I remember visiting an elderly man who had lost his wife suddenly. He lived alone in a small flat and had a daughter and son-in-law who popped in regularly just to make sure he was coping.
The times spent with him were deeply significant. Listening to his story touched me in so many ways. One can only describe his history as being that of a man’s man. He grew up in a traditional family where the roles of men and women were clearly defined. After his marriage those roles were continued. He went on extended hunting and fishing trips. He was emotionally distant from his wife and children, leaving her to do most of the nurturing in the family. He spent hours making knives. He drank heavily and the club became a second home. However, in spite of all this he was materially a good provider and often prided himself in this.
In the later years, because of ill health, he became more and more dependent on his wife. As this happened, he was plagued by guilt over things he did and didn’t do. The more she helped him, the guiltier he felt. Then, one night, they went to bed and she died in her sleep of a heart attack. His struggle to recover from this was at times absolutely unbearable.
I saw him the other day. He has taken to planting and nurturing the most beautiful African Daisies. To see this hard man with his gnarled fingers planting and stroking these little flowers has done something to me. He also has a little dog now which he dotes upon.
Why is it that so many men only discover their nurturing capacities late in life? If only his family could have received just something of what he now gives those flowers and that little dog. But, thank God for little dogs and daisies. I think in the deep recesses of this man’s mind and heart he knows this, hence the tears that often well up in his eyes. As I watched him, something of him disturbingly stirred in me.
Some say it’s in the genes, that men are like that. I don’t believe it. Male nurturing is as natural as the rain. We’ve just lost the ability, and the world is the poorer for it.