As Shane and his mother, Michelle, bravely reflect on the loss of a great man–Shane’s father–and the powerful lessons they’ve learned about manhood, together, they teach us something: perhaps we should not only pause and reflect on what it means to be a man, but rethink what we’ve been told altogether.
(Shane) A lot of parents don’t want their kids to play violent video games. But my father got the game for me anyway, which triggered an argument between him and my mom. The next morning, we all got up for school, and before leaving, I went downstairs to the basement to say goodbye to my father, but I couldn’t find him.
I saw the bathroom light was on and the shower was running. I kept knocking, but there was no response. I was about to leave, but I turned around and knocked on the door again. Eventually, I just decided to walk in. I saw him on the floor, staring at me. I said goodbye, not realizing anything was wrong. I just thought he might have been really tired. I got in the car with my mom and little sister.
I blamed myself for my father passing away because I wanted that video game….I felt that if I hadn’t gotten the video game, they would have never argued, and that would have never happened. I battled with those feelings of guilt from 11 all the way up to 20.
(Mother) At that time, Shane was 11 years old and my daughter was 7. When Shane came and got in the car, we made it to the corner before he said, “Dad must be really tired because he’s sleeping on the floor.” I asked, “Like in the bed?” He said, “Yes.” So I turned the car around and went back to check on my husband.
When I walked into the bathroom, that’s when I saw he was still lying on the floor in the bathroom. After waiting over 13 hours in the ER, we learned that he had suffered a massive stroke., he had over 75% occlusion of his carotid artery, which meant he was losing oxygen to the brain rapidly. Ultimately, his father passed a week later. But had Shane not had the awareness and foresight to tell me what happened, that morning when he left for school would have been the last time any of us ever saw his dad alive.
(Shane) I blamed myself for my father passing away because I wanted that video game. I thought about the argument. And I felt that if I hadn’t gotten the video game, they would have never argued and that would have never happened. I battled with those feelings of guilt from 11 all the way up to 20. I finally forgave myself and realized it wasn’t my fault. I had to accept that there were things I couldn’t and can’t understand.
(Mother) We’ve experienced a lot of loss. I lost my dad when I was 10 years old, so Shane never knew his grandad. I lost other grandparents as well. The year before his dad passed, his paternal grandfather passed. The year after, his paternal grandmother. And like myself, John (Shane’s father) and I were only children. So within a three year span, Shane and his sister had lost their entire family on their father’s side. Not only was Shane dealing with fear of losing his father, but he was afraid of losing me as well.
Many of [the men around me] are macho, strong, and focus a lot on what a man can be and what he can’t be. But as I get older, I often ask myself, “What is the basis of being a man? And why are these rules set up?”
The family dynamic dramatically shifted, and it all led to a place of internal chaos as Shane tried to find himself without a male role model. For example, the person that I dated years after his dad passed had a different personality than his father, and in many ways, was emotionally abusive. So that was tough on Shane because his father was a really good guy who was sensitive and very loving.
For Shane, trying to fill that space and learn at a critical time what it meant to be a man, while dealing with this sudden shift, put a lot of pressure on him. Even though he was young, he felt a huge sense of responsibility having a mom and a younger sister. He was constantly searching for direction, but wasn’t able to find it in many of the male role models around him.
(Shane) I definitely had to learn what it meant to be a man on my own, instead of growing up with a man that could teach me. My mom eventually got remarried but he was different from what I knew of my father. And his outlook on what it means to be a man is different. And that goes for a lot of the men I’m around. Many of them are macho, strong, and focus a lot on what a man can be and what he can’t be. But as I get older, I often ask myself, “What is the basis of being a man? What do you have to do to be a man? And why are these rules set up? And why is it that if you don’t do these things, you’re looked down upon?”
A lot of people don’t think that men are sensitive or emotional. And if a man is sensitive or even cries, people automatically ask, “What the hell is wrong with you?” But I’m very emotional. For example, I remember when I was 18, I came home crying because I accidentally hit a little bird or small animal while driving. It really bothered me. But a lot of men aren’t like that–or feel like they can’t express their emotions so easily. They are taught that a man has to work, can’t cry, and should have to be a provider. I don’t believe all of that.
There isn’t one way to be a man, a child, or even an adult. It’s a journey, a process. It’s about passing on the information that worked for you and allowing those around you to use it to determine what kind of person they want to be.
Being a man isn’t a role someone plays. You can be the provider and then God may do something where you can’t provide. So, does that make you less of a man because you can’t provide for that moment? No. It’s more than that. And The Pillow Talk Project helps prove that. It gives an idea of how to be your own man because there isn’t one way to be a man, a child, or even an adult. Not even a woman. It’s a journey, a process. And it isn’t even really a man thing. It’s about passing on the information that worked for you and allowing those around you to use it to determine what kind of person they want to be.
(Mother) I can remember one time when I was dating Shane’s father, and we found a wounded pigeon. We rode all over town trying to help that pigeon and eventually buried it in the backyard when it didn’t make it. That’s the kind of man his father was. And that’s the kind of man Shane has become, without even knowing it.
One of the reasons I’m so very touched by your project is because my parents divorced when I was two years old. My father was a man’s man. I remember him being very rough to the point that it was overwhelming to my spirit. But in many ways, it shaped my choice in my mate.
I started dating Shane’s dad when I was 16. He had such a wonderful balance of who he was as a man. He didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. You would have to know him well to know he was angry. He was truly a sweet person, and it took a lot to get him to a space of anger.
During the big argument that Shane remembers the night before his father had a stroke, the last thing his father said to me was, “I love you. Can you teach me? I don’t understand what you’re saying. I want to open up. I want to be that man…”
And even though his dad was a wonderful and balanced man, I can remember I would always say to him, “You’re so quiet. You aren’t very expressive.” He would often reply saying, “What do you mean? If you ask me a question, I’ll answer it.” But I wanted something else. I wanted to dwell inside of his world. I wanted to think about what was inside of his head. I wanted to experience everything that he was because I loved him so deeply. But he didn’t know how to express that.
During the big argument that Shane remembers the night before his father had a stroke, the last thing his father said to me was, “I love you. Can you teach me? I don’t understand what you’re saying. I want to open up. I want to be that man. Can you teach me?” Again, that’s the kind of man he was. And what loving his father has taught me is that we, as women, have to allow those moments for our men to admit what they don’t know and where they want and need help. And we have to be willing to not allow our woundedness to prevent us from being able to say what we need and have a man that isn’t afraid to listen and walk that journey with us.
It has been a scary and wonderful journey having a son. I worry whether he is going to find a mate that is going to value the heart that he has. I worry whether he is going to find a mate who is going to support his purpose in life and that they will share a spiritual journey and love him enough to care for the human being beneath the surface. I don’t know if women today truly know how to do that. That’s a concern for me.
I always say to those he dates, “You know my son massages feet, right? But you have to be willing to massage feet, too, or you’re the wrong one.” I say that because we must all understand men are human and have needs, too. They have to know it is okay to express their feelings and not feel weakened by doing so. That’s what I’ve tried to teach and give to my son in the absence of his dad.
My journey to being a man hasn’t been easy… Being in school was the beginning of the lying and hiding who I was, just from a learning disability. But I’m getting to the point where I’m comfortable telling people my story and what I’ve been through.
(Shane) I believe making the decision to be your own man is something we all struggle with. I recently told my sister, who looks up to me, that I apologize for not being the man she has heard my father was. I tried from the day he passed away to me being 23 to be him, but I couldn’t and I can’t. No matter how hard I tried.
All I can do for her–and anyone else–is be me. But at the end of the day, that’s all any man can do: take bits and pieces from your parents, society, and your peers, and allow it to mold you into the person you want to be. You do away with things you don’t agree with and you embrace the things that you do.
My journey to being a man hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been coming into who I am and realizing what I like since I turned 21. Being in school was the beginning of the lying and hiding who I was, just from a learning disability. But I’m getting to the point where I’m comfortable telling people my story and what I’ve been through.