As a society, we talk a lot about what men have done wrong or ways they need to improve; from not taking out the trash, to not calling their kids on their birthdays, to cheating on their wives. We talk about the men who just cannot figure out how to speak to women to save their lives and those lacking common sense. For years, I spent energy talking about all the ways my dad didn’t show up for me instead of focusing on the sacrifice he made for our country, spending 24 years in the military. The wasted energy talking and lamenting about how he let me down in so many ways served me no good.
I realized rather recently that on the whole, we do not talk enough about what men might need from us (or from society). The men and boys in our lives, especially those who are showing up for us, deserve to be valued and for us to recognize that they’re humans with the same need for emotional support.
Now, before you jump to the other side of crazy, know that I know how good men have it (and often unfairly, simply because they’re men). I know that we as women earn less in the workplace compared to men, and I know that men are praised far too often for dumb shit. This article is not about any of those things. I am sharing tangible ways we can show up for the men in our lives — not only our fathers or our brothers, but all men, simply by keeping some things in mind.
Recently, I came across an Instagram post which shared a few ways we can support and understand men from their perspectives. I took them to heart because their words made me think a little deeper and made me question how I show up for the men in my life.
Men do not have emotional support systems like women do.
When I get upset or need to vent about someone in my life, I call my friends. When I want to work something out emotionally, I might call a family member and emotionally vomit on them. Many men do not have that. It is important that they do. Everyone needs someone to talk to, to confide in, to go to for advice and love. Think about all of the men in your life; do they have a support system like that? They deserve one. Everybody does.
Not surprisingly, men are just as likely to suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as women — but don’t seek help as often. The reasons for this are twofold, says a study in JAMA Psychology. First, because “traditional depressive symptoms (eg, sadness, crying) are at odds with societal ideals of masculinity, men may be reluctant to report experiencing these symptoms.” And second, “[M]en’s experiences of depression may manifest with symptoms that are not currently included in traditional diagnostic criteria” — things like anger, throwing themselves into work or exercise, engaging in risky behaviors, or substance abuse.
An article in the New York Times sums it up best: “All of this wouldn’t be such a problem if men were as effective as women at creating social support networks that double as therapy.”
Men communicate in a direct and straightforward way: Hints do not work.
Beating around the bush is ineffective; the more direct, the better. “Studies indicate that women, to a greater extent than men, are sensitive to the interpersonal meanings that lie ‘between the lines’ in the messages they exchange with their mates,” says Cynthia Burggraf Torppa, Ph.D, with Ohio State University Extension.
Communicate with them in honest and open ways that clearly state your intention, request, question, or ask of them. It sounds like most men want and need this kind of communication. I am also the sister of a 20-something brother who also needs this. It takes a little longer to explain (whatever it is), but it certainly saves me from a headache in the long run. Be direct with them all of the time.
Men have human feelings just like the rest of us.
They get hurt, sad, depressed, lonely, happy, and every emotion in between. And they are allowed and entitled to have (and feel) them all. We should hear them out, and realize that while they may be approaching emotional interactions through a different lens than we are — and expressing them in different ways — the same emotions are still at the heart.
I am the mother of a Black teenager who is growing into a man. As his mom, it is part of my job to teach and show him that he is loved and valued. But the fact is, he will grow into more of a target. Some people will be afraid of him simply because of his skin color. Others will look at his height and fear him. It’s not until he smiles his bright, warm, loving smile that people may chill out for a minute and recognize that he is not a threat. That underneath his Black skin, he is a young man simply trying to figure out who he is. It matters to me that we uplift boys like him a bit more, hold their hand when they need it, root them on from the sidelines, and be emotionally available.
You can acknowledge the harm men do and the unfair advantages they have and also realize that they are human and they need care. Men are not a monolith, and we can’t treat them as such. If we want to raise more empathetic men who are willing to step up, we have to treat them accordingly. You can’t just demand a change in attitudes without giving them the tools to do so.
It matters to me when I can walk down a street, or on the subway platform, and make eye contact with a man without thinking the worst of him. Without some sort of preconceived idea about what his intentions are or where he’s heading. The men and boys in our lives can use a little extra appreciation, love and support, so let’s give them some.
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