A rabbi who lives down the street told me that he now had a ‘problem’ with prayer. After his wife’s second bout of breast cancer was diagnosed, he found himself raging at God, even questioning whether God was listening to him.
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ONE REASON: Unable to take much action, a common male response to any problem, they’re left with their feelings staring straight at them. Some men can handle them, and some can’t. A good friend of mine suddenly found himself going to church a lot and praying some on his own. “It can’t hurt,” he said, “and it might help. I’ve never been very religious, but in church I feel it’s OK to let out whatever I’m feeling. I keep nothing in. And it’s very comforting.”
Conversely, a rabbi who lives down the street told me that he now had a “problem” with prayer. After his wife’s second bout of breast cancer was diagnosed, he found himself raging at God, even questioning whether God was listening to him. He realized that was getting him nowhere — and helping his wife not a whit — and decided to fight back against the disease. He joined the executive committee of a breast-cancer survivor’s group and recently raised money for Race for a Cure.
Sometimes, what a man experiences is not too nice to look at. Jack, a guy I worked with and knew on a casual social basis, remarried a few years ago to Susan, a loan officer, who was also marrying for the second time. Both were in their late 40s when Susan got her diagnosis, which was not good — many lymph nodes were involved. Susan was a good friend of my wife’s, so I heard much about the progression of the treatment. Susan opted for mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy — the works.
I heard, was supportive in all the obvious ways, helping her with all the
practical and logistical details. But as she got better and could take
care of herself and even got back to work, Jack retreated from the
relationship. Sex was the first thing to go and it hasn’t returned yet.
It’s been two years.
What’s with him? Is he repulsed by his wife’s physical condition, her new one-breasted physiognomy? Or is the idea of physical intimacy with her too emotionally wrenching, posing the potential of shattering the armor he erected around his fears of the worst — that he might lose her.
Each explanation bespeaks a different character, but it almost doesn’t matter if he’s being a good guy or bad guy, because the result is the same. She feels rejected, reduced and unworthy at a time when she needs a major boost in self-esteem.
FEELINGS OF GRATITUDE
But another man whom I hadn’t seen in years, and caught up with last spring on a ski trip out West, related a different kind of reaction. His wife had suffered breast cancer 10 years before, beat it back, but was diagnosed with a completely separate cancer last winter. The outlook was not good: The average survival time for patients with the disease, a brain tumor, was less than a year.
hearing the news, my friend ranted and raged — privately, of course — and
then accompanied his wife to an out-of-state clinic for treatment. When I
saw them, they were back home on their ranch in Wyoming, knowing that
their time together was very limited.
This man was a former Big Ten football player who had spent the last 20 years working as a union organizer. He had always epitomized to me the essence of manly toughness. As we rode the ski lifts of Jackson Hole, he explained to me in very measured tones how after all the anger, the bitterness, the resentment, the raging at the unfairness of it all, he was left with an almost paradoxical feeling: gratitude.
How could he be grateful? “I now realized that I had been blessed
with a relationship that most men don’t have. My wife and I loved each
other, and we were both still here and able to tell each other that. No
matter what happens, I will always have had that. And I’m eternally
grateful for it.”|
It was an emotion he was perfectly capable of handling.
Michael Segell is the author of “Standup Guy: Masculinity That Works,” published by Villard.