I have an only brother, John-Bell whom I love very dearly. My memory of growing up with him was a guy who buried his head on his books. He rarely talked or discussed much with us (my 2 sisters and I). I always wondered what went through his mind. I always felt the urge to ask him “brother, how are you?”. But I never had the nerve. It just felt awkward. I never saw anyone asked him that. I never saw my elder sisters ask him that. And I grew up thinking he should be the one asking us that and the one to take care of everyone else. And as a last child, I got a healthy dose of all the care and concern.
JB takes care of everyone’s needs but it felt not normal to ask him as much as “how are you doing”? Are you okay?, brother i di mma?
I think back now and I often wondered where did he unburden? How did he do it? Maybe that’s why his books were his refuge whereas there were three other human being around him ( our mum inclusive) and resorted to listening to a lot of music particularly Highlife. Just maybe.
Fast forward to the present, having had personal experiences of mental health and understanding the value of unburdening, talking, sharing and finding safe spaces in other human beings, that has changed. And my favourite thing to ask him as well as my male cousin who I love so dearly is “brother i di mma?”(which translates to “brother, are you okay”?). And as many men in my life that are close. Sometimes, I don’t have answers to their problems or the issues, but it also feels good enough to share in their burden and see their face lighten up after no matter how little, or notice the change in their tone of voice, if it’s a phone conversation. (My favourite thing to do is actually popping up and doing unplanned lunch or a drink. It has always lightened hearts).
In my relationships as well, I have had male friends who have continued to be strong for others and felt compelled to remain so because our society makes it so and they feel awkward to be vulnerable, to express same, their fears, or their concerns.
As I look through my life, my best anchors have been my male friends. I have called up some to cry for several reasons, I have driven to see a friend to talk about how inadequate I feel about a project, how I feel insecure, how I am all over my head with various emotions and frustrations of not meeting up. And the list is endless. In all of these experiences, I was not judged, not seen as less, not taken advantage of. I have felt safe, I have felt loved, encouraged, strengthened, I have felt a healthy dose of love infused back into me, I have found shoulders to cry ugly on ( and soiled well ironed shirts with ugly tears and mucus from an uncontrollably running nose), I have found warmth in an embrace and hugs that were reassuring. I can tell you it is therapeutic.
But I look around and these amazing men struggle as much to get same support. Or feel awkward to ask for such help or allow themselves accept and receive such help.
As I reflect, on Men’s International Day, it becomes even more crucial that we become intentional in looking out for our men- brothers, husbands, partners and lovers. To indeed assure them that it is okay to be vulnerable, to need help and to receive help. To talk about safe spaces for our men. And BE such safe spaces for them.
So, I will be asking every man reading this “are you alright?
I di mma?
And above all, sending strength and love your way. If I find you anywhere, I’ll offer you a hug. I see you, we see you and we want you to be healthy, happy and travel light as much as you can. Thank you for the strength you represent, but thank you more for being a human being accepting help and strength from others when yours can’t carry you anymore