Manning up - how I learned a valuable lesson the hard way

Men, like me, consider ourselves strong, dependable and able to provide for our families. We’re tough, macho, heroic. Or we like to think we are. We don’t like visiting the doctor, we don’t like talking about our feelings, we don’t like sharing. Because we’re afraid. That’s right, I said it. We’re more afraid of the prospect of admitting we have problems than the effects of the problems themselves.

It’s easier, you see. Easier to pretend that nothing is wrong, that we’ll be able to tough things out, that we can handle things. But so often we can’t and we refuse to act, refuse to get help or seek advice and this archaic idea of masculinity not only jeopardises our health and wellbeing but the wellbeing of our families as well. We’re told to harden up, grow a pair and deal with it, which is precisely what we think we’re doing. The reality is we’re not. My father was a prime example of this.

My dad was old school. He drank, smoked and clung to his stress like a child does their favourite teddy bear. No matter how hard things got, he appeared in control. But he couldn’t deal with stress, not really. He was often burdened by it, refusing to share it with my mother or his friends. Like most people, the primary cause of his stress was money or lack thereof; he felt like he had no options, felt like there was no hope. So he did what men are so often told to do, he manned up, kept a stiff upper lip and toughed it out. Until he couldn’t.

Along with his bad habits my father also had a history of heart problems, as had his father before him, and his father before him and so on. When he was fifty, about six months after the death of my mother, he had an aneurysm and very nearly died; a side effect of being tough. Thankfully the skilful surgeons at the Royal Adelaide Hospital stopped that from happening. He turned 70 this year, which is a huge achievement in our family.

But during that time he was unable to work, which meant we were unable to pay our bills or our rent or even at times, eat. While he was recuperating, I took on the role of ‘bread winner’ and worked after school and on weekends in order to keep us afloat. It was hard and I still remember the ache of exhaustion to this day. Eventually he recovered and went back to work and things improved financially. In this regard we were lucky, very lucky.

It took a near death experience to change the way my father thought about his health and since that day he has quit smoking, drinks far less, exercises a lot more and has been proactive in having regular check-ups with his doctor. 

Despite doing the research and writing about issues like stress management, insurance, budgeting and men’s health, I confess that I’m one of these stereotypical men. For a long time, I kept things close to my chest, or worse, would bury them deep within it. I wouldn’t talk to my friends about my problems, and sometimes, I found it hard to even talk to my wife about them.  I became my father.  I was one of the many who become a statistic. Or at least, I used to be.

I still remember how hard it was for us with dad being unable to work, how tired I was, how little we had and how fearful we were of not having any money that I vowed to never be in that situation. Because that memory is seared on my mind, because I never want my son to have to go through the same thing I went through, to worry about when his next meal was coming or whether he could afford shoes for school I have made changes.

I go to the doctor, sure, it’s semi regular, but it’s a start. I have spoken to financial advisers about money troubles. I talk to my wife and my friends; I am more open about my problems. I have spoken to a therapist. I even took out income protection insurance, just in case. I have started taking my wellbeing seriously, have started taking control and stopped being a statistic. I have manned up.

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