I’m not sure there was anyone less prepared to raise boys than I was. I grew up in a family of girls. My dad never cried. My mom cried all the time. I believed every male stereotype Hollywood tried to feed me and I spent my life surrounding myself with men I thought I could depend on to protect me.
At home, of course, I relied on my father. In high school and college, I looked for “big brothers” to take care of me. I consciously looked for a strong man to marry. Even when I was working as a high school teacher, I remember how much better I felt when one of the football players noticed another student’s erratic behavior and said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Walker, I got your back.” It sounds so silly now, but it never occurred to me that any of these people felt fear too.
Then I had a baby boy, followed by three more baby boys. I learned every flick of their eyebrows and every twitch of their lips. I learned, as well as any woman can learn, that boys do feel fear. They also feel sadness, disappointment, discouragement and the exact same depth and breadth and variety of emotions that girls feel. It saddens me that at some point they start feeling the need to stifle their emotions, but they do. One by one, I’ve watched all of my boys grow and slowly turn off as many emotional cues in their behavior as they can.
I married a good man, but he wasn’t immune from these pressures either. In the early stages of his career, my husband had a series of difficult bosses; both men and women who seemed to enjoy berating, intimidating and threatening their employees. While I was at home drowning in all the associated bodily fluids that accompany the early years of parenthood, my husband was at work drowning in all the proverbial bodily fluids spewed in his general direction. He didn’t complain, so I was only vaguely aware of his struggles. He came home every night and witnessed mine. He pitched in and shared my burden. I had no way to pitch in and share his.
One night after a particularly brutal stretch, he couldn’t hide it anymore. He walked into our bedroom after we’d gotten our boys to bed and broke down. I was surprised, somewhat irritated, and not very supportive. I have a few regrets in my life, and this is one of them.
Fortunately, my husband was strong enough, even in that moment, to let me know my response wasn’t helpful; and he was right. Since then, I’ve been working to unlearn all my mistaken assumptions and find better ways to love and support my family.
Initially, I thought my belief that men should be unemotional was an unfortunate result of being raised with no brothers. I was surprised to learn I wasn’t alone. People all over the world have unfair, and unrealistic emotional expectations for the boys and men in their lives.
This is why I started Be Brave.