Jim O'Brien: Why men need to talk about the unease many feel

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Photo posed

Is it only men that are restless? Is the predilection for gazing beyond the horizon waiting for the next adventure a man thing?

Often during family conversations I will refer to events from one of the plethora of former lives I've had and my children will look at me wide-eyed and say: "We never knew you did that, Dad. Is there anything you didn't do?"

There is a lot I haven't done - I've never flown a plane, driven a tank, mined for coal or entered a beauty competition. I've turned my hand to lots of other things with varying degrees of disaster and a modicum of success.

In my better moments, I can bask in the whiff of cordite that wafts around the chequered nature of my career path. But in the darker moments, the 'what-ifs' flitter around my head like bats.

Maybe I'm being sexist and maybe I just don't talk deeply enough to women, but most women I know seem to have the capacity to acknowledge the difficulties and uncertainties of life and then just get on with it.

Lone mothers are a case in point. Many of us on the male side of the fulcrum that creates the tilt between the sexes are prone to endless gazing at our navels, and at the other needy bits of our nethers.

Men of all vintages joke about not knowing what they want to be when they grow up. More often than not, it's no joke.

That most common of throwaway remarks reveals a deep lack of direction and unease, where a sort of existential woodworm is silently and persistently perforating the dreams and hopes in the sub-structure of the spirit, causing it to crumble and eventually collapse.

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This typically occurs in males at their most vulnerable, particularly as they face the last few furlongs.

I know a lot of uneasy men. Men who inherited the family farm and, duty bound, shackled their lives to it, but every badly hung gate, every rushy field, every collapsed gutter and every belch of smoke from their prehistoric tractor screams of unfulfilled dreams and smothered hopes.

I know men who took themselves to a seminary in the full flush of youth and, like a crop of young hurlers with no memory of defeat and no fear of anyone bigger, denied themselves, took up a cross in their powerful young limbs to serve a kingdom that is not of this world. But the limbs aged, the grip faltered and a deep unease unsettled them at the core and they began to wonder if the kingdom was of any world at all.

And I know beautiful men who carry their unease knowingly, who feel it every day and are aware of its constant presence. They have learned to live with its lingering acidity and have taught themselves to treasure those rare moments of contentment that make things bearable.

These men leave themselves open to being surprised by hints of pure joy and occasionally find themselves lifted out of their restlessness.


One would wonder how the women in the orbit of uneasy men put up with them. Some don't and, becoming exasperated, open the door and let the wanderer off.

And there are those men who just leave, so preoccupied are they with their own unease, they are blinded to any possibility of doing as the women do, knuckling down and getting on with it.

As they walk out, they carry the added weight of the sin of abandonment, facing one desert while creating another in their wake.

Men need to start talking - talking about their broken dreams, about the disappointments that plague them in the depth of their silence and the dark of the night, the unease that causes them to ignore small mercies and disregard little victories.

They need a place where they can face the tyranny of expectation and the harsh totem pole of achievement in whose shadow they have grown pale.

Without talking about these things, without naming the unease, it will bubble into something else that strikes out in dirty words and darker deeds, defacing and even destroying minds, souls and bodies.

The Men's Shed movement has begun to create that space where men can talk, at least shoulder to shoulder if not face to face. The movement is clearing spaces where there are no expectations, where the wonder of just being dissolves the acid of expectation.

Contentment isn't the constant in the human condition, and neither is unease; somewhere between the two we live and move and have our being.

For many men there is a persistent unease at the heart of their experience of life. We need to talk about it.

Indo Farming

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