If I think back about my first two months in lockdown, I’ve spent them pretty well. Gutting my garden… pulling six tonnes of concrete out of it. Drawing illustrations for buyers. And doing my best to be a decent father. My daughter who has just turned 13, looks after her own time mostly…. and even has a colour-coded schedule in excel (she didn’t get that from me!). My son though, needs interaction… he’s more extravert and misses his school friends. So I’ve had to adapt to being his friend as well as Dad. We have played Lego, thrown a frisbee, shot at wood blocks with a nerf gun, gardened, played hours of PlayStation game Subnautica together discovering virtual oceans.
Still, it’s been hard to measure time and so the days just seem to have disappeared.
One day it didn’t go so well, and we fell out over a game we were playing, with him swearing at me and then me getting angry at him … I became my Dad and shouted a lot. We were so angry… I shouted and he shouted back and I felt like a loser for losing my temper.
And then 30 minutes later we were okay with each other.
But it was enough to make me want to write again because I think, as a man, there is so much you don’t share for fear of looking weak, because you were taught that to share your feelings wasn’t what was expected of you, to get a grip. At least, that was true for my generation (Gen X) whose parents grew up in the war and recession and weren’t really taught about mental health.
My Dad became so isolated when he retired. He just used to sit and drink. I finally figured out that he had anxiety after he admitted to me that he was on medication. But he drank to not feel anything because his generation were never taught to talk about how they feel. Men need to be stoic and strong, and they shouldn’t feel.
But we do feel. And holding on to all that stuff isn’t healthy. I’m not talking about everyone wearing tie dye pants and acting like hippies. I’m talking about just being straight with each other now and again…. at least the ones that love us.
So I talked to my boy later after our argument, but I didn’t chastise him further. I just explained my feelings that led to me shouting, because he needs to know that men can share how they feel and still be strong.
You see so much rage out there on and offline these days. And I am convinced it’s partly because of the male attitude that exists … they simply won’t communicate when they have thoughts that they perceive to be weak. I am no different, and find it difficult.
But, even if we talk about feelings, we can still be men. Good fathers, good workers, good soldiers, good people.
Yes it shows strength when you ‘buckle down and push on’, but not at the cost of your mental health. Because the truth is, that a healthy mind makes you stronger.