This is an adapted excerpt from my November 2013 TEDx Corpus Christi Talk titled “Redefining Strength in Manhood.”
Strength: The Problem
When I married Olivia, I brought into my marriage the ability to express myself in only two ways, anger and humor. This would seem perfectly fine for many men in the U.S. I know personally because I was taught that it is unmanly to cry, be afraid, worried, or anything else that can be considered weakness. Having strength is manly. Nothing can be worse for a man than to not be considered a man, right? A strong man did not express his feelings, because he had to be tough, un-phased by touchy-feely stuff, and in control. Today, it is manly to talk about sports, cars, and maybe politics. What if our view of strength in manhood has been skewed? What if that narrow view of strength is hurting our marriages and other relationships?
Showing love came easily when no one else was around and when things were going well. In tough times, however, I would often take on a defensive stance expressing myself through anger, which scared my wife.
If I managed to refrain from expressing anger, I would take on a boyish stance laughing off the situation with a joke or off comment. In other words, I would try to deflect the conversation with humor. That would really frustrate Olivia when we were trying to resolve something serious in our relationship. It showed immaturity in the man she married.
Arguments between Olivia and I were frustrating for me, too. Olivia was, and still is, able to express everything on the full spectrum of human emotion translating her feelings into something called “words.” While she would express herself clearly, all I could express was anger. I was never really equipped with language that would allow me to express to others in a safe manner how I felt.
Over time, I learned that my wife did not need a “strong” man in the sense of a man who never showed any signs of weakness like emotions. In fact, my approaches did not show strength at all. They were actually demonstrations of immaturity. I took the tantrums I would express as a child and perfected them into something that was menacing.
Olivia needs someone who was strong enough to show weakness. What I mean is that she needs someone who was strong enough to express the full spectrum of human emotion with her. She wants and needs me to be that someone.
I had to learn to speak her language for myself as well as for her.
That spectrum includes emotions like the following:
- And so much more
There is no weakness in being able to express more emotions with the ones you love. Being able to express more emotions, I think, makes men more complete. Incompleteness is, to me, weakness. Completeness is strength and maturity.
The Benefits of Taking a Deeper Look into Strength for Husbands and Fathers
What if we redefined strength to include allowing men to express emotions without ridicule from others?
How much better would our relationships be?
Not only would marriages thrive if men found strength in humility and weakness, but also the relationships of men with their children.
I recently made the mistake of yelling at Jacob over something very trivial. The situation was stupid to begin with. I had been playing Call of Duty on Jacob’s XBox. Sure, I’m a kid at heart. Most people don’t realize that I’m 40 years old now. CoD has a way of getting me to vent and spew lots of angry sounding words as kids around the world pull off trick shots and lots of other “impossible” moves. Jacob approached me and told me to chill. “It’s just a game dad!” he said to me. My response was far from the right thing to do.
Instead of saying he was right, I established by dominance in the conversation, and completely shut him down. I won as the authority figure, but I was not the stronger man in that room. My son was. The desire to show my son how to be an even-tempered man by my example was out the window. I was the example of what not to do.
Strength was required for me to remember this TEDx Talk from 2013, to keep in mind what this blog is all about, and the vision I have to be a Christ-like father to my son. It took a lot of courage to embrace weakness and conclude the following:
- I was wrong 100%
- I abused my position as Jacob’s father
- I resorted to anger to establish control rather than communicate for understanding
- To win in my relationship with my son, I needed to humbly and genuinely let him know that I was wrong
- I needed to be accountable to my own standards
So, I went to him and calmly asked if I could have a hug. It was during that hug I apologized, told him that he was 100% right, and that I was 100% wrong in my actions, my words, and my tone. No excuses. I was wrong.
Jacob forgave me, but we didn’t end the conversation there.
Olivia was a part of a bigger conversation that identified a blind spot within me that served as a trigger point. There seemed to be a strong correlation between playing shooter games like Call of Duty and my explosive temper. I denied it for years. As a whole, I wouldn’t say I have suffered from PTSD, yet Liv said there was something about gaming that brought out the worst in me. It looked like my mindset was on a war footing afterwards. It was when she said that while she did not see what I was like in Operation Iraqi Freedom, she felt we all caught a glimpse after I played CoD for a few hours.
Jacob’s best months around me are the months I went without playing XBox in 2014 and 2015.
Wake up call.
Jacob and Olivia saw strength in my taking responsibility and accountability, not in my “being the king of the home” or by “putting my foot down.” Their respect for me went up many notches by my ability to say I was wrong, to be humble, and to be held accountable to my actions.
If you’re asking if I have stopped playing XBox shooter games, that is an obvious, yes. Jacob was even willing to throw his shooter games away for my sake. Like I told him, he’s already a better man than I’ll ever be.
Still No Excuses
Only showing anger drives fear into the hearts of the children we were gifted to raise. Some will think that not showing anger somehow removes discipline from child-rearing, or that discipline is about how menacing we can be in front of our children. Those people are wrong. Being menacing is just that, menacing. A 20-something or 30-something year old man will appear like a giant to a child who is only 3-years old, even to a 14-year old.
It is possible to raise and discipline our children without screaming at them. We can discipline children through modeling of behaviors that we wish them to exhibit in themselves. Children learn from what we do, and how we do those actions, more than they learn from what we say. We limit our own experiences and cheat our children when we show them only a part of ourselves emotionally.
Related Articles on Strength in Manhood
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This post was originally published on April 30, 2014 on The Real Jerry Dugan.