About Being a Man in our Culture 

 

By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
pat@tearsoup.com

 

People grieve in very different ways – even two parents who grieve the death of the same child.  How people grieve is affected by age, previous life experiences, personality, culture, gender, and by whatever else may be happening in their lives at the time of the loss. 

As a father, your experience of grief is probably going to differ from that of your partner simply because you and your partner are two different people with different backgrounds and different ways of acting and reacting. Also, you each had a different, unique and personal relationship with your child,  Cultural conditioning, spoken and unspoken assumptions, and other influences will communicate to you some very clear messages about how others think you are to behave.  It is important to find the way of grief that works for you, and not be dependent on other’s expectations.

Women tend to express grief more openly than do men, but that does not necessarily mean that women feel grief more deeply than do men.  Because of this difference, however, the grieving mother of a child who has died typically gets more of the attention, while the father is kept from getting the support and help he needs to adequately grieve the death of their child.  And yet at the same time, fathers often have been chided or criticized if they did not openly express grief in the same way, or to the same degree as their partner.

 

As a man you are typically expected to:

  • be strong
  • appear “in control”
  • appear confident
  • show more interest in thinking than in feeling
  • endure pain
  • be brave
  • get mad
  • be assertive
  • be the protector
  • be the provider
  • take charge

 

As a man you are typically expected not to:

  • cry in front of others
  • appear weak
  • seem insecure
  • be afraid
  • be dependent
  • ask for help
  • get depressed
  • lose control

 

These gender related and culturally imposed characteristics may serve you well in day-to-day living, but as a grieving father these same attributes may make the task of successful grieving difficult, if not impossible.

Women generally have fewer conflicts between their traditional upbringing and the requirements of mourning, such as confiding in others, showing emotion, and the accepting of temporary regression.

Some of the culturally impossible factors that may contribute to your unconscious resistance to grief and you’re not permitting grief to flow through you are listed below:

  • not being able to openly express feelings of pain or loss
  • not being able to accept help from others
  • not allowing yourself to slow down
  • not being able to seek emotional support

 

 

Your Grief May Differ

She may want to talk.
You may not.

You may find comfort in making love.
She may not.

She may want you to visit the cemetery with her often.
You may prefer to go alone.

You may want to move on with your life.
She may not.

She may want to have another child soon.
You may not.

She may have dreams of your child.
You may not.

She may want to leave the door to your child’s room open.
You may not.

She may want to look for deeper answers.
You may want to accept the reality and quickly move on.

She may find comfort being at her mother’s house.
You may prefer being in your own space.

She may experience more headaches, sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression, and reproductive, urinary and gastrointestinal problems.
You may be more inclined to experience musculoskeletal problems such as backaches, and problems arising from aggressive behavior, e.g. car accidents, abuse of alcohol and verbal arguments.

- Pat Schwiebert

 

 

Instinctively Alone
 

Where does a man go to grieve his woundedness,
especially when society sees it as weakness,
to be self pity?
I desperately need validation,
so I can be with my pain,
so I can embrace the truth of my life.
I can’t believe how well I’ve been trained to
stoically stash the losses in my life.
I feel like a wounded animal, instinctively
returning to the graveyard of my ancestors to die.
Hush!
Go to your room.
As a boy I was ordered to travel alone.
Now suffer the agony of manhood,
as I enter the garden of stone.

- R.M. Hastie