Men’s Work and the Wounded Child
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here to protect you.”
Given how much trauma is done to boys and men over the course of our lives by our Man Box culture of masculinity, by the time we even CONSIDER doing some self reflection, some kind of men’s work, it can feel like looking into a dark well with no bottom.
I wish I could tell you men’s work is easy or quick. It’s not. As young boys, the world bullies us out of authentic emotional expression and connection. Once we’re isolated, hiding our authentic selves, it slots us into a hierarchical dominance-based culture of masculinity
For years, often for decades, we struggle to live up to Man Box culture’s rules for being a man. Be tough. Don’t show emotion. Get lots of sex. Make lots of money. Control women and girls. Never show pain. Talk sex or cars, nothing deep. Be heterosexual. Etc.
Rules, Judy Chu shows in her book When Boys Become Boys, we are trained to take on at age FOUR or earlier. Before we’re even old enough to understand what’s happening to us, we let go of our authentic connecting selves, hide our emotional acuity, take on false stoic facades.
Watch the joy boys show in their friendships. We’ve all seen it in our young sons. By late adolescence, boys let go of close friendships. Niobe Way documents this in her book Deep Secrets. At which point, boys’ suicide rates become four times that of girls their age.
How much trauma/bullying does it take to force young boys to give up their close friendships? Friendships they say they would “go crazy” without? Platonic friendships with boys they say they “love” unashamedly. This is the impact of our dominance-based culture of masculinity.
Cigna’s study on loneliness reveals that more than half of Americans feels sometimes or always alone. Man Box culture is a huge driver. Boys, slotted into dominance based masculine culture, are taught to dominate those around them or loose status.
How do we fix this? For our children, we create spaces for them to share their full authentic selves. As parents, teachers, coaches, we can invite them into ongoing discussions. We can LISTEN to to how they are making meaning. We can learn from them. Make them feel valued.
For us as men, there is men’s work. Circles of acceptance, support, and connection. Organizations like The Mankind Project do this work. Remaking Manhood offers our podcast. Therapy allows for us to do this work. Find what works for you. Find your way in from the cold, back into connection.
It’s time for men to create a healthy masculine culture of authentic emotional expression and connection. We owe it to all the boys coming along behind, to all the women, girls and non binary people who’s lives we impact in so many harmful ways. We owe it to ourselves.
I have done my men’s work. I continue to do it. It isn’t something that ever ends. The work is to descend into that deep well and see ourselves staring back at us. Versions of boyhood selves filled with rage and grief. Childhood selves who still feel abandoned, bullied, lost.
For decades, that descent into the well of grief felt impossible. Fifty years old and I COULD NOT descend to face the loss that Man Box culture sowed throughout my life. That the violence and bullying done to me, I also did to others. That I was the monster, too.
I finally went to do my men’s work, the resistance welling up in me, a tidal wave of denial. The pain overwhelmed it, broke lose, became dynamic, lashing me. The men around me knew that pain. They knew it so very well. They made space for me to weep, to rage. I am weeping now.
I can not tell you the grief that arrived in my mens work when I realized how much caring human connection has been lost to me. A long dim hallway leading back down the decades, each doorway a relationship, a friendship, a life partner, closed off, barred by my own actions.
In my work, I found that raging young boy. I said to him, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to protect you. Someone should have been here, but they were not. But I can protect you now. I’m here now. You’re not alone any more.” Some call this reintegration. For me it is the deepest kind of self care.
Men’s work is not easy. But, oh, the beautiful, elegant, wounded, hilarious, brave, compassionate men I now call friends. They are miracles walking the world. I count myself one among them. I have love to offer myself and others. I can now listen to and hear the men I meet.
A healthy masculinity of expression/connection created in partnership with women, non binary people is the only path forward if we are ever to be free.
Want to learn more about breaking out of Man Box culture? Our books, podcasts and more are here: linktr.ee/RemakingManhood