Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 16 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Crying like a man

Last night, I cried. ‘So what,’ you say. ‘It’s 2016, Richard, you idiot. Men are allowed to cry and to feel emotion.’ Well, yes, they are. But I cried after weeks of feeling angry and weeks of doing DIY with a kind of deranged zeal, even through a cold that had me sweating as I was painting like a lunatic whose life depended on getting the floor a perfect white. I cried because the hurt and pain finally got me and I cried because, in love, I have made myself vulnerable and opened myself to the possibility of being hurt. I cried and then the cry became a howl, desperate and inarticulate.

I’m part of what’s been described as a ‘buffer generation,’ growing up between dads who had been taught that men never showed emotion and today’s children and teenagers for whom emotions are a natural part of existence. My dad’s generation were good men, ill-served by what they were taught, and I’m openly envious when I hear conversations in the street where young men are talking to their girlfriends about how they feel about something or when I see young dads cuddling their sons quite openly and telling them that they love them. It’s like growing up with a map that says London is in Scotland and then realising that said map is entirely wrong. And your problem is that everyone else is using the correct one.

In past blogs, I’ve described how anger was the only male emotion it was legitimate to feel and Hollywood and related industries doesn’t do much to refute that. This afternoon, I was looking at secondhand games for my PS3, and was confronted with a wall of men holding guns in various poses and in various epochs, wanting to kill Nazis or achieve vengeance. When I watched The Man In The High Castle, a bookish escapee from a concentration camp is killed by a bounty hunter. Neither is an inspired piece of casting. The man from the camp has glasses and a studious, diffident manner, while the bounty hunter is a cowboy. The message here is clear: if you’re bookish, you die, but if you’re hard and mean, you do the killing.

Never mind, of course, that anyone who had survived a camp would be possessed of ratlike cunning and have their survival instincts sharpened to a stiletto-like point, quite capable of killing a poxy bounty hunter. Hard men do hard things, like killing the man who killed their family, or some other trope of popular fiction, and are angry, albeit in a righteous way. Be angry and you will be empowered. Be meek and bookish, and some tit in a cowboy hat talking like a third rate Clint Eastwood impersonator will kill you and cut one of your fingers off.

Applying these lessons, firstly from my dad and secondly from the wider culture really doesn’t work. I’m sad because I split from my bipolar spouse and, even though I’ve found another partner whose compassion surpasseth human understanding, I’m grieving for that. Except that I can’t let myself or, rather, I couldn’t let myself before last night when the clumsy doors I’d botched up around my sadness finally broke and swept me away. I was worried that, once I started crying, I wouldn’t be able to stop and that I’d be debilitated for life, which, again, is what happens when your map is utterly wrong and nobody has said that you’re allowed to cry.

When I first broke down and went to see a psychiatrist who, incidentally, looked like an Asian version of Columbo and similarly had a mind like a steel trap, chided me for trying to end on a positive note each time I said something negative. He asked me, as he retrieved a Cadbury’s Creme Egg which had rolled out of his bag, across the table and onto the floor, what would happen if I didn’t give myself a pep talk at the end of each statement and allowed negative feelings to stand without giving them a counterweight. I tried it. And it worked. I said the negative thing and left it there, on the notional table, without needing to stick a notional bow around it and make it acceptable for a polite audience.

I still do that way, way too much, still tell myself that the grief I feel is unseemly, even though there are good people in my life who have told me otherwise. My GP, who is still in training and yet one of the best doctors I’ve ever had with an instinctive understanding of what it means to be in mental torment, said that the life changes I’d been through would take two or three years to process and that I should not expect a quick fix or to wake up a different person. My partner says the same thing and has given me every opportunity to say how I feel, but I’m left with my map with London in the wrong place and wondering why none of the towns or cities I’ve gone through are the right ones and getting angry when, deep down inside, I know that I want to be sad.

Maybe this is unique to me, maybe it’s because I’m a man or maybe it’s because I’m in that buffer generation, eternally baffled by our own feelings and wanting them to go away. Maybe it’s some product of each one. I don’t know. I do know that for too long, I’ve intermittently been twisting at the end of a rope made of one part anger and one part fear. Calling it out in public helps, because it means that each time I’m tempted to do it, I start seeing myself in the ways that I’ve described and staying my hand. Not always, not even most times, but just enough to make me think there might be hope. So here it is. A public statement that I’m angry because I am grief stricken and afraid because love has made me vulnerable.

 

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