Strength in Unity #3
by Coy Cross II, Ph.D
Being a caregiver for my wife meant reshaping my definition and thinking of manhood. I had spent 20 years active duty with the Air Force and another 18+ as an Air Force civilian employee. In that environment, “vulnerability equals weakness” and a man can’t be perceived as weak and survive. In service or business it’s a ‘dog eat dog’ competitive world.
This need for rugged independence defines our male role models, and isolates us to a greater degree than most ever know. A few weeks back a friend recommended a TED-talk by Brene Brown, on “Vulnerability.” I watched her talk and it continues to resonate with me today. In writing “The Dhance,” I mentioned that life kept “kicking me in the testicles” until I decided to let it all in. To do that, I agreed to experience the pain as well as the joy and not to try to separate my life into cubicles, some of which I would experience and others that I would avoid.
The ideas that ‘pain is weakness leaving the body’ or ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ are very male ways of walling off what might be perceived as ‘weakness’ among competitors. This crisis meant making myself vulnerable. Brown says, “Connection is why we are here.” And, the only way connection can happen is if “we allow ourselves to be deeply seen.”
I find myself sharing feelings, emotions and fears that I would never had the courage to talk about five years ago. Having good friends, both men and women, who will listen without judging or commenting has made it easier to be vulnerable.
My greatest friend and listener was Carol, of course. She constantly encouraged me to talk about my pain and my fears. Being able to verbalize my own fears gave me strength to listen to hers. More importantly, she knew I was being real and authentic, so she felt safe with me. After her cancer returned and we knew our time together would be limited, we talked about death/ life, the present/the hereafter, pain/joy, and love.
Through this time our connection deepened to a level I never knew possible. Brown concludes that while vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and the struggle for self-worthiness, it is also the birth place for joy, creativity, belonging and love. I thank God that life left me no choice but to experience my vulnerability throughout Carol’s illness. It was both a source of great sadness and of great love and allowed me to be consciously present with her in a way that would not have been possible if I had not allowed myself to experience it all. Truly, men need to be more open to both the bitter and the sweet.
Share with us each month here and visit Facebook to learn more at The Dhance. See author Cross as he discusses discoveries, lessons and shares insights on YouTube.
You also can learn to cope in delving into the mind, life and acceptance of life and death that is the heart of Coy Cross’s experience related for all to learn from in “The Dhance” (Available from KohoPono Press, ISBN 978-0-9845424-2-0, visit kohopono.com or call 503-723-7392).