Men as Nurturers
by Craig Scott Brooke-Weiss
As a man, I often find it difficult to indulge myself with the comforts of life. It is rare that I'll indulge myself as many women do: with a candle-lit, aromatic, bubble filled bathtub. In essence, there is no male equivalent to this essential piece of women's wisdom: go home and take a nice hot bath. Men, I believe, haven't been conditioned to think that nurturing themselves is all right. Nurturing is not a word generally used on the streets, on the ball field or in the locker room. "Ah, go home and nurture yourself," is more the tone.
It is uncommon for men to share affection openly with anyone other than those special women in their lives. A positive, loving or, dare I say, nurturing relationship with our fathers was rare for most of us. So how, I wonder, when it is not in our framework of experiences, do we, as fathers, as the significant men in children's lives, learn to nurture our children? How do we learn to share our love unabashedly with the children in our lives if we aren't able to nurture ourselves and don't know what nurturing ourselves or another means?
When was the last time you (if you are a man reading this) gave another man a hug-the kind of hug that lets the other man know you really care? How easy is it to hug a woman who is not your lover and simply reciprocate affection? When inhibitions prevent you from demonstrating appropriate affection and warmth to those you care about, will you be able to rear a boy who will be sensitive to his own emotions as well as the physical and emotional needs of others? How will you convey to your daughters that men can be emotionally close and that male affection is not a prelude to a sexual escapade?
A close friend of my partner's had this advice for fathers: tell your daughter she is attractive and smart, tell her she is wonderful and capable, as much and as often as possible. Because she already has male validation from daddy, then she doesn't need it and won't go out seeking it from lesser men. Girls need to be praised by healthy men for who they are. A healthy father's presence will model for a girl how to have close, affectionate relationships with men. Without bonding to a man in a healthy way, women, especially young women, will unwittingly trade the need for physical closeness and attention for sex. What we need to keep in mind is that as fathers, our sweet, adorable toddler daughters and daughters' friends, will soon have the bodies we lusted so hard after, back when we were teens and young adults. Are we going to create distance with them because we are not practiced in holding, hugging and loving them? Often men do and it leads to trouble.
Boys face a different problem. I was taught that if I cried I was a wuss, a sissy. But now I cry, and I am not a wuss. When my boy Levi hurts himself or is sad, his tears are an indicator that something in his world is shaken. My job as a father, as a parent, is to be the rock he leans on as he tests himself in the world. My job is to give him as much undivided time as I possibly can, guide, play and help steady him as he discovers his way. It does hurt to fall. Acknowledging our children's hurts, comforting them and letting them know that it is all right to feel pain around daddy, will allow our children to grow up without pretending they are feeling good when they aren't. The boys in your life need to know they are not wussies when they cry. They are not. Their tears are emotional magic markers. Our nurturing response or lack of one magically imprints itself onto a child's psyche.
When we don't meet the child's real or imagined, psychic or physical pain with daddy's (or mommy's) loving response, the child will figure a way to get the attention s/he requires. Too often our children's tears make us uncomfortable and we subtly teach our children not to cry or ask for emotional or physical solace. It is possible that had we listened a little closer, paid attention to the intent rather than the content of our children's acting out, included their voices in our listening (with patience and a tolerable heart) a little bit more, then maybe those intolerable cries for attention we resist and endure, that intensely grate on us, would not be so ever-present.
When our listening extends from our heart (hearing the messages and yearning behind our children's requests) instead of our day-planners, when our children (or other loved ones) are crying out for -- whatever and we allow ourselves to feel all the discomfort of their and our feelings, we have a chance to make a difference on their life and ours.
One summer when I was a boy, I went to a different sleep away camp than I had the previous two years. I hated every minute I was there. I called my father and told him how bad it was for me and how long every day was. He was upset because I insisted, before the beginning of the summer that this camp was going to be more fun. I went and I was way wrong. My dad listened, sighed, and he did something that impresses to this day. He told me that he would make arrangements for me to go to the camp I had gone to before. Then the next day he drove a long way to pick me up and deliver me to the other camp We both still remember, the Kodak moment of my running, and smiling leap of love into my radiant fathers arms, as he rescued my summer. I don't know what he had to do, or put aside to be there for me, but I never forgot that my father was there for me in one of those important times I knew my need for dad.
Hold your children lovingly, as often as you can. Let them know, in all the "little" ways that matter, that their needs are important. Give them what you always wished you had received from the significant man in your life. Don't let these opportunities pass. What you don't give now will be what your child won't give to his children later.
As fathers, as men, for our children, for ourselves and our loved ones, we can and must share and express our love and appreciation with those we value; even it if is difficult. Even if you don't believe you are capable of being that warm and fuzzy type, even if you have never been nurtured by any male in your life. Once we reveal our warmth, it brings out the best in us. If we have difficulty receiving or sharing non-sexual affection, outside of our primary relationship, i.e.: nurturing hugs or kind sincere words of praise (stuff that gives big and little kids the cooties) it is reasonable to reevaluate our priorities. Too many people say they should have shown or told those they love that they loved them when they had a chance. Why wait? We have to recognize our discomfort and commit to taking baby steps towards building a new relationship with the world. If the word nurturing gives you the creeps, if hugging other men is only for those "other kind" of men, if only sissies or wussies or girlie girls should give or should get nurtured, then maybe, you're in need of some healing.
If I say ask others for help, you reading this might say, "Hey, that's part of the problem. It is hard to say I need anybody."
Luckily there are inexpensive, readily available, over the counter, high impact remedies for this situation. But it will cost you! You will have to take those baby steps toward becoming less of an autonomous, isolated, hard loving, hard edged male.
If you have children in your life, play with them, their games, giving your undistracted attention, and let them win more often than not. Belly laugh, whenever and wherever and as often as your stomach and ego can tolerate. Question your behavior patterns - so they'll get in line with your aspirations and beliefs. Tell people that you appreciate them; men, women and children. Stretch them righteous heart muscles. Give a little more than you normally do - to everybody, including yourself. And when you're worn and torn and need some healthy, comforting indulgence or feel like having a treat, go home, take a hot bath or go for a walk, or a hike, always keep your fishing pole in your vehicle and at the right time toss it in some local spot, or do what I do and call a bro and ask him if he' ready to get whupped again at ping-pong! It almost doesn't really matter what you do as long as you let those oohs and aahs and "OH BOY'S" have their moment. You'll appreciate the gesture and your loved ones will appreciate the calmer, softer and more nurturing you.