Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What is it with Guys?

This is kind of a rant. I get the inherent differences between the sexes and over the years I've had enough books thrust at me by Meagan ("Men are from Mars, Women from Venus") to explain the differences and provide instruction for me to become more (here you can fill in the word: vulnerable, communicative, non-critical, non-judgmental, empathetic, open, able to talk things through, etc.). Being a guy I know when things are challenging emotionally and when the flight response kicks in and I have to fight the urge to "run to my cave". I also get that guys still have that macho thing and whether they know it or not, there is the status hierarchy thing, and then with all good intention - not bringing up topics which put the other guy in a situation where they show weakness or vulnerability (this probably is happening a lot in parts of the real world with unemployment of middle age white guys being so high). I also know that guys tend to focus on work or sports and having been a stay-at-home dad when Meagan went back to school to get her English degree at the UW, understand the awkwardness of being in a social situation and seeing guys having to deal with my response to the question: "so what do you do?". Guys are still defined mostly by what they do, not who they are, and conversation tends to stick to that realm. Or the kids. My point in all this is I think I have an ability to assess things from multiple perspectives, but am still puzzled and irritated by the following.

As a caregiver I have received an incredible amount of support from our female friends and family. It's really pretty amazing. Caregivers are often forgotten, period, because after all, the person with the cancer deservedly needs attention. When you have a situation like ours - where it has gone on for some time (and hopefully will continue for a while longer)  - there is even the danger that the attention wavers from the cancer victim - I am so grateful that is not the case with us. As a caregiver I have received thoughtful cards, email notes, offers of support, invitations to coffee, books, and gifts (including one great massage appointment at a wonderful spa) from the females. And in person they invariably want to know how I am doing, and invite me to talk about how I'm feeling and provide expressions of support and empathy. It's probably not surprising given the kind of people with whom we have surrounded ourselves over the years. So I am very grateful for this support  - it has truly helped me in what really is a tragic (and long term) situation with our family.

So here is the "but". Where are the guys? I can count on one hand the guys who have reached out and come close to matching the response of the females. I might get an email or facebook post once in a while that is a one liner - "if there is anything I can do, let me know" (note: this may be the single most unhelpful offer someone can provide - it's the equivalent of the Hollywood producer saying, "call me").  In the last year (it is coming up on our official diagnosis one year anniversary in two days) I have received maybe three substantive cards from my male acquaintances. I can reliably count on two men to reach out regularly and invite me to coffee or tea to just talk. In social situations I never get any inquiries into how I am doing or any expressions of empathy or understanding - even when they have deep knowledge of the situation. Over the last weekend we were at a large celebration and I was talking briefly with an older guy I know (one generation above me) whose wife had gone through cancer and strokes (you'd think there would be a little common ground...) and his one comment to me was, "I know what you are going through", before he asked me what I thought of Microsoft's executive management (as if I care...). Nobody else even acknowledged what I might be going through or asked a single question. If I brought it up in any way to a guy it was reliably brushed aside (so you pretty quickly stop doing that - I am not a masochist).

Really, it's weird. It's like the elephant in the room maybe. Maybe they think by asking the questions - "how are you holding up?", or "it must be hard, what are you doing to take care of yourself?" - it will open up an emotional situation that they find too uncomfortable. Maybe they don't want to bother me or make me emotionally upset (better not to say anything to rock his boat even more) and think it's a good thing to not say anything. Maybe they are clueless? Narcissistic? It's not like these are Neanderthals - these are all bright, educated, professional men who are married to great women. I just don't get it.

Meagan and I often talk about the gifts that cancer has brought - not that we wanted them - but we have learned important lessons and been the recipients of marvelous gifts and enhanced relationships as a result of her disease. I have learned from my female friends and family and a few males what one can do in this kind of situation for a caregiver that will be meaningful. I know that most of my male friends are going to be in my situation eventually - for their spouse or parent or loved one. I now know what to do in that situation and I will do it. Because they will need it and they won't be getting it from their other male friends.

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