Most of the men in my life have been known to have a temper.
The people closest to them, myself included, would walk on eggshells, attempting to perceive their current status, so as to avoid the wrath of their displeasure.
I once knew a young woman whose father was the same way, but much more dangerous than I had to personally endure as a child. She explained emotional abuse, domestic violence, and outbursts at the tiniest misunderstanding or inconvenience.
Mere minutes later she said of the same man, “He doesn’t really have emotions.”
Here, dear reader, we have the most successful rebrand of all time—
Male anger ≠ emotion
The way many of us talk about men and anger would lead one to believe that anger is not an emotion when it comes from a man.
When men feel anger and act accordingly, it’s not an emotion or a feeling, but a secret third thing.
There are myriad reasons for this phenomenon of understanding, this shaping of male anger into something else in our collective imaginations. Regardless how this rebrand became successful, it’s apparent that from boyhood many males are only given space and safety to experience anger, and not the full range of human emotion. Sadness, grief, and sometimes even joy are snuffed out of little boys, and they learn to either suppress these feelings or turn them into rage.
I have hope that change is coming.
In my work I spend time with parents of young children, many who would identify themselves as traditionalist or conservative, who want their boys to learn to feel. They instinctively know that generations of suppressed male emotion is a curse to be broken, not a system to be perpetuated. They might not say it in so many words, but in breaking that curse they want their boy to be fully human. If this trend continues, the future is bright for my children and yours, regardless of their genders.
Devo Davis gave me more hope this weekend, and not just with his 25-point game.
This weekend the Razorbacks beat the #1 seated Kansas Jayhawks by one point, moving on to the Sweet Sixteen. The game was riveting for even the least serious of fans— I got texts about it from friends who have never mentioned Hogs basketball to me before. The ending was anxiety-inducing and emotional, and the post-game interview by Jacksonville’s own Devo Davis was a beautiful display of human emotion.
With the camera in his face and tears in his eyes he responded to questions with overwhelm and genuine joy. He spoke of disbelief and of the hard work he and his team put in.
I hope Devo felt the whole state’s affirmation and gratitude as he showed us how to feel.
I hope we all saw Devo cry and realized he is more than what he does for us on the court.
I hope little boys saw Devo’s tears and realized they can feel without shame, even in contexts outside of sports.
I’m sure Devo didn’t mean to give me hope for a more deeply human future for my kids and yours— he just wanted to play basketball and make folks proud. Part of my job as a therapist is to be with others in their emotions, to help people feel without being consumed by feelings, and to normalize the full range of human emotion. Devo gave us a glimpse of some of those outcomes just by being who he is, and I’m really glad he did.