How To Be A Thriving Dad In A World Of Zombies.
"My father didn't tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it." - Clarence Budington Kelland
So, there I was, a mentally stretched rubber band about to snap, confined to a small room that smelled of Latex and rubbing alcohol, waiting for the doctor to release the emotional tension. I could tell he saw the desperation in my face like it was a rat in the corner of my eye. Fear shot from my pores like bullets of sweat and a familiar twitch tugged on the left side of my throat. This doctor’s visit was long overdue.
The last time I’d braved (I was far from brave) a doctor’s, was five years prior when I thought I’d contracted some terrible disease and I begged for every test imaginable. As negative results piled up and something else became more apparent, a female doctor who called my penis a willy, finally asked, “Do you deal with anxiety?”
I didn’t know what to say. I’d never thought about it before, and I wasn’t going to think about it then.
Over the course of the next five years, I got married, had a myriad of jobs, bought a house, got a dog, and had a kid. Everything but the white picket fence was mine. The grass was green but the soil was rotten.
Internally, I became gaunt and desperate as untreated depression and suppressed anxiety rattled my insides and hauled me into the shadows of myself. And while there have been many breaking points in my life when it comes to my mental health, one of the most wrenching moments was in August 2016 when I held my newborn son. He was a miracle of the universe, the best of me and my love, the bones of my bones and the flesh of my flesh, but when I looked at him, I felt nothing.
No fatherly happiness.
No tears of awe.
No authenticity in my smile.
And that’s what I explained to the doctor as the rat of desperation chewed on my eyelid. There, the tears came when I told him, “I don’t feel anything toward my son—my baby boy.”
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What’s Your Story?
I can’t imagine there aren’t other stories like mine. I know there are. Under the pressures of fatherhood and masculine expectations, many men suffer quietly in their bedrooms. Pornography, sex, alcohol, drugs, even work or sports can be a chosen coping mechanism by which we avoid layers of stress, pain, and confusion. From a severe increase or decrease in appetite and sexual desire to constant irritability and suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety rear their heads in a variety of ways. Often times, the most palpable symptom is a general apathy that promotes a numbness to the world—a hazy filter over the eyes that makes a mountain out of a miracle. No happiness. No tears. No authenticity in a smile. Like this, millions of men are mental and emotional zombies, going through the motions, checking all the boxes, functioning but not thriving.
Are you one of them?
Seven out of ten suicides are men. Think about that. Seven out of ten suicides are men because men don’t talk. We don’t have happiness so we tip the bottle; we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable so we surf the internet for a sense of validation through pornography; we struggle to be authentic so we cower inside ourselves or lash out on others. This cannot be the life we hope to pass down to our children, especially our sons. How can we, as dads, teach happiness, vulnerability and authenticity to our children if we are numb to the world and unable to thrive ourselves?
If you can relate all too well to me holding my son with such apathy, know this: your numbness, your perpetual stress, your depression, your anxiety, your anger, your maybe-someday-I’ll-commit suicide thoughts are not your fault, but they are your responsibility.
Striving to Thrive in A World of Zombies
Whether you deal with depression and anxiety or not, it would benefit us all to ask ourselves these questions:
In my life...
...Do I have happiness?
...Am I willing to be vulnerable?
...Am I living authentically?
…Am I merely functioning or am I thriving?
These are the questions that matter most to our children, whether they know it or not. If you struggle to answer them—if you’re a zombie of a man, numb to the world—if you dislike your life and you’re not sure why, seek support. Reach out. It’s never too late to do so, but it’s also never too early.
As a man, you owe it to yourself to enjoy life, pursue help, see a doctor or a counsellor, or talk to a friend. As a father, you owe it to your family to show them, not just how to function, but how to thrive in a challenging world by being emotionally and mentally responsible. Learn to be vulnerable, authentic and begin to discover how to embody the true meaning of the word dad. So that when you hold your children, you can cherish them like the miracles they are.
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D. Doug Mains is part of the This Dad Can community. He is a work-at-home dad conquering the darkness of depression and anxiety. A freelance writer based in East Lansing, Michigan, U.S.A he maintains a blog geared toward men with mental illness at DaddingDepressed.com.
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