A Man’s Story

I remember visiting an elderly man who had lost his wife suddenly. He lived alone in a small flat and had a daughter and son-in-law who popped in regularly just to make sure he was coping.The times I spent with him were rich, and listening intently to his story, touched me deeply.

I can only describe his history as being that of a “man’s man.” He grew up in a traditional family where the roles of men and women were clearly defined, and after his marriage he was quick to apply these roles in his own home and family. He went on extended hunting and fishing trips. He became emotionally detached and distant from his wife and children leaving her to do most of the nurturing in the family. He spent hours making knives, drinking heavily and visiting the club which kind of became a second home. However, in spite of all this, he was materially a good provider and often prided himself in that.

In the later years, because of ill health, he became more and more dependent on his wife. He was plagued by guilt for things he did and didn’t do. The more she helped him, the more guilty he felt. Then, one night as they got ready to go to sleep, he reached across and kissed her. The following morning he woke up with her dead beside him. She had died of a heart attack in her sleep – who could ever grasp what she’d been through. His struggle to recover from this was at times unbearable and deeply painful.

I saw him sometime ago. He has taken to planting and nurturing the most beautiful African Daisies. Seeing this hard man with his gnarled fingers planting and stroking these beautiful little flowers has done something to me. He also has a little dog now which he dotes upon.

Why is it that so many men only discover their nurturing capacities late in life? If only this man’s family could have received just something of what he now gives to those little flowers and that little dog. But I celebrate that little dog and those little daisies; in their own healing way they have touched something deep inside of him, hence the tears that often well up in his eyes.

I think male nurturing is as natural as the rain. We’ve just forgotten how and the world is the poorer for it. But, having said that, the change I see in the younger men around me today, gives me great joy and hope. 🙂

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
This entry was posted in Communication, Differences between men and women, Family, Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to A Man’s Story

  1. Hariod Brawn says:

    A beautiful yet poignant story Don, for which many thanks. It speaks to the power of conditioning of course, and how that can run against our innermost proclivities. Many men who fought in WW2 here in England suffered emotionally stunted lives. There was a condition fabricated by the Royal Air Force and documented as Lacking Moral Fibre, or ‘LMF’ as it was commonly known. Essentially, it denied men the freedom to express the inevitable emotive forces that would occur in times of war. Two or three years of suppressing the emotions soon forms an almost impermeable barrier that sets in for life, and the subject and all those around him suffer.

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    • Don says:

      So true Hariod. I don’t think we would ever grasp the immense pain of war. I think that’s why Von Klausewitz said that, “the only enemy of war is war itself.” Having been in a tragic bush war myself I can grasp something of that pain you speak of in those men. I watched as some of my friends’ worlds crumbled about them, as well as my own. Thank you for your meaningful and moving comment.

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      • Hariod Brawn says:

        Thank you Don; you understand. Certain personal experiences have told me that some veterans of war can communicate these suppressed emotions to others of their kind. Still then, one party may not be able to respond to the other. So utterly destructive, the emotional war does not end once peace is declared.

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      • Don says:

        “So utterly destructive, the emotional war does not end once peace is declared.” Beautifully said Hariod. Couldn’t have said it better.

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  2. “A man’s man” has finally got in touch with his anima. I think men can be such amazing nurturers, especially if they do inner work, which unfortunately often comes so late in life. One of the most beautiful movies I have seen about this is Cherry Blossoms. http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0910559/ You would just love it, Don. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don says:

      I agree with you Monika. Men can be amazing nurturers when they do the inner work that is required. I think it’s a form of nurturing that is a little different to female nurturing, but complimenting it. Children who are lucky enough to receive both female and masculine nurture grow up, I believe, a lot more whole in themselves. I’ve seen it with some that I’ve watched grow.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dan Antion says:

    I’ve known men who never made any progress. I guess this is a case of better late than never, but it is sad that his wife never knew this side. Beautiful story Don.

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  4. Beautiful piece, my friend.

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  5. davecenker says:

    Pressures from all around us beckon the male species to conform to a predefined mode of operation. We need to listen to a certain type of music, take part in an approved list of hobbies, keep the tears hidden from public view, and cover up our true emotions when they don’t align with the “accepted” standard. Me? I refuse to comply. The process of writing has allowed me to nurture that nurturing side of me – authenticity and vulnerability reign supreme.

    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful piece, Don. And may this story be a reminder to everyone, male and female alike, that we are all human beings and need to find and cultivate our nurturing side in our own unique way. Thanks again Don and best wishes for an inspired day!

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    • Don says:

      Good for you Dave. I admire your stance and I can certainly understand how the process of writing has helped you. It’s not an easy journey through those pressures. Thank you for sharing and responding in such a personal way.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. nrhatch says:

    I’ve read about studies in prisons ~> giving inmates plants and pets to care for liberates their nurturing capabilities & they begin to exhibit compassion, kindness, and empathy.

    That said, the men in my world (dad, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, husband, brothers in law) are not nearly as closed off emotionally as the man in your example. Social conditioning varies from locale to locale.

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    • Don says:

      That’s right, Nancy. I’ve seen some TV programs on prisons where they have done what you described. It was quite amazing to see the effects. Wonderful family context you have there.

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  7. Val Boyko says:

    My heart also goes out to these men who led emotionally stunted lives in order to conform to cultural norms…. my dad was one. He too “cracked” after retirement and having to deal with his own illness and vulnerability. Its so sad that it takes some people so long.
    Like you Don, I too have hope for the younger generation of men who want to live and feel fully.
    xo

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    • Don says:

      Thanks for sharing that Val. Isn’t it strange how we all have something of that in our families. I agree about the younger generation wanting in your words, live and fully feel. I like this little phrase of yours. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh Don, what a beautiful story – thank you for sharing it. ❤
    Diana xo

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  9. Mary says:

    What a beautiful story Don – guys like this really do exist.

    You so clearly described my Father – emotionally, always and to this day estranged from his family and doesn’t understand why no one visits. The dog, why yes he also has a little dog who receives all his love and compassion that none of us kids ever got. My Mother, bless her heart, has the onset of dementia and he must care for her, and now this tough man cries tears of (perhaps sorrow for himself) ~ Mom will go straight to heaven when she dies. Without saying anything more out of respect for my Mother ~ she is my Mother Theresa.

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    • Don says:

      Thank you for sharing Mary. I really appreciate your openness. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you, even now. Strange how eventually it all catches up with you when you have persisted in following that path.of emotional detachment. Strength to you Mary as you deal with all this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mary says:

        Thank you – a lovely thing to say. After these many years, the human spirit will not be squashed – you learn to understand, appreciate the good in life and move on. I think the reason why my sisters and me did so well in each of our careers is because we put all our focus into the thing we could control. I’ve never mentioned the situation I grew up with until today, imagine that – people on the outside of the family, had and have no clue. So that’s that – the way it is.

        Thanks for your thoughts, I have a good life w/the exception of a dysfunctional childhood. Is there really a Hallmark family out there?

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  10. I have been mulling this ove for a couple of hours since I first read and liked. It has touched such a chord with us and we have been discussing it over dinner this evening. My Father in law was such a man who suddenly became human and kind after retirement. My own Father only started to give me hugs after my Mother died. We were wondering tonight how their military experience in WW11 had affected them both and we love the fact that both our sons in law are so affectionate with their own children and with us. Maybe war has even more to answer for…..
    All the best to you both 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don says:

      Thank you Sally for giving it so much thought and discussion. I suppose we’ll never know what actually happened in your Father in law’s heart and mind which caused the change you speak of. But thankfully it happened and that’s the important thing. I am sure that their military experience had much to do with it but I think it’s a little more than that. Hariod spoke of the social conditioning that went on in those generations of men as far as their emotions and the definition of what it meant to be male. When you take that kind of conditioning and then add to it the experience of war, you have an extremely bad and wounding mixture. I think that both your sons in law are a real gift to their children. As I said our hope lies in the younger men of today. Again, thank you for your thoughtful contribution to the discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. josna says:

    Don, this story was very moving. Perhaps his wife could finally die after he reached over and kissed her. Coincidentally I just taught two stories written by Indian women with male narrators who were husbands who only understood something important about their wives when it was too after after they had died. In one, the husband was wishing that he could do things over and be the kind of husband she had desired and deserved. On the woman’s side, women are taught to be long-suffering and self-sacrificing. Perhaps his wife, too, had kept silent about her deep needs that weren’t being met all those years.
    I’m very happy for you and your wife that you are going to move to England to be near your sons. Yet somehow, inexplicably, I’m feeling sad–somehow that it’s the end of an era. I don’t have anyone else who comments on my blog from South Africa and shall miss your South African vantage point. But I expect that you will always carry that with you wherever you go. Wishing you the very best as you prepare to make such a big move and hoping that you will document and reflect on it, and continue to reflect on life in general, in Candid Impressions, or a new incarnation of it.

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  12. josna says:

    Oops, sorry Don, there was a typo in my second sentence above. What I meant to write was, “Coincidentally I just taught two stories written by Indian women. Both had male narrators who were husbands who only understood something important about their wives when it was too late–after they had died.”

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  13. Don says:

    I’m glad you found it moving, Josna. You make such a good point. I think that long-suffering and self-sacrificing in women can be taken to the point of sheer destruction and also tends to reinforce certain behaviours in the male which he never then needs to confront and deal with. I think too many men have rested in the security of the long-suffering and self-sacrificing of women. I sense big changes happening here in women, changes that men will certainly need to negotiate wisely and sensitively.

    Yes, our decision has been long and hard, but we have reached the point now where we are pretty sure of what we are doing and wanting to do. It won’t be easy leaving South Africa, but I know that Africa will always be part of me, it’s people and it’s landscape. I’ll certainly maintain an interest in the country, but I also love England and want to do all I can to immerse myself in its life. I am so looking forward to that. My English roots have always been important to me and to have the opportunity at this stage of my life to reconnect is a gift and privilege. Will maintain my contact with your blog. Your writing, Josna, is extremely meaningful for me and I so enjoy reading your blog.

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    • josna says:

      I think it’s wonderful that you’ve decided to actually make the move instead of just wishing for it and talking about it. I wish you both all the very best, and am not a little wistful myself, since England is my birthplace and I often find myself wondering “what if. . .” It will be good to keep in touch via our blogs and I look forward to reading (and seeing sketches of, I hope) your unique views of contemporary British culture and society.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I celebrate the daisies and the little dog, too, Don. I’m also sad for the man–and how much he and his wife missed while she was alive–but I remember many men just like your friend. A “man’s man” was not a role model, but more of a life sentence unless something profound happened to change things.
    Excellent post.

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    • Don says:

      I’ve always been amazed, Marilyn how small things in life can reach deep down in to us and actually bring release and healing, like little dogs and daisies. I Agree the “man’s man” was certainly not a helpful model. Thank you for your comment.

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  15. Thanks for sharing this multi-layered story. There are so many lessons here, and many people realize too late that they cannot go back and change things. I think their hardest lesson is learning to forgive themselves and move forward instead of looking back.

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    • Don says:

      I agree with you. One has to move forward. The hardest lesson is to learn to forgive your self. Some do, some don’t. Appreciate your comment – thank yo.

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  16. tomsimard says:

    Touching story, Don.
    Brings to mind that Dylan Thomas line, “And learn too late, they grieved it on its way”
    To be able to love and be loved.

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