Caveat #1: these are my feelings only, and basically are worth exactly that much. I’m not a shrink, I’m not a counselor, I’m just a guy.

Caveat #2: these thoughts are NOT meant to ‘excuse’ anyone’s behavior (including my own), whether it be in youth, midlife, or during the golden years. They are what they are: just thoughts.

Caveat #3: though I’m going to generalize (a lot), almost every statement in these thoughts could be prefaced with ‘most men’, or ‘some men’. My fingers are tired today, so I ain’t gonna write that every time (your eyes would be tired, too, if I did). I generally don’t like to generalize, but since I don’t know your husband, that’s all I can do.

OK. Housekeeping over. Let’s play out a little scenario, just to set the stage.

You’re a young boy, growing up in the ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s, somewhere in the U.S. Your family’s not particularly, rich, but they do ok. Your dad works, your mom stays at home and raises you. You are given the ‘typical’ edicts given to young men of that generation…

  • Work hard, keep your nose clean, and everything will be ok.
  • Big boys don’t cry.
  • Stop whining. Nobody likes a crybaby.
  • Just don’t think about it, and you’ll get over it (or something like that).

Your heros are John Wayne, or perhaps Clint Eastwood. They epitomize ‘maleness’… they don’t cry, they usually win, and when they don’t win they get drunk and punch someone out to make themselves feel better. Or shoot someone. They never ask themselves why they feel bad. That’d be ‘icky’.

As you grow up, you do your best. Maybe you go on to college, maybe you get a job in the trades. Either way, you do your best to make your parents proud of you. And, you find that they’re right: you may not be Johnny Unitas or Elvis Presley, but (much to your surprise, sometimes) there is a wonderful young lady who is willing to be your wife. You fall in love. You are happy.

Maybe you have kids, maybe you don’t. But, you work hard. You keep your nose to the grindstone. Since your wife probably works (times have changed, after all), her job and yours take a lot of time and attention. Or, the kids you’ve suddenly found you’re responsible for take up a lot of her and your time. You stop doing the things you did together. You stop holding hands. You stop talking about your dreams together. You’re both just too tired. Or too busy. It’s not ‘perfect’, but it’s tolerable, and it’s certainly better than most, you think.

Then, one day, ‘it’ happens.

Your father (or another relative), with whom you either had a deep and personal relationship, or perhaps had things left unsaid with, dies. You knew he was getting older, but the finality of being ‘alone’ is terrible. Or…

Your best friend, the guy you spent hours with in a fishing boat, swapping lies; the guy you played ball with for years; the guy you always went to break and lunch with at the job… he has a massive coronary and drives his car into a tree on the way to work one day. Or, after a sixpack, confides in you that he has prostate cancer that’s spread already, or that he has colon cancer, and is gonna have to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. Or…

You’ve spent your entire life… the last 20 years, working to get ahead. You’re a manager, or a foreman. and now, your company is ‘reengineering’ itself, and you’re unemployed. Or, something else.

And you look up that day and say: wtf? Where have I been? Who am I? Who are all these people who depend on me? why? OH MY GOD!!!!

You don’t know if you’re happy. You remember that you USED to be happy, but you don’t know what that’s like now. You don’t really know if you’re unhappy, either. You feel empty. You feel confused. You feel trapped. You feel… angry.

You haven’t been taught to recognize and deal with what you’re feeling, only to suppress it. So you do. But, you get SOOOOOO pissed it’s really hard. You turn cold, icy, to your wife and kids. Maybe to your friends. At least you’re not yelling at them, you figure.

Because, THEY are the problem!!! THEY trapped you, THEY don’t understand you.

Your wife’s the easiest target for this anger. After all, you know you USED to be happy. Oh, wait, that was 40 lbs ago. She just doesn’t look as good these days (never mind that you have ‘dunlap’ disease). That was when she used to pay attention to you (paradoxically, she now pays TOO MUCH attention to you sometimes, the nag).

The little things that used to make you smile, the cute little mannerisms, now they just annoy you. All the things she’s ever done ‘to’ you come back. Never mind that you forgave most of those things. You make some more stuff up. She’s part of the problem, after all. She HAS to be. You’re trapped. It’s her fault.

Occasionally, that icy exterior just snaps, and you slam on the breaks in traffic, and say: WHAT?? Or, you try to be a ‘real man’ and displace your anger at your wife at the driver of the car trying to merge. Or, you punch a door. Sometimes, you punch her. Mostly, though, you’re just the iceman. Clint would do it this way. He’d just shut up and take it, with the occasional eruption.

Will he ever get through it? Maybe. But not without facing the future while at peace with his past. He needs to know himself, and like himself. If he can’t do that, he’ll never lose the anger. He’ll never like – or love – you.

Because, he’s really angry at himself, with the confusion he feels and can’t work through, and until he deals with that, he’ll stay angry at you. And most everyone else. He’ll be ‘lost’.

Sorry if this got too long or too boring, but I wanted to see if I could share some of the desperation men feel at this time. Don’t know if I succeeded or not.

Posted on the Midlife Club Forum in 2001 by forum member Matt. All rights reserved.