I watched a young mother reprimand her approximately 7 year old son. The child had obviously been traumatized by an older boy and he was in anguish as he ran to his mother for succor. She refuses to hug him. Instead she says over and over, “Why are you crying? Are you not a boy? Big boys don’t cry. Stop it, right away.” I look on quietly, wishing I could her and tell her that ‘Big boys can cry…” I know that if mummy doesn’t correct this message soon, she would be creating another confused and difficult relationship somewhere in the future.
Unfortunately, one of the messages men assimilate very early as children is that strong people always control their emotions. Many of them grow up admiring people that act tough and unemotional. They sometimes choose to emulate these people because they always seem impervious to hurt and pain. They choose not to be affected by their feelings.

When I met Ikemefuna, I knew he was one of such men. He lived up to the translation of his name. This was a man determined not to compromise his ‘strength.’ Each time I saw him, I saw a man in charge of both his feelings and his environment. Ikem never left you in doubt as to who was the boss.
It all started when he was just a teenager. His precious mother passed away and he missed her terribly. He missed the warmth of her embrace and the coziness of her foldable belly. He longed for the scent of the talcum powder she liberally poured on herself each night before she went to bed. He cried himself to sleep most nights, longing for her tenderness.
One day his father saw him crying and called him an effeminate boy.. He said to him, ” You are not still crying for your mother , are you? Face your life; there is no need to cry. It will not bring her back. Real men do not cry.” Ikem felt both embarrassed and angry but he agreed that crying would never bring his mum back so he learnt to ignore the pain. In fact, he made up his mind that he won’t ever allow himself to be vulnerable to pain again. He learnt to ignore his feelings. He learnt that big boys don’t cry.

Ikem is now married and his wife is having a hard time trying to figure out what is really on his mind each day. His self-assured disposition led her to fall in love with him in the first place, but marriage has exposed his inability to communicate his feelings, leaving her clueless and feeling like a stranger to the man she loves. He won’t consult her when he takes decisions that affect her life because he believes that it would give him away as weak.
“There are so many places in his heart and life that I have no access to” Ifeoma tells me “he shuts me out but I know he cares about me. He makes his decisions on the spot and does not involve me in his plans”.

The final straw is that Ikem has now mandated his beautiful and brilliant wife to stop work because he feels she needs to spend more time at home with the children. She cannot understand the unilateral decision because she runs her own business and her work schedule has never interfered with her role as a mother. Ikem is not willing to listen to Ifeoma as she has tried several times to persuade him to explain the reason for this decision. He says his word is final because he is her husband, and he is the man.

As you may have guessed, Ifeoma is no longer ready to cope with her husband. She says to me “I know that spending time with the children is not the real reason he wants me to stop working. I just know it. He wants me to be totally dependent on him for everything. He wants to control every area of my life. I just can’t understand why he always needs to be in charge.”
Her opinion is most likely correct but I don’t emphasize that. Instead, I encourage her to empathize with her husband Ikem. I explain to her that he must be in a very difficult place, not being able to open up and express his real feelings. It must be a cold and dreary place. Ifeoma agrees with me that fully sharing our emotions with others does make us vulnerable and Ikem is afraid of ever being helpless and vulnerable again. He needs to be in charge.
I can see through Ikem’s tough exterior. I know he is very good at maintaining a façade. Failing to admit or process his emotions, Ikem has made himself believe that he is stronger than he really is. He has learnt that big boys don’t cry.
The truth though is that when people withhold their emotions or fail to admit and process them, they eventually suffer from psychological and even physical stress. Ikem must learn that communication is the heart of love. It BRIDGES the gap between two people. When it is withheld, we are deprived of the only effective means of solving whatever problem we face and building the intimacy we desire.
Like a lot of men, Ikem needs to learn that though he cannot change the past, he can change how it affects him and his current relationships. He must clean up baggage from the past. Only this can give him the strength and the confidence that will truly put him in charge. He must learn that sometimes, it is alright for big boys to cry!
What do you think?

Recent Posts
  • Anthony Ahav

    Great post as always. Thank you for the insights

Leave a Comment