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Man v Woman: Family Matters

I’ve made an awful lot of incorrect assumptions about women in my lifetime. I’ve made just as many cognitive errors regarding the notion of manhood as well.

I’ve regularly failed at being a hero, savior, healer, confidant, friend, partner, lover, brother, son — and in many respects, at simply being a man (definition, as yet, unknown). I’ve succeeded now and again, in small ways, but it depends on one’s perspective and metrics.

Broader gender issues aside (because I can’t speak to things I haven’t lived or experienced directly), there are vast differences in the ways that women and men behave, communicate, interpret reality, respond to and appreciate the many aspects of a human life. And this is just the tip of the emotional and psychological iceberg.

What’s still quite prevalent in our culture is violence, especially violence toward women. As I’ve endeavored for my whole life to better understand myself, how life and the universe works, why people do what they do, it slowly emerges just how integrated many very terrible paradigms and ideologies are. To this day, we regularly joke about “the battle of the sexes” and other such puerile, destructive nonsense.

The sheer ubiquity of polarizing and divisive malevolence between men and women is overwhelming. We have had no choice but to unconsciously succumb to the weight of ancient, purposeful epistemic ignorance, dogmatic manipulation, philosophical distortion and existential delusion.

I write a lot about spirituality, consciousness, philosophy and the power of thought. It requires a certain level of generality and sweeping concepts, in order to make tangible the magnificent and universal. While that may sound idealistic and romantic, it’s incredibly frustrating to see how much pain and struggle persists in this world. As a writer, there are only so many ways one can say “it doesn’t have to be this way!”

It’s maddening how the machines of industry and commerce move brutally forward, with our sensitivities and sensibilities drudging in tow. Corporate behemoths rush to employ new and different and more efficient methods of extracting and making use of our world’s resources, desperate to keep pace with our generations-old, tsunami-sized penchant for consumption, profit and progress. Our ideas of wealth and riches have always been essentially wrong — or certainly at odds with nature.

With the rise of feminism in the past century, gradually, the suppressed and silenced voices, energies and capabilities of women continue to come to the forefront. This is a complex issue. But, from my perspective, while the general argument is that women can do any of the work that men do, my question and concern is: Why would they want to? When you take a good look at the state of the world, men have clearly been doing it wrong. I certainly believe women can do most anything men can do, many things quite a bit better, but that’s feeding into the same problems we’ve been perpetuating for thousands of years.

This topic is of course a much broader discussion that goes beyond the scope of what I’m aiming to explore in this article. Our world today has systemic problems that certainly include, but go well beyond, gender equality and require of us a new way of looking at the bigger picture.

. . .

I grew up in a household in which the environment was fairly consistently saturated with angst, polarity, bickering, competition, sexism, racism, passive-aggressiveness and judgment. Of course, it wasn’t all bad, as it seems my sister and I turned out alright in the long run. Regardless, a lot of time and energy have been exerted over the decades while clawing myself back from the metaphorical abyss those early years generated within me. There was a lot of vocal insulting, demeaning, sarcastic and disempowering behavior. Of course, every family has their challenges. Life, work, children and the pursuit of happiness and meaning have their costs. So does familial, generational trauma. My father and many of his friends were essentially functioning alcoholics, but that episode did eventually pass as relationships and circumstances changed.

One could argue this is all quite common in the culture of Slavic nations, post-Communism and all that. My father told me once, when he was young, of the people that came around the villages carrying the “little red book” and how everyone was essentially spying on everyone else. One had to be very careful what they said, and to whom. Indeed, there was much to be angry about. Thankfully, my family chose to escape to the West to find and build a new life. This was as recent as the 1960s. I get that, and it’s heartbreaking. Learning about my family’s history has helped me understand their motivations, but hindsight helps dispel only so much of what was ingrained and integrated into my psychology, neurology and emotional programming; what I’ve felt deep down is in stark contrast to what life presented me.

My parents were never meant to be long-term partners. They were not compatible, at all, but because of me, they made a commitment, said vows and twenty-plus years went by. Regrets, resentment and all those related energies piled up. My father was content to live a simple life; have a decent paying job, pay bills, eat good food, make wine, make music and make love. His childhood home had no running water nor electricity. A few nice things would be enough. He desired a supportive, yet submissive partner. That’s culturally understandable, even if it is outdated.

My mother, especially as my sister and I started to get older, desperately wanted more. She needed a challenge. She needed the freedom to grow, explore and build something… and she needed someone, a partner, to have her back. Money wasn’t initially the motivation, as we were doing OK, generally. It was a spiritual thing; it was something that over the years I’ve come to understand as this woman’s dream of self-empowerment, agency and independence — even (and perhaps especially) within a traditional marriage.

This isn’t to say that my father wasn’t supportive, but it was begrudgingly so; it was because of guilt, shame, fighting, badgering and even using the kids as leverage. He committed to “sticking it out for the kids” and that would dictate the atmosphere of their relationship for all those years that ultimately lead to their divorce. This, too, is understandable, given their lack of real communication and mutual understanding; the language simply wasn’t there for them to be able to meet half-way, so it devolved into power plays and psychological games. More than once I can recall when he said “no” to something, I could go to her and get a “yes.” I quickly realized what was going on and had to stop, as I wasn’t interested in their strange, nasty game. Once the precedent was set, the patterns became established before long. Their partnership fell to irreconcilable differences, only they didn’t split up until years later, which again in hindsight, was a mistake.

As a boy growing up in this environment, it’s impossible to avoid being imprinted and deeply influenced by the words and actions between those who are raising, housing and feeding you. You’re dependent on them, you believe everything they say, but more so what they are and do. I hated them for their weakness, childishness and inability to grow the fuck up. I resented them both for many years after the fact, but unfortunately, my mother got the heavier end of my internal wrath. I know she’s always been my biggest fan and supporter, but within me was, for a long time, the stubborn inability to reconcile the way she had treated my “good for nothing” father. I could eventually reason and rationalize some of her behavior back in those days, but the trauma of the heart lingers on.

Healing takes time. I’m in my forties now and still learning, unpacking, processing and integrating issues and energies from my childhood. Sometimes it’s embarrassing, when a reaction or trigger shows itself in a relationship — not usually in the moment, but in the weeks or years afterward. I’ve tried not to repeat some of their mistakes, but as we all know, mistakes and failures are a lot more instructive than reading and studying and researching about matters of the heart and mind.

. . .

We all carry within us stories and elements of generations past. These are essential pieces to our modern, global concerns. We all require empathy and compassion — both in the giving and being able to receive. Today’s world is exploding old ideas and challenging the sticking points within all of us. It is a necessarily messy, intense and unsettling event. We are alive in an era that will define our survival as a species. This is no joke, but will demand of us a vast spiritual levity, an as-yet untapped potential for detachment; an emotional intelligence beyond anything we’ve collectively experienced in the past.

It’s evident that the single greatest mountain to climb will be the one between men and women — not only because globally it’s a 51% to 49% split in favor of females; humanity requires both to exist and to flourish; it requires both to make sense of and to understand the meaning of everything we strive to achieve; it requires both to regenerate, learn to respect and re-balance the ecosystems of the planet; most critically, it requires both to repair the rifts across space and time between masculine and feminine sacred and sexual energies, thus creating a space and compassionate consideration for all other gender and equality concerns across cultures, societies, and nations.

Solvitur ambulando

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