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The Unspoken Struggles of Manhood

Updated: Jan 4

Guest Post: Frederick Van Riper is a Men's Coach, Certified Fair Play Method Facilitator, and Owner of Seat at the Table Coaching & Consulting. He helps men challenge their limiting beliefs that hold them back from having extraordinary relationships.

 

It’s complicated.

But then again, what relationship isn’t?

My relationship with my father isn’t always easy to talk about; but it’s a story that sadly resonates with many. Sharing a part of my story about my dad is something that means a lot to me and I am grateful that I get to tell it. My goals in telling my story are to encourage more men to tell their stories about their dads, reflect on their relationships with their fathers and their own kids (if they have them), and find strength through vulnerability. I hope my vulnerability can empower others, inspiring a few dads to take ownership of who they are and how they show up for their families.

This is a love story: part love story about my dad, part love letter to my dad, and in a way, a love letter to all men. I believe in men, and I believe all of us can and must do better.

But before I get into all of that, you need to know why this is important to me.

Let’s start with the good stuff! My dad played baseball with me and my two older brothers when we were kids. We didn’t have bases, and I remember the flagpole being first base. He provided for our family both financially and in all the other ways that mattered when I was a young boy. He was always somewhat quiet, but I remember him smiling, laughing and enjoying life.

Then, something changed and I can pinpoint exactly when. In 1990, my dad lost his job. I was 12 years old. He worked as a Controller for Clorox, and the country went through a recession and what is now known as a “jobless recovery.” He never got his old job back. I had never heard or seen my dad cry before then. It made me hurt for my dad, but I was 12. So I did what any good child would do for his dad: I helped him type up resumes (yes, on a typewriter . . . I am old!). It took a little while, and he had to work some odd seasonal jobs, but eventually, he found permanent work. While this was a blessing for him and our family, it also coincided with the worsening of his coping habits.

You see, my dad smoked Marlboro cigarettes and drank Schaffer beer like it was his job. If he could have gotten paid to do that, he would have been a multi-millionaire! Unfortunately, these habits were his coping mechanism and they cost him more than just his money.

At first, after he returned to work, it seemed like he was feeling better. The new job was not far from our home, and, in theory, this would be fantastic because he would have more time to spend with us. But slowly, we watched my dad turn inward and spend less and less time with us. The reality was that the short commute afforded him the opportunity to drink more and more often. He would come home for “lunch,” which did not consist of actual food, just beer and cigarettes.


Eventually, things went from bad to worse. As a teenager at this point, I had other things going on, as one does when they are a teenage boy. I did not have the life experience nor the language to truly help my father other than the occasional “Dad, you should quit smoking - it’s not good for you.”

After the mid 90s, family time became a distant memory, other than holidays. We no longer took family vacations. We no longer would spend quality time doing fun things together. No game nights. No movies. Very few dinners out. Engaging in real conversation with my dad became practically impossible. He would barely ask questions, barely be engaged in our lives, and if you asked him a question, you’d most likely get a chuckle or a one-word reply.

He woke up at 6am everyday and went to bed at 6pm everyday. In a very real way, my dad lived the same day over and over again. It is why I say that my dad died before his physical body did.


He passed away on December 12, 2021.


I did not keep a tally, but over the last 20+ years of his life, meaningful conversations where both people spoke more than a few sentences back and forth to each other were very few and far between. It is clear to me now that my dad struggled, and for his own reasons (which I broadly attribute to the socialization of men) did not choose to admit it or talk to anyone about his problems. He was never diagnosed with depression, but I imagine he would have been. If nothing else, going to therapy would have helped.


So when people asked me why I do what I do, my answer is simple:

I am trying to save my dad.

I know that I cannot literally bring my dad back to life, but my sincere hope is that through my work as a men’s coach, I can help men before they reach a crisis point, and I can teach them alternative, healthier coping skills.

In my work as a men’s coach who focuses on relationships, the number one struggle that most men have is admitting to themselves (and what feels like the world around them) that they need help. Our past socializations and models have damaged our humanity in such a way that has made us believe that somehow, only because we are a man, we should not talk about our emotions or struggles, and just keep pushing through. Somehow, if we admit that we don’t have the solution to our problem and we need to ask for help, we are weak.

There is a message that I have received for as long as I can remember that goes something like this: ‘If you are not providing for your family, then you are not valuable.’ To be crystal clear, this message is referring to providing money / food / shelter, and there is nothing wrong with providing financial security for yourself and for your family. Being financially responsible is something that is necessary to maintain a healthy space for you and your family to thrive. However, it is damaging to define ‘providing’ in such a simplistic way.


For the men who have come before us and the ones currently who regret not being present for their families because they were or are too busy “providing,” I ask: What if your spouse leaves you because you were never there? What if your kids don’t know their father? Is all that providing still worth it? If you lose your job, are you no longer valuable to your family? Perhaps we should ask better questions and recognize that our worth isn’t solely our work.

Let’s redefine providing for our family in a more powerful way.

Providing doesn’t mean just money. It means investing time cultivating a real, genuine, meaningful relationship with your partner, nurturing a healthy relationship with your kids, and taking care of your mental and physical well-being.

That’s my definition of being a provider. If you’re only providing money and neglecting your relationship with yourself and your family, it’s time to reconsider where you focus lies and what changes you can make to build an extraordinary life, not just an extraordinary living.


Now, let’s redefine what it means to be strong.

Strength isn’t solely physical fitness or pushing through adversity. While these are important, some challenges are bigger than our capabilities. My definition of strength includes being willing to ask for help, being emotionally available to your kids and your partner (especially in times of crisis), communicating your needs, and doing the deep inner work on yourself. How can you show up with the strength your partner and kids need if you are not strong within?

I love my dad and I miss my dad. He was a good man. I have made peace with his struggle and I feel fortunate to have had a father who taught me many great things about what it means to be a dad and husband. If I had to pick one thing I am most grateful for, it is that he taught me that a father can show affection for his son. Regardless of all of his inner struggles, when I visited, he always greeted me with a hug and a kiss, and he always said ‘I love you.’

Doing the inner work is a lifelong commitment, as relationships and circumstances change throughout our lives. One simple framework I teach is the 3 As:

Admit -> Act -> Adhere.

You need strength to admit to yourself and those who love you that you need help. You need to take action and do the inner work to heal your wounds. Finally, you need to adhere to the changes required by consistently learning, unlearning and relearning.

I’m Frederick Van Riper, Men’s Coach and a Certified Fair Play Method Facilitator. I created The Charter club to offer a safe space for men to share their stories with each other judgment free, to engage in a community of brothers, and to honor their life experiences (good and bad) while celebrating their wins together. Community, especially for men, is needed now more than ever.

You can find it here on Facebook, and it’s free to join!

 

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