Actually, silence is, at least for far too many American men. I can’t tell you how many women out there have told me that their partners in life have essentially walled them off. It isn’t news to me, I grew up in a home with a nearly silent father, and it wasn’t until later in my own life I realized why this was. My father was one tough son of a bitch. He had to be to survive during the depression, the second world war, and as a Mexicano in his own neighborhood. He wasn’t afraid of work, or pain, and he spoke truth to power long before that phrase became part of the lexicon of the Left. I can’t be sure what he was fearful of, but if I had to guess it was that me or my siblings would have to endure what he did. My father had an exceptional mind, and he educated himself about a world beyond his own surroundings. With that knowledge came fear. I think his view of the world was that of a hostile, unforgiving place, where it expected that suffering will take place, and that that is the natural order of things. His early life probably offered very little to counter that perspective. He was prone to brooding, and had an explosive, violent temper. But he was mostly silent, and I’ve come to realize that silence is a powerful weapon, one that we most often use against those of whom we profess to love. It is a relationship killer.
Now, it seems all I observe are varying levels of silence, which is cruelly ironic in an age that makes communication so incredibly easy. I believe that fear has gripped this country and that we don’t know how to fight it. Our stockpile of guns? Useless. Sure, we can kill all the people who frighten us, but what good is a firearm against the fear of failure? Or the fear that there isn’t enough of something? Or, against that most terrifying of fears, that if people really knew us, they would reject us. ( It is my personal opinion that some of this fear is instilled by organized religion, but thats another post)
This will surely invite ridicule and scorn from feminist purists, but men are unfairly saddled with the burden of hiding our fear instead of acknowledging it around those with whom we are closest. The big screen heroes of my generation were all strong, silent types. The Duke. Dirty Harry Callahan. Yea, we all enjoyed laughing at Woody Allen’s neurosis but nobody wanted to be Woody Allen. I’m making an obvious point here, and I don’t want to beat a dead “men don’t cry” horse because its so obvious. But, the point that men are culturally conditioned to never acknowledge fear is an important one. Our generation doesn’t have most of the struggles that our fathers had. There has always been enough to eat, we enjoy comforts here most of the world only dreams of, and our country hasn’t been threatened by invasion by some hostile neighboring country. (9-11 was a cowardly act of mass murder, not an act of war.) Still, fear persists. I’d like to think that as we evolve as a species, it will become less important to posture and front, but I see little evidence of that. Indeed many of the guys I know and interact with are of a different generation than my own, and I see the toll that the reluctance to talk takes on their relationships with their wives or girlfriends, their siblings. their friends.
Clearly, this is evident in our politics as well, as the political arena is by and large made up of men, and the few women who have gained access have too often done so by adopting a man’s style. (There are of course notable exceptions.) Men run corporations, and corporations are monuments of fear, disguised as greed. If the company isn’t growing, it becomes a target, these days a global one. What it can’t defeat in the market it absorbs instead. Staff accountants count the beans, actuaries determine the odds, and the results determine the direction. The effect on the blood and muscle of the company is rarely factored in. The effect on the community as a whole is rarely factored in. This perpetuates a climate of fear. I imagine few among us don’t fear losing our jobs regardless of how much work we put in. Most of us know people who worked hard their entire lives, yet the decision to invest in company stock cost them dearly, and they are now faced with bleak retirement prospects. One wrong decision can wipe out a lifetime of achievement, and there are very few opportunities to recoup, especially so as we get older.
I wish I had answers. I’m not altogether sure that answers exist, and that may be the whole point. Maybe it is enough to just acknowledge the condition, and by recognizing it we may be less inclined to let it govern our actions. At least thats my plan. This was very hard to write and to share, but I’m going to let hitting the “publish” button be my one act of over-coming fear today.