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Men as Nurturers

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Men are discovering that taking care of their families is much more than bringing home a paycheque-it takes emotional and spiritual strength, too.

Men are discovering that taking care of their families is much more than bringing home a paycheque it takes emotional and spiritual strength, too. And they're up for the challenge.

In the past half century a great upheaval has taken place within the traditional roles of men and women. When I was born in the 1950s, the understood priority of women was to get married, raise children and support the husband in his chosen profession. She was recognized as the nurturer, and the home was her domain. The man was seen as the provider. He was responsible for providing a steady income and a secure future for his family.

I am the product of such a nuclear family. My father built a successful construction company in the '60s, and my mother stayed home to raise five children. Everything about my childhood was normal and happy until my father died when I was 15. My mother was then cast into the role of a single parent, assuming the role of mom and dad. For the most part, we children grew to be well-adjusted adults though my brothers and sisters would tell you I am the one who suffers from a certain amount of maladjustment.

What I realize today is that I had the privilege to watch this extraordinary woman transcend her traditional role as mother to assume whatever role was required to take care of her family. She took over my father's role as a fully functioning partner in his company just because she believed there was no other choice. She reached beyond what was expected of her to become a more complete person.

In the face of this kind of necessity we all have the ability to transcend our limitations and traditional expectations to realize potential we never imagined was available. We all have the potential to become extraordinary. I was recently reminded of this truth by two men who are a part of a growing number of men who find themselves in nurturing roles.

Todd's Story

A year ago Todd was in management with a construction company. He was working 80-hour weeks, believing he was fulfilling his main role as provider for his family. His days were filled with conflict resolution and crisis management, and upon arriving home after a long day he would often look for ways to check out emotionally. He watched television during the evening, often unaware of what he was watching. He played golf and soccer in the summer and hockey in winter, and on weekends got together with the guys for a few drinks. Even though he is a gentle, compassionate man, the growing frustration in his work was beginning to vent itself regularly on his hockey and soccer opponents, even to the point of him getting kicked out of a game or two.

Todd was determined to provide his family with a comfortable standard of life; however, the career path he had chosen was slowly crushing his spirit. He was in this state of mind when I first met him. He wandered into my office at the end of another long, difficult day, looking like he had just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

After some serious introspection, Todd realized he was losing touch with the most important people in his life and, possibly most importantly, with himself. He finally concluded the income was not worth the personal fallout, so he quit his job. For the next six months he recommitted his time and energy to his wife and daughter, and to rediscovering his personal passion for life and work. His wife went to work, and he stayed home to look after their daughter.

Todd represents many men who have journeyed down the same path seeking to fulfill the role of provider for their families and realizing at some point that they are slowly dying from the inside out. The turning point occurred for Todd when he realized the need to provide for his family emotionally and spiritually as well as physically and financially.

What he learned by making this change is that life can be much more simple and satisfying. While his income isn't what it was, he is experiencing more balance in this life. He is more present and engaged with his family, and is building an awareness of work interests that spark enthusiasm and create satisfaction.

Norm's Story

Though Todd had a choice concerning his new role as nurturer, Norm did not. He was thrust into the role when a sudden marriage breakup left him with a four-year-old daughter to care for. He continues to work full-time during the day and spends evenings with his daughter. Basic care issues such as discipline, making sure she eats properly and getting her to bed at an appropriate time now represent huge daily challenges. Norm's personal life is now very limited, as all his free time is spent with his daughter. He does not resent this fact of life and smiles when talking about how he takes his daughter everywhere with him although he hopes that one day he'll marry again and share the responsibilities of raising children.

When asked how he copes with being cast into the role of nurturer, Norm tells me he had to get in touch with his heart. He realized, like Todd, that he was now responsible for providing his daughter with more than financial and physical support. Character qualities such as patience and discipline, and emotional competencies such as affection, compassion and acceptance were being called on like never before. So, Norm did the one thing often so foreign to men: he sought help for these nurturing skills. He didn't allow himself to be limited by his own fear and insecurities or the perceptions of others concerning the role of nurturing. He was faced with a challenge that he could not, and would not, back down from. And so today he stays home with his daughter when she gets sick. He hugs her often and tells her he loves her. He accepts the reality of his situation and embraces how it is forming him into a complete person. He is conscious of how difficult the journey is but grateful for the education.

Journey to Completion

The journey for everyone, male or female, requires a full understanding of the connection between head and heart. As adults we become dependent on our ability to logically and rationally solve our problems. But the truth is, certain challenges in life require as much or more emotional competence than intellectual. This is often where men get stuck, certain that our calling in life is objective. Women, on the other hand, are supposedly the subjective, emotional gender, better suited for nurturing duties.

I don't buy into this kind of thinking. I believe it's time for men to open themselves up to all possibilities. This is not about becoming a "touchy, feely" male…I hate that condescending phrase. It is about becoming a more complete person.

The marvelous thing about all of us is that we share similar potential. Men and women cast into unfamiliar roles prove over and over that our limitations are self-imposed. Every challenge is an opportunity to find out just what we are made of. The question is, men: are we willing to take the risk to find out?

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