In one of the many memorable scenes in John Hughes’ movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris, his girlfriend Sloane, and best friend Cameron join a group of young children looking at the masterpieces in the Art Institute of Chicago. At one point, the very melancholy and anxious Cameron becomes captivated by Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”
The more he stares at the painting, the more the little girl at the center of the piece seems to stare back at him. Cameron zooms in on her to the point where she soon becomes a bunch of undefined splotches of paint. Maybe, in this moment, Cameron sees himself: a muddle of paint with no real beginning or end. Maybe he isn’t sure what he is looking at. Perhaps he’s lost in his thoughts about where he is in life and what his life will become.
I think we have all had encounters like this in a museum with a particular piece. This happened to me recently when our family visited the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City to view an amazing gallery by Henry Taylor, a black California-based artist known for portraits depicting a variety of scenes from black life using mixed media.
One piece that caught my eye was Screaming Head. It is an acrylic painting of a black man sitting on a bench. His hands are clenched behind his head but somehow he is screaming out of the top of his head. Like his brain is screaming out because his mouth cannot. Or maybe this particular man feels like crying out but doesn’t want to because social norms dictate he has to be strong and keep it bottled up inside. Maybe he doesn’t have the freedom to say what is really on his mind. It felt like it was speaking to me.
I believe men often suffer in silence when it comes to issues we face. We want to stick to the old-school machismo: men don’t cry, men don’t complain, men aren’t supposed to be anything that makes us less of a man. We aren’t often given room to just scream out when facing any number of obstacles life throws our way. Not having that release valve can often lead to tragic results.
But I believe we need room to scream.
Men need room to cry.
We also need a shoulder to lean on when life seems overwhelming.
If we can be allowed to release our frustration and anger in a constructive and healthy way, we can be better men, fathers, brothers and leaders.
It means taking time for self-care. Like going to a movie by yourself or spending a few hours on a hobby. Maybe it’s eating some takeout from your favorite fast-food restaurant in your car without having to share your fries. Or maybe, it’s asking your partner to take the kids to school so you get an extra hour of sleep.
Sometimes just posting anonymously in a Facebook group of other dads who understand your strains and stresses can become your safe space. Letting others know you feel alone helps you realize an important fact: you are not alone. Someone out there is dealing with loss, with bills, with children who don’t want to listen, and so on.
Whatever your outlet for self-care is, it doesn’t mean abandoning your duties. It means taking a break from them for a little bit to get our heads straight. This is no different from moms giving themselves spa days or a night out with the girls.
As for me, in these last few years, I have transitioned. I’ve become less of a stay-at-home dad by taking on other roles. Being a father isn’t all that defines me anymore. I am also an author, a teacher, a husband, a friend, a son, a son-in-law, a heck of a cook and so much more.
I am defined, but the definition of me is always changing and I truly believe the same can be said about you.
You are defined.
You have depth and emotion.
You are loved.
Even if you feel like you don’t see it, know that others see it in you.
And never let yourself get to the point of feeling like an undefined muddle of paint splotches on a canvas. And like the Henry Taylor painting, don’t keep your screams bottled up because that can often lead to an explosive result.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels.