Pick yourself up by your bootstraps. Don’t be a baby. You’re fine. Crying is weak. Don’t be so emotional. You are a strong boy. We don’t act that way. Your job is to fix things. These are all phrases I have heard consistently throughout my life, and I am not even male. I am even starting to hear these things being said to my son, and he is only four. There is a theme that men are the protectors, the providers. They are indirectly told that they are to take on the stresses of life and yet hardly ever taught just how to do that. Expectations continue to increase for men, and yet when they do reach for a strategy to help manage that stress, they may be shut down because no one has time to hear a man talk about his stress. Talking about his stress or feelings is taking away from his providing and protecting. And yet, I can say from my own experience that I wanted my late husband to talk to me. And, as I reflect on those moments, those times were usually when it was convenient for me- the rare date night, after the child was in bed, after the dishes were done, and the house vacuumed. Then maybe, just maybe, did I have half an ear to hear how life’s stress was impacting my husband before I collapsed into my own slumber, ready to wash, rinse, and repeat the following day. I encouraged my husband to go out with his friends and share and then posthumously found out that instead of just listening to him, they were encouraging him to divorce me. I encouraged him to chat with the guys at work when they had their monthly staff lunches, but as their supervisor, he didn’t feel that it looked good for him to share if he was supposed to be their leader. The home was his safe place. The place to relax, enjoy a beer, and just be. And then…the tiny human arrived.
Having a daily routine, such as getting up, going to work, coming home, having dinner, saying hello to the spouse, and going to bed, can be very predictable. It can feel safe. Add a few unpredictable things in life, like a car breaking down or house repairs. That can add some stress, but it is all manageable. Add a newborn child, and that can create a whole different level of potentially unmanageable stress. There is a small human who is unpredictable and not easily “fixed” by the common ideas- diaper, food, sleep. There is a partner who may react differently on a daily basis because that is how her hormones are. There are expenses and items needed for the tiny human and partner that may have never been discussed or even known about- unexpected doctor’s visits, lactation consultants, variety of breast pumps, this swaddle or that one, and what is a sleep slack? Out of convenience, that tiny human may take up residence in a bed that was only meant for two. The home, which is often the safe, predictable place, may no longer be that for men when they become first-time fathers.
It makes sense that men might start to question their purpose and their role when a child enters the picture. Add to it the types of relationships a new father had with his own father or other important males in his life. What other messages did he receive as a child about who he is and who he is meant to be? This can bring on feelings of inadequacy; feelings of potentially being a burden. How can a new father guide this little human when he isn’t even sure how to handle all this other stuff that life has handed him?
As a new parent, your voice matters. Your feelings matter. Your experience matters. If you are finding yourself on the same hamster wheel my late husband did, then I encourage you to hop off that hamster wheel and make sure your partner hears you. And I mean, really hears you. Find the tools and strategies that will help you manage all of life’s stressors, and know that, no, you do not have to be responsible for everyone else in your life. You get to be responsible for what is in front of you: you and your new family. Those who are around you are lucky to have you, so let them see you and hear you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexandra Wyman is an advocate and public speaker for resources in the aftermath of suicide. After she lost her husband to suicide in August of 2020, Alexandra found a need to change the language around suicide and decided to write about it in her memoir, The Suicide Club: What To Do When Someone You Love Chooses Death. She has spoken at a variety of conferences, including Bridging the Divide Suicide Prevention and Awareness Summit 2022, 2023 Northwest Conference on Childhood Grief and the 2023 Military Social Work & Behavioral Health Conference and the International Association of Suicide Prevention Conference 2023. Alexandra has her own podcast called The Widow’s Club, and you can learn more about her work at
Photo by Anna Shvets