couple gazing into canyon

When a Man's Responsibility Has Gone

What is There Left?

Men keep going because their wife, children, colleagues expect them to. They keep going because of the shame of giving up. Men often only see their justification in terms of their responsibility to other people.

I lay under the duvet cover screaming, screaming out loud. I could feel the break coming. I felt helpless and hopeless and I did not know what to do, I did not know how to deal with my wife, with my life. I was lost; as a husband, as a man, as Graham. I knew something was wrong, something more than the clash of brute force and stubbornness, something more than titan struggle that had been going on downstairs. I was so lost I could not even work out what was wrong, I just wanted the world to go away

Destruction and Emptiness

After thirty years of marriage all I could see was destruction and emptiness. The love was destroyed, the friendship and companionship was being prised apart by the alcohol and the addiction. Over recent years I had done what a man does; I had solved the problems. It was supposed to easy. The application of male logic to a situation could solve anything, no?

I screamed as I realised I had not only not solved the problem of my wife's alcoholism, I had made it worse. My logic had failed to lever open the door of my wife's emotions to reveal the dark secrets in side. It had, in fact, nailed the door shut and sealed the gaps.

The Marriage Service all those years back had come towards a conclusion with the words, "May their marriage be life-giving and life-long, enriched by your presence and strengthened by your grace; may they bring comfort and confidence to each other in faithfulness and trust." I was unable to fulfil the promise I had felt, I had committed to and I had believed in. What was left?

The Bank

I sat holding the phone feeling a deep, dark void inside me. The woman I was talking to was measured and persistent. She would not let go, she would not make it easy for me. She wanted to know every last detail of my expenditure so that 'we' could create a plan for how I would deal with my debts and how I would move forward.

She had just cancelled all my regular payments, closed my credit card and had listed all the other credit card debts I had. She had shown me how over-whelming my situation was. She had carefully and calmly told me that as a bank they could not support me any longer, I could not continue to use them to fund my life.

I had come from the office where I had just told the staff that for another month I was not sure when we were going to be able to pay them. I had told my business partner that for another month we were not going to be paid at all. No income, no future? Running a business had seemed such a great way to follow my passion and earn a fabulous income at the same time. It was, until the work stopped coming in, until I was unable to pay myself, until I was unable to support my family.

At the worst time there seemed to be no way out, there seemed to be no possibility of a solution. I could only trust that answers would emerge like figures coming out of a fog. When I was young I rode the bus to school, one day, in a deep, dense fog. It was so bad that the conductor walked in front of the bus, guiding the driver, showing him the road ahead. I felt like that driver, only the conductor had disappeared. I was on my own and could not see the road. I had a bus full of kids that had to get to school. I had to get them there, but I didn't know where to go. This was not a dream, it was reality.


I had learned that a man coped with what faced him and kept going. I had been taught that it was a man's responsibility to absorb the shocks of the world and shield the others around him from what was happening. Men could see the big picture beyond the immediate needs of the family or the company, men could range ahead, like explorers, and plot the path through the endless dense jungle.

My father's dominance had showed me that a man did not take no for an answer, a man knew better that that. He knew better than we did. We did not question what he decided for us because his experience meant he knew the answers. He put up a great front against the uncertainty of the world. From my perspective he did seem to have all the answers, even if he did not have the subtlety to explain them well. I absorbed this dominance and thought that it would see me through life.

Being born with a club foot had forged this dominance into into a fierce determination never to be seen as inadequate or incapable of doing anything. I could never ask for help because that showed weakness, showed that my 'imperfection' had won. Through my early adulthood I pushed ahead and succeeded at so many things. Nothing could stand in my way, I either pushed it out of the way or I just climbed over it. If the men working for me got in my way I could hit them or just side-step them with the power of my logic.

My father's need to have the last word built in me the ability to keep going arguing, fighting, winning. Whenever I felt inadequate I taught myself how to get beyond it, how to defeat it. Any sense that I had physical disability just spurred me on to greater physical craziness. I could climb anywhere, if no-one else could do it, I could.

The Edge

In the midst of my shame and despair was a deep knowing that I had to go to the edge and just keep going. There was no option to turn back, no ability to re-live my life and go in a different direction. One of the great qualities in stubbornness is the fact that there is nothing to do but keep going. It may require stupidity, bull-headedness, or any other ridiculous male quality, but it always involves an in-built trust that is an answer out there and all I have to do is keep going and I will come across it.

Eventually the screaming stopped and I got out of bed and went back to living. I let go of my marriage and built a new life with a new wife and a renewed love of life and the future. Eventually I put the phone down and started dealing with my debts. I now live on a pension and have a new career. The company is long gone and I work for myself, responsibilities gone, debts in the past.

There are computer games where the protagonist walks out into thin air and as he puts his foot down the ground appears below him. That is how life is for me, more often than I like to acknowledge. Trust, faith or sheer rock-like blindness, I am not sure.

I do question whether my view of life is the only one that works. I see men around me, in retirement, who have given up, all the stuffing has long gone. They sit with hollow, blank eyes staring into a future of... nothing.

A friend's mother died recently. It was unexpected and devastating for the whole family. The most poignant comment, however, was what my friend said about her father,

I don't know what is harder to bear – the pain I am feeling myself or seeing my dad's grief at the loss of his wife of nearly 60 years. I've never seen him cry before. He's absolutely bereft. It's excruciating. He absolutely adored her.

Men often only see their justification in terms of their responsibility to other people, when those people have gone, there is nothing left. They keep going because their wife, children, colleagues expect them to. They keep going because of the shame of giving up. They keep going because that is what they are here to do. When that responsibility has gone, what is there left? They have never been proud of themselves, just their ability to provide for others. They have never seen themselves as worthwhile, just as responsible.

When I Let Go I Became A Man

The Grand Canyon had always been fascinating to me, the scale, the emptiness, the unexpectedness of it. We sat on the edge amongst the crowds and gazed at the empty space. A great place to be a man?

The sun was high, the shadows were small, the heat was intense. It was my first time here. After years of seeing pictures here was the reality. I became absorbed in the light, its colour, intensity and movement. Light has been my passion for over forty years. It has been my profession and has been the bridge between the outside world and my inner world. Here I was in front of one of the greatest examples of the dynamism of light and all I had to do was sit and enjoy it; sit and be a man.

Enjoying The Light

People came and went. They saw the canyon and yet did not see what I saw. They saw a snapshot, I saw a movie, they saw in 2D, I saw in 3D. I couldn't understand how they could miss the beauty of light, the creative force of light.

The sun moved, the earth moved, the shadows grew longer. The light changed, the colours deepened and the canyon shifted under the fierce caress of the sun.

Urmila sat there with me, equally fascinated, equally in awe. She sat for hours watching the shift of what seems so permanent. I was curious and I was amazed. I was not on my own experiencing this.

I met Urmila while working on a seminar, she became a friend, a confidante. We enjoyed spending time together. Here we were watching the sun setting over the Grand Canyon finding that we both loved light and could both watch it for hours. She was someone I could spend time with, doing the things I love. I could be a man.

I fell in love. I wanted to be with her, I wanted to bring our lives together.

As the sun faded I talked about us and how this could be our life together. She loved the time she was spending with me, she had never had this involvement before.

We are so good together, we enjoy so much together, I said to her, "we should do this all the time, we should travel together."

I know, I love it, but I don't want another girlfriend she said, we have so much in common but there is something missing. I want a man who excites me, I need something more.

I was feeling the pain of being kicked, I was lost. I couldn't understand. I talked and pleaded and persuaded. I just made it worse.

"At least you can do me the courtesy of letting me make up my own mind", she said, firmly. I shut up and cried inside.

No Polarity - Be A Man

Later she was in my cottage in the UK, and I was in Seattle. We talked all weekend by Skype. I was desperate, I had to make it work, I had to get her to see how great we were, how suited to each other. This was the last chance.

"There is just no polarity there, no electricity," she said, "if not for me, do something for yourself, find your strength, find yourself. Are you man enough? Can you be a man?"

When she said that I realised I was completely failing, I was not honouring either of us. Things changed inside me, I understood, I stepped into my uncertainty. I didn't need her any more, I didn't need the certainty. I didn't need someone else to make me who I was. I was sufficient.

I went back to the UK expecting nothing. I went back to my life.

Being There

One of the great indicators of masculine strength is our ability to be totally there, completely present, even in an uncertain world, the ability to be a man. Women know exactly when a man is in this state and they get very excited by it. They also know when men are not there and they get very frustrated by it. She saw what strength I had inside me and she saw that I was capable of being a man with power, presence and strength.

I detached from the outcome. I ceased to be obsessed with what happened. I stood tall as a man and let her see that. I accepted my worth and I stepped into my vulnerability. I knew I was the right man for her, but I was not being that. I was being needy. This is not what a woman wants, she wants a man worthy of love, a man she can trust, a man sure of himself.

What happened?

We are now married...