Let's ponder great men
Katy Byrne, MA, LMFT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist living in the Bay Area for over 35 years and author of The Power of Being Heard. ConversationswithKaty.com.
I know it’s important to write about women’s rights. With our freedom under threat, it’s one more time around the merry-go-round. But we also need mature men to support and protect us.
Males are having growing pains too, if they are honest about it, in these turbulent times. And these days gender is a broad spectrum from she/he/they to binary, etc. But, the point of this writing is the masculine principle and how it plays out.
I remembered my father telling me how he grew up and learned to be a man. He said his father dropped a heavy pitchfork on him as a kid, from a high beam in their barn. Instead of being horrified, his dad acted like he didn’t care that he’d nearly killed his little boy – my dear, kind dad.
I’ll never forget that unusual look on dad’s face telling this story. His teeth tightly gripping his cigar, always such a gentle mouth, now he sneered, “I won’t ever forget that day.” His lips sealed shut, slowly removing his cigar. Almost as if grunting at his own father’s grave. His eyes were stony cold. I’d never seen my father like that, and he never mentioned his dad again.
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I imagine he wanted to be finished with it. I felt that he probably believed he was never loved. I wondered, if his father had embraced him or said something caring, maybe his life would have been different.
In Making Sense of Suffering, Konrad Stettbacher writes about crushing memories and unmet needs that leave us still longing: “I need to hear it, need to sense it, need to know that I am loved. Open your mouth for once Dad.”
For most of history, men weren’t allowed to have emotions. So, my father buried his dad inside himself and walked away. Sometimes the past stays stuck in us, like a scar. My dear dad was like many of his earlier generations – guys conditioned to be silent, tough, brutal, aloof, unavailable, dominating, or rude. I see their shame, their regret, in my therapy office, underneath the armor.
Males were taught to wield the sword, instead of dealing with their unmet needs and vulnerabilities. So, the beat goes on and legacies continue - the world is still run by rage and the impulse of the limbic brain to either throw bowling balls through the air, make bombs, hold power over others, or implode, shutting down with heart attacks or depression.
Male psychotherapist Terrence Real describes it well in: I Don’t Want to Talkabout It: “To the degree to which a man learns to be strong, and to devalue weakness, his compassion towards frailty, not just in himself but also in those around him may be limited or condescending… the loss of expressivity and the loss of vulnerability inevitably lead to diminished connection with others….”
National or personal defenses block connection, manifesting in stiff upper lips, stern words, sore backs, or a secretly crumbling Humpty Dumpty with a nice guy front. But, the world needs something else desperately, as Terrence Real writes: “Sons don’t want their father’s balls; they want their hearts.”
In the years to come, both men and women will emerge with more whole, integrated selves. That is my hope. We desperately need great men to bequeath to their children an authentic, solid self – able to assert their wishes and also allow their soft underbellies, valuing cooperation above domination, competition and greed.
I still yearn, long after his passing, to walk with my dad to the coffee shop and have more conversations. I wish we could talk about what it would be like to have a world full of good men – with integrity, concern for the common good, empathy and kind words.