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As a single father who has been raising two teen boys (alone) for the past seven years, my goal is and always has been to raise emotionally strong, healthy, independent men; however, that includes being an open communicator and being fully transparent when it comes to expressing our feelings. However, American society, like most societies, has traditionally dictated that, as men, we must only show our strengths and never outwardly express our emotions because it is perceived to be a sign of weakness.
Men have traditionally been raised to remain detached from emotional pain, suffering, and other perceived vulnerabilities and weaknesses because those are thought to be feminine traits. The problem with this outdated approach is that, as boys, we are taught to suppress our emotions because expressing them will be viewed by others as unmanly, abnormal, emasculating, or in some way damaging to our male egos.
In my opinion, this is a significant factor as to why we are seeing a significant spike in depression among males of all ages and the current scientific research supports this assertion. Therefore, it is critical that we embrace and accept those perceived emotional vulnerabilities as not weaknesses, but rather as strengths, and accept that no one is truly perfect. After all, the term “perfection” is a socially constructed term that cannot be uniformly defined. How do we describe the perfect physical body, the perfect level of intelligence, and the perfect personality? It is all based on perception as to how we see ourselves and how others see us.
Despite the widespread acceptance of mental illness as a specialized subcategory within the “medical” profession, men who acknowledge having depression are still stigmatized, criticized, and ostracized in American society, especially men who work in professions that expect emotional invincibility, resiliency, and strength. Ridiculous phrases such as “man up,” “toughen up,” and “be strong” are statements (or rather advice) constantly used by friends, family, and employers, as if it were that easy to turn on “happiness.” No one chooses to feel sad, lonely, or empty. There is no logic in thinking that people choose to be depressed.
Depression and anxiety are clinical psychological disorders that fall under the broader category of mental illness. When most think of mental illness, they often conjure up images of chaotic, abusive, psychiatric hospitals filled with individuals completely out of touch with reality, ingesting dozens of anti-psychotic pills a day, and unable to function in society. Scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest come to mind, but that is an incorrect assumption that paints an inaccurate picture of what most experience.
Psychological disorders can range from relatively minor to debilitating and severe, from situational to acute to chronic, and the onset of the disorders can emerge in early childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Depression and anxiety can be hereditary and inherently passed down generationally, stem from hormonal and/or chemical imbalances, and can result from distressing social, environmental stressors and experiences such as divorce, loss of a job, an illness or injury, death of a loved one, abuse of any kind, or witnessing / experiencing something horrific and traumatic. Simply stated, it could be a combination of psychological, biological, or environmental factors, or quite possibly, a culmination of all three.
Our depressive thoughts can be quite destructive, especially when we are left alone, often because of purposely isolating and distancing ourselves from others. This is especially common for men suffering from anxiety, depression, or in many cases, these men are consumed by both disorders, which could easily spiral into addiction, alcoholism, and thoughts of suicide. For those who suffer from anxiety, it can feel like your mind is constantly racing in an endless loop or cycle where you feel completely wired and out of control over your competing thoughts. Most with anxiety would agree that it is incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to shut your thoughts down, especially at 2 or 3 am. The obsessive thinking and compulsive feelings of worry, despair, and desolation can be quite consuming and can literally come out of nowhere.
At other times, depression and darkness set in with a vengeance and oftentimes, with little to no warning, leading to feelings of helplessness, lethargy, and what I would describe as an emptiness or numbness inside as if there is an emotional void. Despite all the positive aspects in our lives that we KNOW are going well on a conscious level, the demons inside our minds sabotage those positive thoughts with negativity and cynicism on a subconscious level, which in turn, clouds our conscious, rational judgments and perceptions, and quickly drains and darkens our views as to how we falsely see the world.
As I sat down to write this piece, I wanted to convey an important message that depression and anxiety are often purposely hidden from others, even those we are closest to, whether it be family or friends. The photo that I selected for this piece captures what it is like to have depression and anxiety, and I believe that this picture is fitting because I feel that most of us wear a fictitious mask in public in which we show the world our smiles, we openly share jokes and laughs, and constantly exude happiness with our “social faces,” but deep inside, our thoughts can sometimes be in conflict and turmoil, yet we work so hard to never let that “face,” our truest, realist reflection of ourselves, appear in social settings and be shown to others.
There is a Japanese saying in which you have three faces.
- The First Face, you show to the world. This is the mask that we put on when we engage with people while traveling, working, on social media, etc.
- The Second Face, you show only to your close friends and your family, those you truly trust.
- The Third Face, you never show to anyone because it is the truest reflection of who you are. This is the utmost inner truth of who we are and what we think.
I have had my own battles with depression and anxiety for as long as I could remember, although I do believe that I now have a deeper understanding of both and have devised coping strategies that have helped minimize my panic attacks and bouts of depression. I know that I am not alone since both disorders are common psychological disorders with varying degrees of intensity.
Nevertheless, the stigma is still there, especially among men and that desperately needs to change. Depression, in particular, is a silent killer because the average man is hesitant or unwilling to seek treatment for a number of reasons. As men, we are taught and honestly believe that we can handle it on our own. It is an inflated, yet false sense of self-reliance stemming from how we have been raised as men to always be strong and in control. The problem is that we typically “handle it” by drinking, misusing over-the-counter or prescription medications, and engage in other unhealthy coping strategies as opposed to talking about it openly with others.
According to a recent Men’s Health article (May 2018), more than 6 million men suffer from depression on any given day and more than 3 million suffer from anxiety on any given day.
While those statistics are not necessarily startling, what follows is.
- Male suicide is rising at such an alarming rate that it is has been classified as a silent epidemic.
- Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide.
- Suicide is now the second most common cause of death among men from age 10 to 39.
- A staggering 75% – 80% of all U.S “completed” suicides are men.
- Women are more likely to “attempt” suicide, but men are more likely to complete the act and that is largely due to the violent manner in which men choose to end their lives (firearms).
- Men are less likely to openly exhibit warning signs or discuss suicidal ideations and thoughts with others even with those that we know and trust.
- One out of every five men will develop an alcohol dependency during his life to cope with depression and anxiety.
- More than 90% of those diagnosed with Schizophrenia by age 30 are men
- An estimated 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder
The list goes on and on. Lots of information on these male issues, but virtually nothing on plausible solutions or recommendations to address these issues. Why? As men, we have been taught from a very early age that expressing ourselves emotionally is largely a feminine trait and that is why men are more likely to describe depression and anxiety through physical descriptions such as feeling tired, achy, rundown, burnt-out, etc., all of which are socially acceptable. If you search for “men and depression” on Google, the number of sources is limited to nine pages. To put this in perspective, in 2014, Google indexed 67 BILLION pages, and the information pertaining to men and depression is limited to 9-pages.
Bottling up our emotions can and likely will, adversely affect our physical well-being. The release of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and other problematic physical ailments. For example, in June 2011, a Harvard University study reported that a significant physical concern for men with depression is cardiovascular disease. Depression is a well-known risk factor for coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. Men are especially vulnerable because they develop these diseases at a higher rate and at an earlier age than women.
Why discuss it openly and quite publicly now? We are moving in a direction, a good direction, in which many are coming forward publicly about their bouts with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, and alcoholism. I have always been a proponent of open communication. I believe that speaking about an issue or concern creates awareness and awareness leads to education and education leads to change.
It has been quite some time since I last posted anything on this site simply due to the craziness of my life. Not sure why, but today seemed to be the appropriate day to start anew with a fresh look at what it truly means to be a good dad from not just my perspective, but also other fathers who share the same thoughts as I do. Honestly, to me, 90% of parenting is simply winging it. You often rely on your past memories through your own upbringing, your gut intuition, and then you simply pray and hope for the best. Sometimes, you sit back and think, “yeah, I totally nailed that,” but most times I’m like, “Shit, I totally fucked that up.” As a realist, parenting can be incredibly rewarding, yet equally frustrating and that can all occur within the same hour, but what does it truly mean to be a good dad or better yet, a great dad in today’s world?
In my opinion, the foundation of being a great dad is not just providing for your family with the necessities of food, shelter, protection, and what you perceive to be manly guidance, but also teaching your kids how to navigate through childhood and adolescence by breaking through the cultural and societal barriers as to how we, as men and boys, have been told to behave and act. I have never been one to follow societal norms, partly out of stubbornness and my determination to do what I believe is right, not according to the script provided by society. I recently came across a powerful documentary titled, The Mask You Live In that I thought was quite compelling and worth sharing.
It is not surprising to know that boys are three times more likely to commit suicide than girls or engage in acts of extreme violence. As men, we have traditionally been raised in a culture of hyper-masculinity that includes power, dominance, control, and aggression, but more importantly and equally destructive, we have been taught to suppress our emotions and feelings. Well, fuck that! The current generation of fathers can play a huge role in dismantling those traditional gender expectations. In a 2014 survey, respondents stated that “Fathers are fully capable of being nurturing, they want to be nurturing, and when they nurture, not only are boys and girls and partners better off… (the Men) become better people, less depressed and much happier.” Emotional suppression has consequences, both physically and emotionally. This is not to suggest that we lose our sense of masculinity, but rather to encourage open communication that entails appropriately expressing our feelings of frustration, sadness, and anger rather than bottling those emotions up because you have been told that expressing yourself is a sign of weakness and vulnerability. On the contrary, to me, it is a sign of strength, not weakness.
While I accept that I am far from perfect, I continuously challenge myself to be the best father possible, which as you can imagine, is not an easy feat to achieve when you work non-traditional hours working full-time and part-time. Thankfully, over the years, I have worked out most of the parenting kinks through trial and error. As any single parent knows, there is no single way to effectively parent. While I would not wish this upon anyone, the divorce and ensuing custody battles did make me reevaluate many things in my life as far as what is important and what is trivial. I still harbor quite a bit of anger towards my ex-wife. I hope one day that will subside, but the entire series of events contributed to making me a better employee and better father. I had to work harder and smarter over the years to ensure that I could provide a good, comfortable living and that required that I go back to school for my doctorate degree and work several jobs to compensate for the salary that my ex-wife had made and tack it onto my own.
Over the years, I have met and become friends with a number of single dads who I admire and respect. Single parenting is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs out there, but single fathering can be slightly more difficult because of the societal stigma attached to fathers as often being the lesser-qualified parent simply based on gender. Sadly, the antiquated family court system exacerbates this stigma by requiring fathers to jump through a number of legal hurdles to prove that they can be great parents, most of which are insulting and demeaning. I am hopeful that with more men stepping up, the term deadbeat dad will be modified to deadbeat parent so as not to cast a negative light on the men who can and will be great fathers if given the opportunity to do so.
Most men, especially if you’re like me, tend to see themselves as “fixers.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “you just think you can fix everything” – Well, I’d probably have a lot more money. Hell yeah, I think I can fix everything. Why can’t I ? It is in our competitive nature to embrace the saying, “for every problem, there is a solution.” So, why is the label “fixer” used negatively in nearly all the relationship literature?
As men, when we are confronted with a problem or challenging situation, we quickly assess the situation (after all – why waste valuable time), and then set out to “fix” the problem. Sounds easy enough, right? After all, we’re men and that’s what we do. Whether this perception of ourselves is right or wrong, that’s how our brains are wired. I cannot tell you whether this desire to successfully “conquer” all problems with a plausible explanation or solution stems from genetics (nature) or socialization (nurture). Honestly, it does not matter. If you’re a history buff like me you’ll realize that throughout history, men, when threatened, will invade, conquer, and seize control. That’s what we do. Problem solved! As men, when our lives become out of balance, we set out to reestablish that balance by putting things back to normal – you know, the way things used to be.We like to go back to what was comfortable and familiar.
We typically don’t respond well when we cannot make sense out of what we perceive to be an easy fix. When we can’t fix the problem or situation in our lives, we often feel defeated and frustrated. So, now what? In my opinion, giving up should never be an option. Pretty inspirational shit, right? Then why do so many men simply give up and walk away from their children? I’m theorizing that it has to do with this defeatist attitude that replaces the victorious attitude when we convince ourselves that we can’t fix the situation. After all, we’re men and if we can’t fix it, then F–k it.The truth is that when we are faced with difficult situations that we cannot resolve quickly and easily, our negative emotions take control of us. Some men think that it is better to submit to defeat as opposed to embracing the three P’s – Perseverance, Persistence, and Pro-activity.
“Perseverance is a great element of success. If you knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In order to change the perception that if we can’t fix it, we simply give up, we must rid ourselves of the defeatist attitude. In criminology, there’s a theory by Robert Merton that I often cite in my lectures called the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” which essentially states that that negative beliefs predict negative behavior or problems in life. In other words, what you believe WILL come true because you subconsciously and consciously act in ways that cause the negative event to happen. These thoughts are incredibly powerful and real. They can be positive or negative beliefs but in most situations, the theory is used to describe how we come to adopt the negative, defeatist attitude.
Therefore, if self-fulfilling prophecies work for explaining negative outcomes, isn’t it plausible that they can work for positive outcomes as well? In other words, most, if not all, negative behaviors, attitudes, reactions, and responses are learned, therefore, they can be unlearned and replaced with positive behaviors, attitudes, reactions, and responses.So, what does this all mean? Being a fixer should not be seen with a “can or cannot” attitude or an “all or nothing” attitude, but rather that the issue simply requires that we go back, reevaluate the situation, and take a different approach.
“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
MARCEL PROUST, “The Captive,” Remembrance of Things Past
“Every dad, if he takes time out of his busy life to reflect upon his fatherhood, can learn ways to become an even better dad.“
Hello. My name is Mike. After a tumultuous divorce and years of ensuing custody battles, I found myself in a rewarding, yet equally challenging role as a single dad. As a writer, writing has always been a constructive outlet for me to channel my emotions in a positive manner, so I decided to search out other single dads as a source of support, networking, friendship, and guidance. However, I quickly realized that the overwhelming majority of single parent blogs out there on the web are written by moms for moms. There are a few blogs written by men for men, but I found nearly all of them to be filled with rage and anger with a heavy emphasis on “seeking revenge.” I don’t know about you but I want nothing more than to leave the negative drama of the past in the past and instead focus on paving the path for a bright,productive future with my children by my side.
I created “Dads Can Too” to emphasize the important role that single Dads can and should play in their children’s lives. Our role as fathers, for the most part, has been diminished by an antiquated family court system that erroneously portrays most men as being unable or unwilling to care for their children after a period of separation or divorce. While I acknowledge some men have chosen to abandon their children, a sizable and growing number of us “contemporary-type” dads want to be actively involved in our children’s lives. As a former prison administrator, I know firsthand that some men have chosen to abandon their role as “father” for one reason or another, but branding all fathers with the demeaning label of deadbeat dad is unfair, unjust, and unwarranted simply due to gender and nothing else.
That’s why I chose to title my blog, “Dads Can Too” to stress that every father can step up and be just as nurturing and actively involved in the child’s life as the child’s mother, whether that mother is in the child’s life via joint custody, or for whatever reason, absent from the child’s life. As a single dad, I recognize and respect the important role that we, as single dads, must play in our children’s lives. It is a role that I do not take lightly.
My goal in creating the “Dads Can Too” blog is quite simple – to emphasize the important role that single dads can play in their children’s lives. This initial post and all subsequent posts will NOT and I stress, NOT, demean or criticize mothers, fathers, judges, attorneys, or child custody workers. That is not the intended purpose of this blog and to be quite honest, counterproductive to moving single fathers forward.
Instead, I want to stress the importance of single parenting regardless of the parent’s gender. We, as single parents, must assume the role of both mother and father, which is no easy task at times, but it can and will be achieved if you believe in yourself and your abilities to parent your child(ren). With a little support and guidance, we can help each other to get through the challenges that we will inevitably face on this journey through parenthood as single dads.
For me personally, I am fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive network of friends and a family that have repeatedly gone above and beyond the typical role of grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, and friends over the years. To me, this support network of friends and family is crucial to have; however, I also realize and respect that asking for help is a matter of pride and if you’re like me, a certain degree of stubbornness. I truly believe that this Blog can help other single dads out there who, like me, are simply finding their way through parenthood and discovering who they truly are, without a road map or GPS to guide them along the way.
To me, the written word is a positive way to channel your emotions, some of which may still be clouded with anger, resentment, and sadness. While the anger, resentment, and sadness that you may be experiencing today is normal and to some degree, expected, you cannot allow these negative emotions to consume you. If left unresolved, these negative emotions will inevitably take a toll on your emotional and physical health and negatively affect your ability to parent your child. Let’s focus on activities that we can do with our children to build the bond between a dad and his son(s) and daughter(s). Children learn by observing so we must present ourselves as positive role models for our children to emulate not hate; therefore, it is imperative that you keep your negative thoughts and feelings about your “ex” to yourself. Ex-bashing, as I refer to it, is counterproductive and will only create resentment in your child. No matter how you feel about your “ex,” he/she is still their mother / father.
I welcome all to comment and participate; however, as the blog mediator, I have to highlight some important ground rules. Absolutely No bashing, venting, threatening, or otherwise criticizing anyone for any reason. No profanity as well. Let’s keep this family-friendly. A word of caution – This is an open public forum so what is said here can be used against you in court so it is critical that your comments remain neutral and unbiased, therefore, I must insist that you do not name anyone specifically or even make the slightest inferences to that person or to a certain event or situation. It is best to talk in generalities. The assumption by most is that social media conversations are protected by the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech and Expression); however, that’s not necessarily accurate as we have seen in recent court rulings concerning Facebook and other social media sites.
I realize and obviously agree that most of us have had our fair share of war stories and personal challenges and frustrations, but this is not the place to voice those frustrations. Over the years, I joined several blogs in the hopes of finding some solace in their written messages, but most, not all, tend to focus more on the negative issues as opposed to focusing on the positive issues and events that our occurring in our lives. We must support each other in making changes starting at the individual level with you, as the single dad, and if this blog is as successful as I hope it will be, we can start making changes to the family court system’s view of single dads and what is truly in the best interests of our children. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “There is power in numbers and there is power in unity.”