My father and I didn’t always have a positive relationship. In fact, I spent most of my childhood resenting him. His abrasive, aggressive style of parenting was a stark contrast to the way my mother approached the subject. Not one for patience, his strike-first, talk-it-out-later attitude made it very difficult for a young, developing son to open up.
You see, growing up in a third world country such as The Bahamas, men are supposed to be “hard”. Keeping a tough exterior, to many young men there, is paramount. “It’s important they think I’m a thug,” exclaims a young man in a popular video series. “You’s a sissy aye?,” another youth barks to his companion. Boys just don’t cry.
In my 28 years of knowing him, I’ve seen or heard of my father crying four times – three of which happened at funerals of close family members. Those times were my only look into my father’s emotional side. Before then, I wasn’t sure that side of him existed.
The fourth was more recent – after a string of financial difficulties and a few unlucky breaks, my mom told me he broke down one evening at home. The Bahamas was hit by a hurricane last fall – delaying him in getting his dream of opening a restaurant off the ground. The pressure of working in a seasonal profession (my dad regularly takes guests on fishing trips in good weather, and does odd jobs otherwise) and providing for a family all came to a head. In my opinion, I think that would make the most stoic man crack.
I’ve never opened up to my father about my struggles with mental illness and the other difficulties that come with being an emotional man, and I wish I could. I am still working up the strength to, and I know one day we will be able to share that moment. Until then, here are some things I wish I could say without breaking down myself.
- It’s OK not to be OK. There are good days, and there are bad. You don’t have to feel great all the time, and if you don’t right now, that’s perfectly fine.
- You may not want to talk right now, but if you ever do, I am here for you.
- It’s OK to take a break. Even though things may not be going well right now, take a step back and appreciate all you have already accomplished.
- You are not weak. Depression and mental illness should never be seen as signs of weakness, rather that your mind needs a break from being strong.
- I love you. I know we may not always see eye-to-eye, but I’d never let the fact that one of us may be struggling come between our relationship as father and son.
- Thank you for being a father, and for being there. I appreciate everything about you and accept you for who you are, including your struggles.
If you are struggling with similar issues, or are unsure of how to speak to someone close to you who is experiencing depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illness – I hope these few points are helpful.