from On Men by Antony Clare
As a young psychiatrist in the late 1960s and 1970s I regularly
encountered the phenomenon then known as the 'empty nest' syndrome. It
afflicted married women who, having given their lives to the rearing of
their families, found when they reached their fifties that their children
had grown up and gone and their spouses were off living a life of work
and golf. Now, I don't see so many women from empty nests. Rather I see
middle-aged men, who gave their lives loyally to this company or that
corporation, who sacrificed everything for it, now ruthlessly put out
to grass, compulsorily retired, downsized, rendered redundant. Bewildered,
they look around but their children have flown and their spouses are otherwise
occupied. It is the women who now play golf, who have jobs and friends
at work. It is the men who cower in the empty nest, nervously facing what
an eloquent Irish businessman friend has termed 'the forgotten future'.
From the outset of public life as a male - at school, university,
medical school, debating union, postgraduate research centre, hospital
- I learned to compete and pretend to a confidence I didn't often (didn't
ever) feel. That is what men are required to do. As a result, one of the
commonest fears of mature men is that they will be 'found out' in some
mysterious fashon. As a young father, I shouted at my children in order
to feel powerful, and covertly and sometimes overtly declared that manly
boys didn't complain but had to be strong and responsible and suppress
vulnerability, particularly if they were to avoid being bullied by other
boys. As a young husband, I loved my wife and was, or so I believed, a
sympathetic and liberated 'new' male. Now I am not so sure.
She sacrificed much to be a committed and full-time mother.
I sacrificed little to be a peripheral and very part-time peripheral dad.
But I was the family provider and that counted for a great deal - to me
at any rate - and I was a father to my children, even if I would have
been hard put to define what being a father was.
Now the whole issue of men - the point of them, their purpose,
their value, their justification - is a matter for public debate. Serious
commentators declare that men are redundant, that women do not need them
and children would be better off without them. At the beginning of the
twenty first century it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that men
are in serious trouble. Throughout the world, developed and developing,
antisocial behaviour is essentially male. Violence, sexual abuse of children,
illicit drug use, alcohol misuse, gambling are all overwhelmingly male
activities. The courts and prisons bulge with men. When it comes to aggression,
delinquent behaviour, risk taking and social mayhem, men win gold.
And yet, for all their behaving badly, they do not seem
any the happier. Throughout North America, Europe and Australia, male
suicides outnumber female by a factor of between 3 and 4 to 1. The rise
in the number of young men killing themselves in much of the developed
world has been rightly termed an epidemic. For the old, the situation
is no better. For every six elderly women in every 100,000 who kill themselves,
40 elderly men take their own lives. And these suicide figures are viewed
as the tip of an iceberg of male depression, an iceberg hidden only because
men are seen to be either too proud or too emotionally constipated to
admit when their feelings are out of control. Men renowned for their ability
and inclination to be stoned, drunk or sexually daring, appear terrified
by the prospect of revealing that they can be - and often are - depressed,
dependent, in need of help.