When hurricane Irma roared through a few weeks ago, one of my biggest concerns was the old oak tree in our front yard; whether the strong winds would pull it up from the roots as it does so many trees when these storms come through. A lot of trees were uprooted when the storm came through, but with the exception of a few of its smaller branches, our tree stayed put; firmly rooted.
I was taking a walk through our neighborhood this morning and all around me, lining sidewalks and curbs, causing me to take shortcuts and walk arounds, were the remnants of trees broken by the weight of the wind of Irma. In a few cases, there were whole trees, cut up and stacked on the verges of the roads, even though Irma came and went a month ago.
I couldn’t help but notice the metaphor unfolding before me as I walked along, thinking about the meme I’ve heard over and over again. You might know it: that a man is to be a woman’s oak tree during her emotional storms; the steady thing she holds on to, to keep steady. I always appreciated that metaphor, and still do. However, because I had more than a dozen years of marriage under my belt before ever hearing of it, I understood its limitations.
Nuances, curve balls and hard realities are never acknowledged where ideology reigns. There is never a discussion of what happens when a different type of storm rolls in. The kind which is not a feminine emotional anomaly, but a real, concrete, permanent one battering the tree itself. Those cases lay bare the utter foolishness of teaching women that they have no strength to offer a man, and that all the need -except for physical- is on her side and all the provision -which is satisfied practically- is on his side.
I have no experience with weak, immature, easily uprooted trees, but I gather the companions of those types of oaks find it considerably easy to know what to do when the storms come. My experience -as a daughter and a wife- has only been with mighty oaks who offer shade to large gardens of flowers, plants, and shrubbery. Whose strong branches and broad shoulders cause others climb up, adding their issues, needs and energy, both positive and negative. The kind who need a partner that can climb down, make room, and help hold his arms up as he bears his own burden along with the burdens of others.
In a culture where the focus is heavily turned toward the crises of masculinity, whether of the wounded or so-called toxic variety, the women who love and support men whose masculinity is not only healthy, but firmly intact, might need to know that there are things we can do on those rare occasions when life causes a temporary reeling.
- Reactions to deep pain are intensely personal. We don’t really know how someone else feels (even when we’ve experienced something similar or identical). Understand that what another person needs to experience solace or relieve stress will not be the same as what you need.
- Whatever he needs, just give it, with an open heart and no reservations.
- Some of the men in his life can fill in spaces you can’t, and that’s okay.
- Accept that there will be times when there is -quite literally- nothing that you can do other than be there. Do that, don’t underestimate the power of it,
- And pray.
I tend to be a Martha. Particularly during times of distress, I need to do something. I am so often the one taking refuge under the branches of my tree, that the opportunity to offer support in a profound way can send me into overdrive. Some wives need to do that.
But start by being Mary, listening carefully to be sure you offer the right kind of support for the need at hand.