It wasn’t until becoming a father that I realized how a childhood of witnessing verbal and physical abuse by the men in my family — specifically, my father and brothers — had impacted me and left wounds which had never truly healed.
I know this because I occasionally saw reflections of my father and brothers in myself as I fought to avoid making the same mistakes with my own children.
As much as we want to tell ourselves we can choose not to take any baggage with us on our journey through life, there is no getting rid of it completely — only a conscious decision to leave it circling on the carousel.
Ultimately, it is always somewhere. Circling. Waiting to be claimed.
This is especially true for young men in their teens and early 20s, when they are defining themselves and establishing their place in what is still a male-dominated culture — all while simultaneously trying to understand the intricacies of communicating with those they love.
Even as a teenager some 35 years ago, I can tell you that appearing tough and “manly” among your peers while still holding on to the part of you that is thoughtful and caring feels contradictory to what we’re taught about being a man.
The stereotypical definition of manhood was in movies, advertising and music: Being a man means being in control.
Of life and our relationships.
Seeking true equilibrium is even more difficult today because, unlike 35 years ago, the unhealthy stereotypes that define “manhood” are relentlessly perpetuated through social media and the near-constant presence of advertising that sells body wash, music, movie tickets, clothes and video games by depicting what it looks like, sounds like and feels like to “be a man.”
It is baggage our culture has been carrying for generations, repackaged and presented in more ways than ever before.
The fact is, being a real man does mean being in control.
But not of others; it means being in control of yourself enough to understand, acknowledge and accept your strengths as well as your weaknesses.
It means never using your strength — physically or verbally — to harm the women in our lives, whether it be your wife, girlfriend, co-worker, mother, daughter or neighbor.
A real man provides protection, safety and acceptance; a weak man dishes out pain, insecurity and denial.
In either case, they are reflections of our inner self. The question is: What kind of reflection do you want to see when you look in the mirror each day?
As wonderful as our communities in Cottage Grove and surrounding areas are, they aren’t immune to domestic violence against women, children and men.
There’s no denying that the cultural threads of domestic violence are woven into the fabric of our society. Though we have made strides in some areas by recognizing and discussing matters of physical and verbal abuse, that baggage is still out there circling on the carousel.
This Sunday begins NO MORE Week, March 8-14, which nationally recognizes how “Together, We Can End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.” Across our nation, 1-in-3 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime, with 1-in-4 being the victim of a sexual assault.
Men also are not immune to this type of violence, with 1-in-6 men having experienced abusive sexual experiences in their lifetime.
Whether you are a survivor of domestic abuse or want to show your support for those who are, I hope you will take an opportunity this coming week to participate — either at community meetings, by supporting legislation or volunteering to help victims of abuse.
As a culture, each of us must make a commitment to avoid claiming the baggage that perpetuates violence on our families and each other; as a community, we must make a commitment to each other to support — and when necessary speak up for — our friends, family members and neighbors who we suspect may be victims.
Most importantly, to end the cycle of domestic violence, we must be willing to carry on with that commitment well beyond next week.
For more information on NO MORE Week, visit nomore.org/campaigns/no-more-week-2020.