Our world is filled with those, both men and women, who claim that men are “not dealing with their feelings.” They point out that women cry easily and emote in public and talk about their feelings, and, well, men don’t. They are falling into a trap in judging men harshly without understanding the nature of men and emotions. They don’t know that men’s testosterone is limiting his emotional tears, they don’t know that he has larger tear ducts which hold greater amounts of tears, they don’t know that men live in a world that judges them harshly for public emoting while simultaneously seeing their emotional pain is taboo. But most importantly they don’t have a clue about how me actually do process emotions. I could go on and on… But how do men process emotions? In a nutshell, rather than talk so much they take action that honors their loss and men are more likely to use solitude in their healing. Let’s take a quick example of how men do process emotions. Here’s an excerpt from the healing through practicality section of The Way Men Heal (pg 27-28) that shows one of the ways that Michael Jordan dealt with his father’s death.
Sometimes the action that helps the man to tell his story and to help connect him with his loss is a very practical matter. One of the most common is when the man uses his work as a means to tell his story. That’s what Michael Jordan did.
In August of 1993 Michael Jordan’s father was tragically murdered in rural North Carolina. Two months later Jordan announced to the world that he was leaving basketball. In another two months he announced he was going to make a huge switch and play professional baseball. People were shocked and saddened that Jordan would leave basketball and the thought of him playing pro baseball was even harder to fathom. Why would he do such a thing? What we now know is that Jordan’s father James, had always wanted him to be a professional baseball player. Before his death he had urged Jordan to drop basketball and move to baseball. Now just four months after his father’s death Jordan was announcing that he would be playing pro baseball. It seems clear that Jordan was following the masculine path of honoring through action. He may not have gone to a support group to “tell his story” but instead told his story through the actions he took. Jordan was close to his father as a child and as an adult. It seems clear that a part of his grief for his father was connected to his honoring of his father and his father’s wishes for him to play professional baseball. Michael Jordan offers us a beautiful example of how the mature masculine deals with the difficulties of a powerful grief: We honor.
Bob Greene quotes Jordan talking about his time in the minors in his book Rebound13. Jordan said, “So on my drive to practice in the morning, he’s with me, and I remember why I am doing this. I remember why I am here. I am here for him.”
Jordan was clear. He was there for his father, to honor his father’s wishes, to honor his father’s love for him and to honor their time together. It is through the honoring that his story is told. Not unlike someone going to a support group and relating their story but Jordan did it through his actions. Actions that honored his father. I can imagine him standing at the plate waiting for the pitch to come and having a conversation with his father in his head.
Jordan’s actions to honor his father were practical; in essence he was dedicating his work in honor of his father. This is grief. Mature masculine grief. There are numerous other types of practical healing actions; lets have a look at just a few.
Just think about sports teams. When a teammate dies what do they do? They honor him with a patch on their uniforms and dedicate their season to him. Right? This is the masculine path of healing through action and doing so by honoring. It is just as effective as the more feminine talk, talk, talk approach but is ignored and all too often shamed. Go figure.
Tom Golden is the author or three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: UnderStanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom was the creator of the youtube channel Men Are Good and served as the vice chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. He has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years.