This is a cautionary tale about what happens when men come together. Cautionary, at least, for men like me who are more into ‘being’ than ‘doing’.
Let me explain.
I still remember the meetings.
A few of us fathers with special needs children started coming together in 2019 to discuss ways we could reach out to others like us. Others who need support as fellow fathers of special needs kids, predominantly those with autism.
We were a loosely formed group of men, part of a much larger grouping of dads in the country committed to promoting the importance of fathers in families. This larger grouping did so via what I call the standard “doing” modus operandi that typifies the male species of the human race.
You know, running campaigns, setting up carnivals, hosting talks, playing games and organising all manner of events, including the ubiquitous football matches and all-out BBQ cook-outs!
In short, how men throughout the ages can best be persuaded to get together with other men — by “doing” stuff.
There are three reasons why I say we were a “loosely formed” group.
First of all, we came together informally and randomly. One guy knew another who heard of a third, and so on and so forth. Like a network that was ‘spoken-by-the-way’ into existence.
Secondly, our meetings were few and far between, held after office hours, and rarely 100%-attended. In fact, since our country’s pandemic lockdown more than ten months ago, we’ve never actually met. Apart from one or two Zoom meetings that is.
And really, who wants to join yet another Zoom?
Thirdly, we all had different interests and work-life demands. A few were already active in their immediate areas of concern for their kids. One or two were active volunteers in their children’s schools; others ran social enterprises like F&B outlets and skills training centers, with a focus on special needs.
So, to volunteer time from their already hectic schedules for yet another coalition, another engagement? Nah.
In other words, three reasons for meeting that, well, “doomed the meeting”!
Anyone with half a brain could have seen this coming. And, since I often feel like I only have half a brain, I did see what was coming.
Though sadly, on hindsight, not fast enough.
Special needs fathers are first and foremost, men
But it didn’t start out that way for me, all doom and gloom.
In fact, it felt at first that my lonely journey had finally come to an end.
Since C’s moderate autism diagnosis back in 2017, and my subsequent decision to become a stay at home dad, I’ve found the journey unexpectedly lonely and many-a-times nebulous, and downright frustrating.
Now finally, a chance to meet other men like me, passionate about supporting fathers who struggled to care for special needs children? It was like someone had thrown me a lifeline while I was drowning in a desolate ocean!
So I guess you can say I had self-serving motives when, upon being invited to join the group, I enthusiastically raised my hands and practically shouted: “I’M IN!”
The first meeting went well. Everyone shared their back story and, while we did lament over the challenges we had, we were glad at least to know that we were not alone. Other dads have it tough too, if not tougher.
We all agreed that we should get more fathers like us to join this group. To help figure out how we can come alongside one another as fellow caregivers to our special kids. I thought to myself: “Great! A support group at last!! Thank You Lord!!!”
And even when I eventually realized that the group was not a support group; that it was going to mirror the “doing” modus operandi of our “fathership” (that larger grouping I spoke of earlier), I still held the belief that if I waited long enough, the “doing” will transform eventually to the “being”.
That’s when we can really have heart-to-heart conversations, and be the mental and emotional support I still hoped we could be for one another.
Three reasons & three errors — the writing’s on the wall man!
As 90s singing sensation En Vogue once lamented in their critically-acclaimed Rock/R&B hit “Free Your Mind“: “Why oh why must it be this way?”
It is what it is, I told myself. While the fairer sex have no trouble sitting around just talking, we men always seem to have to do something, or hold something. Kind of like C, who must always hold a toy or a book in his hands.
With guys, it’s just not enough, or more precisely not “manly” enough, to simply sit together, converse and commiserate. All that must always be done while busily engaged in some activity or other.
Why? So that if the talk gets too personal or heated, we men can always look away at our phones or the campaign posters; poke the BBQ coals for the umpteenth time; bolt for the canapés and other delectable spreads on the buffet table; or chase that football down the field. All the better to escape the conversation about our life struggles as special needs fathers.
But I wanna talk about that, the hard stuff. The emotional strain of living with kids who are mentally wired so differently from the rest of us, but who are our flesh and blood. The psychological wear and tear that it can exert on our daily lives as we wrestle through another piece of un-readable homework sheet the kid just spent an hour doing.
Stuff like that.
I don’t want to avoid it or give it a mere sideway glance while I flip yet another chicken wing on the BBQ pit (for the record, I hate BBQs).
For me “being” is the greater “do”, just like “praying” is the greater “work”. (And if that surprises you man, you have clearly never sat still and prayed like your life depended on it!).
Clearly the verdict on what men are like when they get together is like the proverbial writing that’s been on the wall for millenia: Men are doers.
Well sorry guys, I think I’m going to ease myself out of this grouping. It actually takes too much “work” for yours truly to keep on “doing” with you all before I can get to the good stuff; the more interesting and life-shaping “being” stuff.
But you fellas don’t actually want that do you?
Then all I can say is “Hasta Luego“!