As I turned down the aisle in my local grocery store this summer, I observed a little boy with his father and as I got closer, I noticed the little boy was crying. I'm assuming the issue was from a prior incident because all I heard the father say to him was: "You're still mad? Stop crying; you ain't no girl." Now, clearly, none of my business but damn, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the kid and even more interested in how that statement impacted his own self image and understanding of manhood. Which led me to ask: What does it mean to be a man today? As a man, what are some of your first thoughts in response?
Certainly I cannot fully answer this question as a young woman on the brink of 30 but I do have some expectations in mind. And I can only imagine some of the responses I'd get to this question from my male counterparts. I might also imagine that those responses probably would not include descriptions like, emotionally jaded or really anything that includes emotions at all. Why is that?
Well one reason seems to be linked with the fact that the norm across cultures is that manhood happens to always be synonymous with terms such as strength and fortitude. But what about the other side of that strength: I'm talking about the vulnerabilities, the fears, and, dare I say it, the tears? If we don't even respectfully consider those aspects of manhood, then how can we truly even begin to answer this question of what it means to be a man. What does this mean for our relationships and marriage? And how do we begin to teach our sons to be complete, emotionally conscious and spiritually sound men?
Emotions equal weakness; isn't that what it comes down to? But power is complex. And being the powerful beings that we are, as human beings, emotions are at the core of who we are, what we are. We all feel some way about something and suppressing that only creates limitations, strangles understanding, and waters down our experiences.
I know I started this off with a story about a little boy crying and I don't want you to think that's what this article is about. Now although this father told his son: "stop crying, you ain't no girl," I do understand where he was coming from. He wants his son to be strong and find another way of expressing his feelings, beyond tears. But standing there watching this father and son, I couldn't help but feel that this message was incomplete. I was waiting for the part of the conversation where this father offered guidance in how his son should handle how he was feeling. Instead, the only message this kid got was to "stop."
I'm not challenging the men reading this to go cry it out, although, I'm not against that form of release. But I really want to challenge any man reading this to raise his awareness and be honest with yourselves about what you're feeling, honor it, and then process it. Don't just "shake it off" or "suck it up" as I've overheard most guys told. Take time to reflect on it, meditate, and then seek a solution. Even if it hurts...especially if it hurts.
Connie Jones is a licensed clinical professional counselor in the state of Maryland. She studied psychology at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland and studied Clinical Counseling at Trinity Washington University, where she earned her master’s degree. She has worked for years providing outpatient mental health care in Montgomery County Maryland and started her own practice, Bloom Therapeutics, LLC, in 2016 where she specializes in supporting adult women of color who are working to overcome unique challenges, including those related to transition, motherhood, and self-esteem.