I was five when my 45-year-old father overdosed on sleeping pills. According to his diary, which I found many years later, he had become increasingly withdrawn and depressed because he couldn’t make a living from supporting his family. There are millions of men today who feel the same pain. Do not give up. There is hope. Take it. You’re not alone.
The last entry in my father’s diary, written six days before his overdose, still brings me to tears:
“A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now my trust, my hope, my belief in myself has been completely exhausted. In middle age, I stand and look ahead numb, confused, and desperately concerned. All around me I see the boys in the spirit, the boys in the heart, with tenfold confidence, twofold youth, tenfold zeal, and twofold education. ”
“I see them all, a whole army of them banging on the same doors that I beat, on the same field that I try. Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November my hope and my flow of life are desperately running out, so deep, so stagnant that I hold my breath in fear and believe that the dark, empty curtain is about to come down. “
Even though he didn’t die, our life was never the same.
I wrote about our twin journeys in my book My Distant Father: Healing the Family Father’s Wound. The epigraph at the beginning of the book captures the experience of millions of children like me. “Children have a hole in the soul in the form of their father. And when a father is unwilling or unable to take on that role, he can leave a wound that is not easy to heal. “- Roland Warren.
Suicide is the ultimate loss of soul, and for too many men it is the end of a life that could have been saved in a recent article. Washington Post social scientist Arthur C. Brooks describes the suicide epidemic in middle-aged and older men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47,173 Americans died from suicide in 2017, which is higher in both number and percentage of the population than it has ever been since the CDC’s earliest published statistics in 1950.
Two groups appear to have played a large part in suicides: men between the ages of 45 and 64 and men over the age of 75.
I turned seventy-seven last week. I spent my entire life trying to understand what happened to my father, living in fear that it might happen to me and most of all I wanted to prevent the soul murder that makes men feel so lonely and so desperate that they are ready to give up their lives to end their shame and suffering. I was wondering where did it all start?
The first culprit in the loss of the male soul is the father’s wound. According to the National Center for Fatherhood, “More than 20 million children live in homes without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent. If classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency. ”
The psychologist James Hollis says:
“A father may be physically present but absent in spirit. His absence may be literally through death, divorce, or dysfunction, but more often it is a symbolic absence through silence and the inability to convey what he may not have acquired. ”
The father’s wound touches the lives of millions and most are not even aware of the impact it has on our lives.
The second is the loss of intimate male friendships as we move through puberty. According to Dr. Niobe Way in her book Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Connection Crisis,
“Longitudinal studies of mixed-method friendships conducted with Black, Latin American, Asian, and Euro-American boys over the past two decades highlight three themes: (1) The importance of boys sharing their secrets with their close friends to be able to ;; (2) the importance of close friendships in boys’ mental health; and (3) the loss but persistent desire for close male friendships as boys transitioned from middle to late adolescence. ”
Dr. Way concludes that
“While boys often had intimate male friendships in their early and middle teens, they usually lost such friendships in their late teens when they wanted them to continue.”
The third is our adult masculine emphasis on economic success at the expense of masculine intimacy. Like many modern men, I entered the adult world with two goals. First, to earn as much money as possible to achieve my second goal: to find a beautiful woman who would love me forever, to give me children who would honor and support me like my father never could, and live happily.
For me, other men were simply competitors that I had to conquer on my way to the top of the ladder of success. It took two divorces and being fired from my dream job to realize that my ladder to success was leading me away from what I needed. I had coworkers I worked with, but I didn’t have time to make friends and the few old friends I’d driven away when I spent more time at work.
The fourth culprit concerns the many masks we wear to cover our pain. Few men would admit our lives are messed up, and even fewer would attribute our problems to loneliness. In his book Lonely at the Top, psychologist Thomas Joiner says:
“Men resort to solutions that feel like solutions in the short term, but in the long run, more“ band aid ”responses that only make the problem of male loneliness worse. These substitute solutions include things like extramarital sex, divorce, booze, guns, NASCAR, and golf. ”
“As they get older,” says Joiner, “men tend to drift away and wither, and when they do, they avoid healthy solutions.” A 2008 study found that men, far more than women, had difficulty trusting others and asking for help, including from health professionals. A post-mortem account of a suicide suspect, a man in his sixties, stated, “He had no friends … He was uncomfortable with other men … He did not trust doctors and would not seek help even though he knew he needed help . ‘”
Vivek H. Murthy, MD, is the 19th surgeon general in the United States. In his book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, he describes one of the most common ways men can escape pain by using substances like alcohol. He quotes Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), who described the link between alcoholism and loneliness:
“Almost without exception,” wrote Wilson, “alcoholics are tortured by loneliness. Before our drinking went bad and people started cutting us off, almost everyone felt that we weren’t quite part of them. Either we were shy and didn’t dare to approach others, or we tended to be noisy, good people who demanded attention and camaraderie but never got it – at least not according to the way we thought. There was always a mysterious barrier that we could neither overcome nor understand . “
Bill Wilson has joined forces with Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob) to create a global scholarship that has helped save millions of lives. I found a group of men. I realized that I was feeling desperately alone and increasingly depressed. I was on my way to following my father’s path to destruction when I saw an announcement on a bulletin board near my Mill Valley home: Come visit us for a gathering of men and hear Dr. Herb Goldberg speaks about the dangers of being a man.
I attended the meeting and was surprised to see that the room was filled with about 60 other men. Goldberg asked, “Are the Americans an endangered species?” Up until that moment, I would have laughed at the idea. I thought men were privileged and let them do it. But when I thought about my father’s life and my own emotional state, I nodded in agreement. He went on to say:
“The man has paid a high price for his male privilege and power. He has no contact with his emotions and his body. He plays according to the rules of the male game board and destroys himself with a lemming-like goal – emotionally, mentally and physically. “
The day of that conversation was transformative, but it was only the beginning of something even better. Following the lecture, one of the group organizers invited interested participants to meet next Wednesday to form a men’s group. Twelve men came, and after an evening of discussion, eight of us decided to continue. Our men’s group continues to meet regularly. My wife, Carlin, attributes the success of our 40-year marriage to the fact that I’ve been in a men’s group for 41 years.
After writing 15 books on various aspects of men and masculinity, I thought I had written my last book. I assumed my wife would be happy that I finally had more time for her. But she surprised me. “You have to write one last book. Men and women need to understand the armor that men must put on to meet the demands of society. Men need the support and guidance you received from your men’s group. “
My wife is a wise woman and I followed her lead. My 16th book, 12 Rules for Good Men, was published earlier this year. The first rule for men is “join a group of men”. It is the first step in regaining the male soul that has been lost for so many of us. I believe men are the canaries in the coal mine who alert us to the problems we are facing in the world. Men are also our best hope to save humanity.
So I’m really excited about the work of Sean Galla, the founder of MensGroup.com, whose mission is to create a community full of conversation where guys feel comfortable sharing what is really going on in their life. Being in a men’s group gives us the opportunity to heal the male soul. If we can do that, we can team up with women to heal the soul of our troubled world. I look forward to your comments and questions. For more articles exploring the lives of men and the families they love, visit me here.
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