Out In The Open

Boys don't cry — and it might be killing them

“You can be a ‘real man’ and still talk about your feelings and not just repress everything until you have a heart attack or take your own life”: Writer Jack Urwin tells Duncan how manliness is killing men — including Jack’s own father.
Jack Urwin, author of Man Up: Surviving Modern Masculinity (Michael Barker)

When Jack Urwin was nine-years-old, his father Richard died of a heart attack. No one in the family saw it coming... except, perhaps, Richard himself.

After his death, the postmortem showed scar tissue from previous heart attacks. But Richard had never gone to a doctor or told his family. 
Writer Jack Urwin with his dad, Richard. Richard died suddenly when Jack was just 9 years old of heart issues he'd never sought help for or even disclosed to his family. (Courtesy of Jack Urwin)

As Jack went on to confront mental health problems in his own life, he too found it impossible to tell anyone or reach out for help.

"I didn't really consider that this was how he dealt with his problems — that this was an unhealthy way to do it — until much later. It was only roundabout when I had these revelations about myself that it clicked, like 'Oh God, I'm Dad!'"

It's completely absurd that we're taking these risks and in some cases, dying needlessly young.- Jack Urwin

Playing things close to the chest and refusing to show vulnerability or seek help can have a serious impact on men's health — both physical and mental.

"In most western countries, between three and four times the number of men take their lives as women. The fact that more men die, there is this underlying theme of masculinity because it's almost a sense of control. Men tend to use more violent methods to take their own lives because there's almost this stigma around attempting suicide and 'failing'... to fail at suicide is seen as this emasculating thing."

"Skin cancer is a really fascinating illness to look at because it's one of the rare illnesses that affects men and women with equal incidence, and yet men are two or three times more likely to die as a result of skin cancer because they don't go to the doctor to get it checked out until it's too late...

"We need to teach men, and particularly boys, that it's not emasculating to be emotionally communicative, that it's not emasculating to cry."

Still, Jack tells Duncan: "I very rarely cry. The act itself is a real struggle for me because a lifetime of being told it's not masculine to cry... it's almost like I've turned off that instinctive feeling that allows me to do this. It's quite messed up really...

"Crying has been seen as a weakness for so long... Now, one of the bravest things you can do as a man is to cry in public. I think that takes real balls."

Jack wrote about all this in a book called Man Up: Surviving Modern Masculinity.