Male vulnerability seems to be a pretty hot topic lately, especially when kids come into the picture. You see growing up as a man, there is a definite pressure to be tough. Men are supposed to be tough and women are supposed to be loving and nurturing. This is just how it seems to be growing up in the US. I personally believe there are two sides to this coin. Life has its times to be tough, and it has its times to be loving and nurturing, what is, I believe unfair here is the gender bias. Women have times where they need to be tough, and men have their times to be loving and vulnerable.
As a grown man, there are plenty of situations that I have encountered that require this “tough” we talk about. There are also a plethora of opportunities for vulnerability. I as many other men were raised to take advantage of the “tough” ones and maybe not always the “vulnerable” ones. Somewhere in my mid twenties I began to value the vulnerable side a bit more. For me this changed the game. Getting married and having children definitely opens up this gateway further. And to be honest I am thrilled. Being plugged in emotionally is a big bonus in your relationships. Well I feel that it is. But its not an easy spot to be. Part of the deal is the exposure, being hurt is an option, and its available. But really what other choice is there, to not make yourself available. To just exist on your own little tough island. Sounds pretty terrible to me.
Rue crushed me the other night. She is 2 and a half, and is in one of these phases now where she wants her mom when she is tired. She wants her to hold her, she wants her to put her to sleep, and she wants her to help her. Dad is a very distant second place. I am beginning to think she would pick just about anyone before she would pick me. On the contrary, this couldn’t be further from the truth when she is not tired. She loves her papa.
Our bedtime routine starts out with Mama nursing Ace, and Papa giving Rue a bath and brushing her teeth. When we get to the bedroom we switch, and I put Ace (11 months) to sleep, and Mama puts Rue to sleep. Two nights ago, in pretty regular fashion lately, Ace could not fall asleep and she wanted Mama. She has been teething for 4 or 5 months now so its been fairly challenging keeping her asleep. So Rue is stuck with yours truly. And she was effin pissed. Screaming pissed. She had been whining and screaming for about 3 hours at this point. We were all pretty damn over each other. Everyone was tired, and had short fuses. Rue is screaming things like “No Papa” as I lay next to her in her bed quietly. Eventually the flurry of screaming subsided for a bit with a well placed binky, when she pulled her binky out and uttered words I would be thrilled if I never heard again. She said “I don’t love you papa.”
The thud of these words was so deep in my heart, I almost lost my breath. Now, I realize this is not true, and she was out of her mind when she said this. If you didn’t know overtired children do all kinds of crazy things. But let me tell you about the burn of this. I still get pukey when I think about it. Vulnerable is an understatement in this case. I felt like I wanted to run out of the room, right through the wall. Sleep deprived, still a bit congested from being sick the past week, frustrated as hell with our children, hungry for dinner, and she drops this fucking bomb on me. Wow, hit a guy while he is down. I was crushed. And then she put her binky back in her mouth and fell asleep and just left me there in dark silence to deal with those vicious words.
I didn’t say anything about this until the next day. I just sat on how it made me feel. I felt so exposed, so vulnerable, so hurt, and at the same time still hopelessly in love with my girl. Its quite a dilemma. I have always known my vulnerability was there, and sometimes I have spent years trying to get away from it. Children are plugged right in. They have access at all times.
Being a father is such a gift. Such a gift that is wrought with challenges and growth. As men we need to embrace our vulnerability, we need to embrace our feelings, and know ourselves. We need to be loving and we need to be tough. Our children depend on our leadership into these dark corners of our being. They have a lengthy journey ahead of them, and direction we must provide. Implicit in our role as fathers is work on ourselves. We must reach into those dark corners and understand our part in our journey. And moreover we must understand our role in their journey, and how our experiences shape our actions. And how our actions shape their learning.
Children have to learn, well everything. They will learn what joy is, they will also learn sadness, they will learn anger, regret, and disappointment. They will learn these things from someone. They will learn how to communicate about what they are feeling as well. They will learn how to express themselves in all of these states. How do you deal with these things? Could you talk yourself through these feelings? Its really weird talking to a small child about navigating what they are feeling, and helping them to make sense of it. Especially when you are the brunt of the other side. This is a beauty of parenting for sure. Its also a really big damn challenge. A lot of adulting happening over here.
As fathers we need to show our vulnerability. Our children need providers and protectors, but they also dearly need to be loved and they need to be nurtured. Step up to the plate in the vulnerability department and I think you will be very happy with the result. Being plugged in with your family truly is a very freeing experience. The switch over from the rigors of the outside world to the innocence of the world of a child is sometimes a pretty challenging transition. Dealing with traffic and road rage on the way home after a long day, and then walking into your front door to smiling faces is a pretty drastic environment change. Sometimes I imagine walking through a car wash right as I open the door to the house. It helps me visualize the transition.
Be available emotionally for your kids. Be available emotionally for your wife. Be vulnerable in your life. I am not too worried about your ability to be tough, we men have a knack for being pretty solid in this department. We need men that are emotionally connected. We need men that are tough enough to be vulnerable.