Actor Sam Elliott was so cool and so damn tough. He had a certain look; a full head of dark hair, bushy, strong eyebrows and a big mustache. Tanned, slightly leathered skin. The characters he played were cowboys or bikers.
A man of few words, when he did speak it was with a voice as dark and as rich as a fine single malt whiskey.
He was a dark, solitary and mysterious man who would ride into town to deal to the men who couldn’t deal with it themselves and then ride back out again. Sam Elliott was so cool and so tough that he made Clint Eastwood look like a hormonal teenager.
I always wanted to be just like Sam Elliott.
A few weeks back Sam Elliott reappeared on my TV screen. The same full head of hair, strong bushy eyebrows and big moustache. His skin still leathery and his voice just as dark and as rich as ever.
But these days the hair and the moustache are white and instead of dealing to the guys that cant deal themselves, today Sam Elliott was dealing with himself.
Far more introspective, questioning his own value and self worth, dealing to his insecurities and self doubt. Reconciling past relationships and trying to reconcile his past, worried about his virility and considering that fact that he never did live up to his full potential. Never became what he had dreamed of becoming.
As I sat and watched this new, older man I realised that I am indeed now, just like Sam Elliot.
Its surprising how many men are struggling to deal with depression, low mood, self doubt. anxiety and all that emotional stuff that we are so bad at dealing with.
I talk of men because it are mostly men that I discuss these issues with. I have come across a couple of women, one in particular, and she is wonderful to talk to, but I sense that it is easier for women to talk about emotions. For men just talking about how we are feeling, how we struggle, is hard and these conversations create a special bond that men are not used to.
I believe in the power of conversation. These conversations that we have are, for men, only ever one-on-one. I wonder how it would be, how more powerful it could be, if we men were willing to, able to, have group discussions.
These one-on-one conversations, between friends, therapist / patient, its like its still a dirty little secret.
Take any group of men and consider how many of them, may be struggling with suppressed emotions and misconceptions about what it is to be a man, whether or not they realise it for themselves.
We only find others who are going through the same things as we are once we are courageous enough to speak up. Until that time, we suffer alone. How many men have suffered unnecessarily simply because they couldn’t speak up or speak out?
Its crap that we can’t do this better. I know about this stuff and I talk a lot about it but even I still find it hard to talk about and share. I’m thinking and hoping that the younger generations of men are doing it way better than us.
Yeah men need to change their ways and their attitudes, well many men do but we are as we are not just from choice. A lot of what men are about is because of social pressure. Its not a gender issue and I am coming to believe that its not a mental health issue. Its cultural.
If men can’t speak up and out about these issues, then who will?
The following is a speech that I proudly presented on Anzac Day, 2017. It is a message that should be shared.
At the outbreak of World War 2, Great Britain was still treating 120,000 World War 1 veterans for mental illness.
The casualty rate in wars since 1945 has fallen to just 30% of the levels experienced in World War 2. In the same time the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has tripled.
When they returned to America the Vietnam veterans returned to a home divided by its own internal conflicts.
The Vietnam veterans were the most hate veterans of all time.
They were also the most traumatised.
In Afghanistan and Iraq only 10% of American soldiers actually see active combat, yet on returning home 50% of them suffer some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
On average 22 American veterans die by suicide each and every day.
We don’t have the figures for New Zealand.
For many soldiers going off to war is the straight forward part, it’s in coming home that their real battles begin.
For my Grandfather these were the 8 further invasive operations that he had to endure to treat his wounds.
It was the near 10 year long battle with bureaucracy before he was finally awarded his full pension and was finally able to give up having to go to work every day.
It was his ongoing battles with alcoholism and depression.
This speech was originally written for my grandfather but on Thursday I received this letter from a woman who I do not know. Who I have never met. In it she tells her father’s story detailing his experiences in World War 2 and the battles he faced when he came home. Jacqueline has asked that I also tell his story.
As it turns out Jack Freeman was, like my Grandfather, a gunner. Like my Grandfather he fought in Egypt and Italy. They may have even stood a long side each other at some time.
And like my Grandfather, on returning home, Jack also fought his battles against alcoholism and mental illness.
My Grandfather managed to eventually win through in most of his battles, but in a wardrobe, in his room in a veteran’s hospital in Dunedin, at the age of 72, Jack Freeman took his own life.
So this speech is dedicated to my Grandfather and to Gunner Jack Freeman.
Huia Percy known as Johnny stood just 5 foot 2. Married at the age of 24, by the time he was 28 he had lost his father, baby daughter and his pregnant wife.
Perhaps then understandable that when World War 2 came around Johnny was the first in the queue, leaving behind his infant son and aging , widowed mother.
If it wasn’t for illness Johnny would have been on the first boat out but by God he wasn’t going to miss the second one.
They took him to Egypt and trained him as a gunner.
He fought at Tobruk and El Alamein and was injured in both battles.
Driving his truck through the desert Johnny saw a plane coming directly at them. He stopped the truck and yelled to his mates to ‘Get out. Take Cover!’
His body riddled with shrapnel, Johnny was the only one to survive.
They picked him up, brushed him off and sent him off to Italy to do it all again.
My Grandfather went to war, was critically wounded but he survived.
In those days they just stitched them up and sent them straight back out there again.
He had the scars to prove it.
When he came home he brought his scars with him.
People thought it amusing to make loud noises around him and watch him dive for cover.
If you saw a soldier cowering neath your kitchen table, would you feel pride
Scared and broken man
here in a place where no one can understand
This was once home but now it’s changed
he has changed
normal has changed
and it no longer feels like his
Back home, he sees familiar faces
but they no longer see him
They tell him that he’s okay, that he must get back to work
but he can’t because these scars that he bears
hurt him so much, every single day
He drinks to numb the pain in his body and his head
and people look at him and
all he sees is disgust in their eyes
because no one trusts an old drunk
and he can’t trust them
Over there he knew who he could trust
he trusted his mates and they trusted him
Over there his mates had his back
because he had theirs
Over there he was a part of something, he mattered
and it mattered that he was over there
Over there he had purpose and self worth
Over there he needed to stay alive
to ensure that they did too
But his mates died over there and
he should have died with them
died for them.
But back here, back at home, he wishes only
that he was dead!
Here lies the last man
The last man to climb a tree as a kid
The last man to take a stupid risk
The last man to pull a girl’s hair just to get her attention
The last man to playfight with his brothers
So that one day he can defend his mum when his dad tries to beat on her again
The last man to work his arse off at school in an education system where boys no longer thrive just to make his parents proud of him
The last man who, as the last grams of self worth drain from his very soul
Finally gets his first job, earning minimum wage and learning the lonely isolation of working 12 to 13 hours a day, 6 and 7 days a week just to make ends meet
The last man to fight and sacrifice his way up the ladder until one day when he finally gets his one shot at the top job he misses out because …
“I’m sorry, we have a quota and you’re a man.”
The last man to lose everything
To never own a flash car or a flash house with a room for every kid,
a master ensuite and walk in robe for his wife
The last man allowed to follow his natural instincts to provide and protect
The last man to ever be left alone in a room with children
The last man to kiss his own daughter on the lips and tuck her into bed at night
The last man to see his son on Saturday without having to go to court first
The last me to celebrate Christmas Day with his children
The last man to ever raise his own kids
To even know that he was ever even a father and that
his life may have mattered after all
The last man who although he stopped believing in God a long time ago
throws his head back, raises his hands to the sky and screams
“What the FFFUUUUCCCKKKKKKKKK?????”
And when still it seems that no one is listening
Lashes out at something or someone or even himself
Because thats all he has left and
Its no longer enough just to be a man
Here LIES the last man
Here lies the LAST man, and
Here lies the last MAN.
The term ‘Toxic Masculinity’ really sucks and its heaping more hurt upon men.
I never liked it and I think that I have now come to hate it.
Masculinity is not toxic, being a man does not make you toxic. What is toxic however, is the culture in which boys and men grow up. How we treat them, what we teach them. How we discriminate against them and the expectations that we lay upon them.
It is not all about how men treat men, it is not all about Alpha Male syndrome and all that. Men live mostly to serve, protect and provide for children and women and many of our troubles come from trying to meet those expectations of women.
Our culture of shaming or blaming, accusation is becoming more and more toxic to men. Social isolation is toxic to emotionally suppressed men.
A culture where we tell men that they must not lash out in anger, is toxic to men who know no other form of emotional expression. Take away that one avenue of emotional expression and you create a pressure cooker of emotional suppression.
A culture where we expect men to fight their natural instincts to provide, protect, to lead.
It is our culture and it are our societies that are toxic, that need to change. We (all genders, all people) need to create a new culture in which men can thrive as men and as authentic people, authentic men, not men that are more like women but men who are more like people.
We need to stop this denigration of masculinity. This growing culture where the achievements of woman and only the transgressions of men are splashed across the media is becoming more toxic to men.
We need to look at why men hurt people. Why they murder. Why they rape. Why men are over represented in our prison populations, and suicide figures. Why boys are failing at school and why males are stepping away from universities.
It is not masculinity that is toxic. It is not just masculinity that is causing men to act like this.
Toxic cultures. Toxic societies.