real about my own life. In three short days we had begun to support each other on a level that was deeper than I suspect many men go to their whole lives. I left with a profound internal question; "Who does this??" Not many. Not many at all.
This is what's needed in Australian society today - a rebirth of true community. A 'band of brothers' as the Men Alive team would call it. A safe place where the guard can come down, where guys can move past the work-based mask of 'so what do you do for a quid', to the place where there is a handful of solid guys you know who have got your back, who you could call on your phone in a heartbeat, and would drop everything if you needed them to. I have that in my life. And I am blessed to be able to say that I do.
Men today are doing it tough. I'm not taking anything away from women and their very real struggles as well; it's just that there's this pervading notion that somehow the Aussie male is meant to 'suck it up' and keep any overwhelming emotions he is experiencing to himself. Y'know, the 'strong and silent' stereotype. I don't know where we got that script from, but it sucks and has been sucking the life out of men for a long time.
Many women wonder, 'why do men get so angry?' Well, the truth is we're hurting - and this what men do when we're in pain. We get angry at ourselves for been so stupid and we get angry at life for not being fair. We get angry when we feel like the people we love most don't love us anymore - especially if those people are our own wives, daughters or sons. We get angry for getting angry, losing our s--t and not being able to say what's really going on inside. We get angry when we are sad but feel helpless with knowing what to do with our grief. You name it, if a guy is in pain, look for this cue. Note: Anger doesn't mean a man wants to be violent. It just means he's desperate to be heard.
Today, most guys who are feeling either lost, ashamed, guilty, useless or furious have few avenues open to them:
- Drown it in beer. 'Cos that always works
- Get back at her' or move on from the pain through a succession of one night stands or blinders led by well meaning but clueless mates
- Drown yourself in work - then rinse & repeat for the next 40 years
- Maybe ring 'Beyond Blue' or a similar help-line because it's too difficult to tell someone you know
- End up homeless or in a shelter because you blew everything or lost it in court
- Start taking drugs to numb the pain
- Commit suicide.
That sounds a bit extreme doesn't it? I mean, hopefully there a hundred other avenues before that last resort, yeah? Maybe. But if statistics are anything to go by though, often not. If what the difference means is having access to a couple of good, solid male friends who will not only share their spare room for a few nights, but listen to you properly, make time to catch up, actually give you good advice and, dare I add pray with you - in this culture, that's not so easy to find.
Unless there's a change. Unless there's a groundswell of good men who start asking each other how we're doing; really doing. An army of morally strong, compassionate, empathetic men who see it as their duty to be 'my brothers keeper'. Unless a generation of fathers commit to being the role models we need to be, and start investing in our sons to become courageous, morally strong young gentlemen. Unless boys are encouraged to stop viewing masculinity as something to fear and are affirmed by the women around them for their strength, and not belittled for it. If all that happened, I think we would be amazed at the blessing and nourishment society would receive as a result.
Men have a place. Men have a role. Men's souls are good. Let's encourage the sons, fathers, uncles, friends and brothers around us to look to the ultimate male role model, Jesus - and his Father in heaven - to become the men of blessing for this earth He designed us to be.
Written by Pat Keady
If you struggle with or are supporting someone with any of the issues mentioned in this article, you're not alone. First cab off the rank is to talk to someone you trust, or contact Beyond Blue for help and support. www.beyondblue.org.au
You can find out more about the ministry of Men Alive at www.menalive.org.au