Tuesday, October 3, 2017 started off as a normal day. It was my wife’s birthday so I made sure I ate a pork roll egg and cheese on a whole wheat everything bagel (my favorite) to celebrate, woke up three little people, brushed their teeth, and made sure they were dressed and ready for school. I was halfway to school when I happily realized that I hadn’t left my lunch on the kitchen counter for the third time this month! I rolled into school ready to hit my Superintendent up with the new theme for our school next year. It was going to be MSGA; Make Springfield Great Again (not my idea). I was chuckling to myself when I saw all the teachers rolling out of the library. I was immediately flustered thinking I had missed a staff meeting! It is a recurring nightmare I have similar to the missing a week of my college coursework nightmare I get sometimes when stress kicks in.
It was an emergency meeting. The mother of two of my student’s had died. Worse yet she was one of my wife’s work friends at her school. I immediately called my wife and told her the news. She was devastated. This was a true friend. Someone who was able to transcend the daily niceties and establish deeper relationships.
The viewing and funeral were more brutal than you could even imagine. This was not the way things are supposed to be. Parents shouldn’t die before their children. I remember thinking children shouldn’t lose their mother’s when they are young. I am not downplaying the significance or importance of being a father. I am upplaying the idea that growing a baby inside of you gives a degree of love that I don’t believe men can understand nor should be asked to. The idea here is that a mother’s love is a special bond that knows no comparison. Two young children lost that bond this week and that will devastate them for a long long time.
After the funeral, I went to visit a friend of mine. I was feeling some kind of emotional. I had just seen something so heartbreaking and was in a state of emotional turmoil. I started thinking about this article. It pointed out that all the white men who committed these heinous acts had something in common. They were lonely. Specifically, this stood out to me:
But do you have confidants? Do you have male friends who you can actually be vulnerable with? Do you have friends whom you can confide in, be 100% yourself around, that you can hug without saying “No homo,” without feeling tense or uncomfortable while you’re doing it? link
I am a touchy-feely person so the hugging part didn’t worry me. I understand that giving someone a hug of the same gender can be non-sexual. I also understand there is no need to say no homo because that is a homophobic statement and not one that I care to be in the habit of using.
The part of the author’s questions that worried me was the idea that I don’t have many people I can be extremely honest with. Especially male friends. I decided on that car ride I was going to really strive to know my friend on the difficult level. The my life is messed up and so is yours level. What would happen if we finally acknowledged everyone has issues in their life. Could we speak on a level that broke down those barriers?
It turns out you can. The conversations we had were deep and raw. There wasn’t a comparison of who had it worse or the thought that your problems aren’t “real” problems. All it took for the conversation to take that turn was me asking him, “how is your life on the personal level?” I opened the door to a real conversation and he walked through it.
The conversation we had that night turned toward the idea that a person’s problems can’t be ranked. It is not a competition. There are people who are always going to have worse problems. I am sure there are people that are having fewer problems. It doesn’t matter. The problem is that we all need people to show empathy and listen to our problems regardless of how big or small they are without judgment. We need to connect with others on a level deeper than a shared profession or sports team. That is the only way to eliminate this loneliness that men have.
I want to make the interactions I have more meaningful with people. It is time I stopped being afraid and really just make myself vulnerable. We never know what life will throw at us. I don’t want to be a guy someone used to talk to on Twitter or Voxer. I want to be the guy that people say that was a true friend. I want people to actually be able to say they know me and I truly knew them.
I understand that this isn’t going to be done on a macro level. It doesn’t have to be. It just has to be done with the people that I really feel I connect with on a deep level. Not the RT their funny meme or we hate the same thing level. I need to connect to my people with the idea that nothing is guaranteed in life including time. I want to get to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books level, the Tuesdays with Morrie level, or the Between the World and Me Level. A place where honesty and openness are more important than the facade we show the world.
With that being said I am not going to chase people down or just open up to anyone. This has to be a two-way street. Not everyone in your life deserves this gift of openness nor can you emotionally handle people abusing or misusing this connection. Some people are social media friends or work acquaintances. Others may be too busy to keep up with both the emotional and time-consuming toll it takes to develop and maintain these real relationships.
I would challenge the men especially white men who are reading this to look at their lives. Who do you have that you can speak to on the personal level? Who can you share the good, the bad, and the ugly? If the answer is no one that is a problem. I don’t want to be lonely nor do I want you to be. Open up to people. Make the most of every opportunity you have to love the people in your lives warts and all. Make the time and the commitment to really get to know your friends. Take the plunge before it is too late.