Should men always tough it out?

Updated: Aug 19

“Decades ago when my father moved to this town he was essentially broke. It was then years of struggle and hard work, that he was able to establish himself as a businessman of considerable repute in this small town. All these years while he was trying to leave no stone unturned, the only thing he could not give us my elder brother and me, was his ‘most valuable time. We knew him as an angry man who always wanted us to behave in a particular way he thought was the best for us .’He cares immensely for all of us. Who is he working for day and night putting his blood, sweat, and tears?’ my mother would always tell. He might not have attended even a single parent-teacher meeting in our school but made sure our fees were paid before the due date and sent both of us to good colleges afterward when we finished school.

Papa was the one who ran the family. So ours was a family which functioned in quite a patriarchal fashion. As a younger child and a daughter, I enjoyed certain privileges which my brother didn’t. He was certainly more kind and adjusting between the two- which was surprisingly not liked by both my parents. ’Boy should be rough and tough, ‘Don’t cry like a girl ‘and the like, I heard my parents saying to him often. On the other hand, I was encouraged to express my vulnerable and caring side. This is what I observed growing up not only at my home but in most of the houses in my neighborhood. I saw the brothers being pampered and treated specially in many of my friends’ houses too. They enjoyed more freedom in terms of spending their time with friends, being away from home, etc, but encouraging them to express their softer side or be emotionally available was rather uncalled for the boys.

That’s how the social dynamics work and they have their reasons to perpetuate it. But what remains completely brushed aside is its adverse effect on men’s psychology. The traditional theory of masculinity becomes a nemesis to many men in modern society. I have observed my brother transform–from a shy, soft-spoken, kind child to an extremely serious, protective brother and son, but completely withdrawn to himself, devoid of any emotions, as it appeared. He became curt in his interactions with us, especially with our father for no apparent reason. ‘Doesn’t he have anyone special in his life? Can he be gay?’, asked one of my friends once. It never bothered me though, I was more concerned about his withdrawn nature, and his pent-up emotions which could adversely affect his mental health. And then on a sultry, stuffy evening, as we were having our evening tea, an employee from the office came running with the forbidding news—my father fell unconscious on the office floor. He was rushed to the hospital. Dad was diagnosed with massive cardiac arrest compounded by many other complications. One of his kidneys stopped working and the other functioning partially. He was recovering slowly but did not regain his physical strength like before. The sole responsibility of running our business came to my brother since I was still a student and did not quite like the job.

My brother assumed the role quite seriously, but his disconnect from our father was making it harder for him. Lack of communication created enough room for misunderstanding. It had been a long since we grew apart, so I couldn’t help much initially. But the pandemic gave all of us the time and the window to discover the unseen chord slowly but distinctly. Most of the time I initiated the process of discussion and urged the men of our house to open up and more often than not it ensued a better understanding of the existing problem The very ‘ first' of anything in life is hard, but the next day as my brother was leaving the town for a few days, owing to our business affairs, he turned to me and said ‘ thank you ‘. It was unexpected but I knew why he said that. I looked at my father who was reclining on the couch next to the door in our living room, and for the very first time found him teary-eyed.

I believe in the truism that millions of men out there have more serious issues than my family had, in expressing their emotions and feelings that often result in unwarranted violence against women and children. Death due to suicide is almost double in men than in women. It’s high time that men should be more open about their mental health issues, seek professional help if needed, and not always try to tough it out.”

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