In the song Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters describes a time where he was physically unable to perform at one of his concerts. Millions of dollars rode on him performing. So the band’s managers paid a doctor to forcefully inject Waters with a short-term remedy, enabling him to perform. He shares his feelings on this crisis with the words, “This is not how I am/I have become comfortably numb.” The drug did not restore Waters’ health, it only removed the immediate pain.
Waters laments the feeling of artificial serenity after he receives the mood altering drug. However, he enjoys the comfort the numbness brings. He took no part of the decision, but he explores the question as though he was consulted. Waters chooses the painless route, concluding his song with, “The child is grown/The dream is gone/I have become comfortably numb.” Our society agrees with Waters’ verdict. Boys must not feel the turmoil of emotions because they must perform. They are forced to surrender their identity to be comfortably numb.
To achieve society’s goal of establishing strength over compassion, every boy is indoctrinated. Despite my commitment to avoid perpetuating this version of male strength, I get embarrassed by an emotional son, but I effortlessly comfort my crying daughter. Society mandating male masculinity has become so comprehensive that a lone man cannot escape it. We demand that our boys be steel. Our culture needs strong men. Strong men are vital for healthy marriages, child nurturing, employment, and civic stability. But, our definition of strength is misguided. The qualifications for male strength need revision to obtain our ideal society.
When I was in fourth grade, I was having an awful day. For some reason, I was sad. Some claim that it is okay to be sad, but for a fourth-grade boy, it isn’t. I fought off most of my visible emotion, like I had been taught, but a few tears escaped. I explained to my friends that I was just feeling discouraged, but my excuse was insufficient. I was a “fag” for several weeks. Subconsciously, I vowed that my softer side would never betray me again. I would always be strong. I would be a man.
I was stoic most of the time, but I could not remove all emotion. Instead, my family and friends witnessed occasional eruptions of bitterness, sarcasm, and machismo. No one was allowed to see me. I mean the true, vulnerable, kind, loving, gentle, compassionate me. I was so scared of appearing weak that I transformed into something that was foreign to my gentle nature.
Then something happened. My niece was born. The day she was born, I missed school to anxiously wait outside of my sister’s delivery room. After my niece’s birth and preliminary tests were done, I held her. As one little hand poked out of her swaddled blanket, she opened her eyes. Madelynn Summer’s beautiful little spirit penetrated my wall, I felt those tender emotions stir for the first time in years. Her inner beauty continued to expose my softer feelings as I played with her, babysat her, and even changed her diapers.
While Madelynn softened my facade, I was not ready for everyone to see me. I developed the ability to hide and show myself depending on my audience’s expectations. Years later, I allowed a classmate to see my softer side on our first date, later she became my wife . I do not know how, but Staci compelled me to reveal myself to her. I felt safe with her. I hesitantly disclosed an insecurity, and to my surprise, Staci mollified my anxiety. While her response was kind, she was perplexed. Staci told me that she could hardly believe that I possessed such intense emotions. She had only seen what I allowed, and that was not softness. She is still the only person I trust with all of my delicate feelings. I have not met a mortal more compassionate and sensitive than my devoted wife. She provides the security I need to reveal my softer side to my community.
As much as Madelynn and Staci did for breaking my emotional barrier, my sensitivity has thrived because of my daughter–Lorien. Many men will tell you that they connected with their feminine side because of their daughter. I do not mean painting toenails, having tea parties, and playing house. Rather, Lorien shows me that my strength comes from my softer side. Strength, not weakness, is needed to honestly tell friends, family, and acquaintances why I love them. She shows me that displays of love and gentleness require strength that few men are capable of.
Lorien kindles my awareness of others. I am becoming sensitive enough to nurture a friend during dark times. I still get nervous when I candidly express emotion. My fourth-grade friends’ voices return sometimes, but when they do, memories of Staci’s gentle words inspire me to persist. I know some people, especially men, feel uncomfortable with my expressions of love. I am okay with that. Because of Lorien, I am learning that showing people authentic love has a power that cannot be matched.
This morning, as I laid in bed thinking about my softer side. I felt Lorien’s head gently on my chest. I was comfortable, but not numb. We have this time of ours every morning when she awakes. It is our special time. This is when I feel my strength. I missed this opportunity with my sons. I hope they, unlike me, do not have to relay Waters’ words to their sons, “This is not how I am.” Fortunately, we are changing. We need to show our men and boys that softer feelings do not make them inferior, they make them strong.