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How I help my sons with their big feelings

How I help my sons with their big feelings
How I help my sons with their big feelings

 


RESILIENCE IS AT at the forefront of my daily thoughts. I remember with astonishing clarity the conversations my father had with me when I was younger than my sons are today. He talked about the thick skin I would have to develop when people judged me for my color. It was a lot to take in for a little kid with big feelings.

As a mixed-race black father, I know now, and perhaps felt then, that my father had big feelings, felt too much because they were hidden behind that gritty facade, a pearly stoic exterior hardened by having survived a world that tried to kill him.

The way he showed his great feelings was to pass on as many pearls of wisdom as possible to his son. And he did what he set out to do. He protected me from the dangers he feared, as best he could. But I admit that some of that protection came at the cost of enclosing my big feelings in a shell, shielding me from some of the things those feelings might have allowed me to enjoy.

The Devil is Fine: a novel

The Devil is Fine: a novel

My sons also have big feelings and approach them honestly, perhaps an unwanted gift from their old man. Unfortunately, I see the sparks of fear that these feelings generated in me as a boy their age (and if I'm honest, as an adult), the worries, the anxieties, the voices fueling stress and doubt .

Despite myself, at least early in my fatherhood, I relied on courage, on stoicism, on fortitude, on toughness, on protecting the soft centers of those who could get past that shell. I watched their faces as they looked at me in confusion, smarter than me as our children always are, wondering why I was encouraging them to not feel their feelings.

And then I thought of oysters. When a foreign object passes through the shield-shaped valves of an oyster, the irritant becomes lodged in the soft body. This sand, this plastic, these grains are a wound, and the formation of a pearl around this hurt is its healing. This is beautiful and precious scar tissue. It is a symbol of survival.

I don't want my boys to have courage. Yes, I want them to be strong. I want them to be brave. But I don't want them to be like this by closing their hearts which are three times too big for their bodies.

I want them to develop the ability to face the challenges of the world while remaining open to love and to develop the ability to absorb whatever life might throw at their soft centers and transform it into something something priceless, to restore beauty to everything that could see them. hurts.

I want them to look like oysters.

A version of this article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of Men's health.

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