When my father was still alive and I was still just a boy, he didn’t want me to cry or show emotion because he wanted me to be like him.
That notion of masculinity—the strong, silent, suffering, John Wayne type—still haunts us. When boys and young men get hurt, so many of us are quick to tell them just to “suck it up,” “deal with it,” or “be a man.” Maybe that should be the answer in some instances, but certainly not all.
Because when we squelch the emotions of a boy and constantly tell him to keep them bottled up, he will do so until his dying day. When we tell a young man not to be authentic and transparent, is it any wonder that he grows up to be an adult man suffering a divorce because he can’t emotionally connect or communicate with his wife?
So, how do we stem this tide and end the generational curse of emotionally unavailable men?
By modeling to our sons what it means to be a truly strong man.
In The Father Effect documentary, Afshin Ziafat said, “The biggest thing I wish my dad would have shown me was transparency and sensitivity. The lie is: to be a man, you can’t really expose your wounds . . . . To be a man, you gotta somehow put up the walls and not let anyone ever see into your heart, your struggles. I wish I would have seen my dad express some of those emotions openly with me so that he would have shown me that it’s OK, that it’s good, in fact, to let down your walls and let some people into your heart.”
If such vulnerability and transparency were never modeled for you, and yet you desire to model it for your son(s), heed John Eldredge’s words: “Guys, primarily, are faking it—scared to death to be known . . . . We are just terrified that if you really see me, you're gonna laugh. You're gonna leave, right? You're gonna be appalled. . . . The journey towards an authentic masculinity and authentic brotherhood involves a willingness to quit faking it, to just go, ‘Look, I'm done with the poser. I'm sick of that guy. It's the false self. It's the mask I put on to the world. I'm just sick of it. I'm done with that life. I don't wanna be that guy anymore.’”
Pause here and think about yourself. What masks do you wear every day? What persona do you hide behind? Why is the guy at your office, the guy at the bar, and the guy at your home all different people, even though he still has your face?
Is it because, like Eldredge said, you’re “scared to death to be known”? I know I was. And I still fall prey to that sometimes. But to mature from being a boy to being a real man for my wife, my daughters, and myself, I had to drop the masks I’d come to love. I had to let the real me be truly known, which — no lie — can be terrifying.
But it’s the only way to stop living a double life. So start getting real with yourself, your spouse, your kids, and your friends. Once you get real about your own struggles and issues, you may just be surprised by the number of friends and others who have those same struggles too.
John Finch is the author of The Father Effect: Hope and Healing from a Dad’s Absence and creator and storyteller of The Father Effect Movie.