September 27, 2015 by Dadinator
My grandfather knew what it was to be strong. To be strong was to fight Hitler, to win a war that threatened the survival of his nation. To be strong he had to work hard, to get on with his life and to persevere through rationing, through poverty and through all the trials life threw at him. To be strong he had to be a man. To be strong he had to push the nightmares down. Dismiss the flashbacks. Ignore the screams that he heard in his sleep, the sweats, the panic and the anger. To be strong he had to be firm with his children, teach them right from wrong and discipline them.
My father knew what it was to be strong. To be strong was to come from nothing, to work hard and make your own way. To be strong was to travel to a new country while still a teenager, to travel across it working and building the Australia we knew today. To be strong was to give your children more than you ever could have dreamed of having. To be strong was to forget the blows you received, to forget the connection you missed and forge on. To get on with it and to work on improving your lot. To be strong was to be successful, to be the best at your job, to work hard. You had to give your children every opportunity, to make sure they didn’t waste it and make sure they never had to suffer as you once did.
I have not had to struggle the way my forebears had and I lived off the spoils they reaped from their hard work. I still work hard and make sacrifices for my children. I still try to give them the best of everything, and the best of myself. I still try to guide them to teach right from wrong. I stand side by side with my wife, as a partnership in our family. I hold my children, cuddle them, talk to then, nurture them. I change nappies, I sing songs, I read stories, I run baths, I play, I jump, I bounce. I say “I love you” every day, sometimes every minute.
But I don’t know what it is to be strong. I have struggled. I have cried. I have lost my cool at my children, and vowed to do better. I have asked for help, I have sought strength from others around me. I have admitted my mistakes, tried to make up for them and have done my utmost to spend every second I can with my children.
Men want to be strong, we try to be strong, we are told to be strong.
But I don’t know what it is to be strong. I look back on the strength of my father, the strength of my grandfather and I wonder, did they know themselves what it was to be strong? Did they really know?
Can you cry to your wife, admit your failure, admit your struggles and still be strong? Can you turn to other men, fathers and friends and say “I’m not okay right now, can I talk to you?” and still be strong? Can you talk to a psychiatrist in a room about yourself, about your anxieties, stresses and worries because you need help – and still be strong?
I think you can.
I want my son to have strength. I want him to try his hardest, to overcome adversity and to forge through life pursuing his dreams. I want him to have resilience and perseverance. I want him to be himself.
I want him to have other kinds of strength also. I want him to admit his mistakes and learn from them. I want him to reach out for help when he needs it. I want him to tell me if he is hurt, angry or sad. I want him to lend his strength to others when they need him.
Strength doesn’t mean invulnerability. Strength doesn’t mean dominance. Strength doesn’t mean control. These ideals of strength have harmed countless men, women and children through the years.
Strength doesn’t mean trying to be strong all the time, and I want my son to be strong enough to realise that, most of all.
This article written for www.theline.org.au/parents – a resource challenging attitudes and behaviours that support violence.