By Vincent Corvino
Life in a materialistic society can take its spiritual and psychological toll on a man. This is especially true when times are financially tough. Why are today’s men particularly more vulnerable to depression? What can they do to overcome it and prosper?
According to several studies, suicide rates are normally high among unemployed men and have risen sharply since the 2008 economic collapse. Many depressed people claim to have no purpose in life. Most of us would argue that this claim is based on a faulty perspective.
From a spiritual point of view, many would agree that all sentient beings serve a purpose. From an evolutionary standpoint, that statement is a bit tougher to sell — particularly in a sour economy. According to evolutionary psychology, men are natural providers and women are natural nurturers. Men struggle to maintain a sense of purpose in their lives when they are unemployed or otherwise unable to provide for their loved ones.
In a materialistic society, a man is not only expected to provide his family’s basic needs; he must also supply the trappings of a media-influenced commerce-driven lifestyle, lest society deem him a failure.
Today, the average family expects cell phones, computers, other toys and gadgets, internet access, cable TV, multiple cars, fashionable clothing, costly recreational opportunities, regular vacations and criminally expensive college educations. It was relatively easy for my parents to pay off a home, because they didn’t have to pay for the aforementioned luxuries.
We had one car. TV was free (and better). I wore hand-me-down clothes and was happy to have them. We had a single phone, not six. In the twenty years that I lived with them, my immediate family took four vacations. Italy was the big one. The others were thrifty sojourns along the east coast.
When I and my siblings were “bored,” my parents offered chores to occupy us. We eventually found ways to quietly and independently entertain ourselves, so we wouldn’t have to shovel snow, rake leaves, or scrub the kitchen and bathroom — again. We didn’t get play dates at pricey child-themed restaurants. In fact, we never — and I mean never — ate at restaurants for any reason other than necessity.
The kicker is that we lived this way during better economic times.
My father provided nothing more than food, shelter, clothing, education, and parental guidance, and he derived pride, confidence, and respect from his ability to do so.
When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, the media promoted men like my father. I was particularly influenced by two seemingly divergent characters: John Amos’ character, James, in the show, “Good Times,” and Michael Landon’s character, Charles, in “Little House on the Prairie.” For those who are unfamiliar with these shows, both characters portrayed fathers who led and served their families through all of life’s challenges.
“Good Times” was set in the inner city and dealt with the issues that families confront when they’re financially strapped, surrounded by crime, and trying to live right and prosper. “Little House on the Prairie” was set in simpler times, the late 1800s, when families fought nature’s often destructive whims and any temptations to stray from their stringent Christian laws. Neither James nor Michael provided lavish lifestyles for their families.
In fact, James’ family struggled to keep food on the table and a roof overhead, while Charles’ family only had food, shelter and clothing. Despite their families’ meager provisions, both men were proud, confident, and highly cognizant of their purpose, value, and entitlement to respect. James was street, and Charles was the rugged outdoorsman, but both men carried auras of invincibility and heroism.
Like my father, those men served their evolutionary purpose and did not succumb to depression and suicide. Why? Reasonable expectations were placed upon them.
Today’s man is up against a lot. In order to avoid despair, it is essential that he recognize what is and isn’t within his control. Though he shares instincts with his hunter-gatherer ancestors, the game isn’t as simple as it was then. In order to catch one’s prey, one must do more than just leave camp with a spear and the gods’ favor.
He must take several steps toward establishing a career or a business, both of which are vulnerable to the whims of an unstable economy. He doesn’t control that and should not feel like less of a man when fortune doesn’t swing his way.
He must also be bold enough to let those who financially rely upon him know that they can’t always have what they want. This is an important life lesson. If he’s willing to endure his family’s occasional displeasure, he may actually teach his children values that will make them happier and more successful people. In doing so, he is providing them with a lot.
Though it sounds like — and is — a cliché, challenges are opportunities. In an earlier article on vegan bodybuilding, I mention my truncated and deformed right arm, a congenital defect. I also discuss my participation in wrestling and boxing and my ability to play the guitar well enough to compose most of the material for three Urbansnake records. Had I been born physically normal, it’s highly likely that I wouldn’t have pursued these interests. For many, a physical challenge pushes them to prove themselves. They become used to encountering and hurdling obstacles. In the process, they learn a lot about their abilities and potential, and they acquire alternative methods for doing everyday things.
Beat The Recession Blues
I invite today’s jobless or under-employed man to view his condition as I and many like me view a physical challenge. Here’s how it’s done:
Recognize and accept reality. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s not your fault that your employer decided to downsize the company or that Home Depot suddenly appeared next to your once-successful hardware store. It isn’t logical or healthy to punish yourself for being a legitimate victim. I don’t feel any guilt over my right arm. Capisce?
Don’t react; respond. I’d be lying if I told you I never harbored any negative emotions about my compromised arm; but I’ve always allowed myself to feel them and let them run their course. By nature, they’re fleeting. I see their occasional emergence as an indicator that action must be taken.
When I started wrestling back in high school, it was frustrating and a bit overwhelming to discover that I’d never be able to execute certain textbook moves. So, I hung out with my frustration long enough to comprehend its essence. I was frustrated, because my desire to succeed as a wrestler was so strong, and there were obstacles in my way. That powerful desire drove me to figure out and perfect alternative ways of performing many moves. Next thing I knew, I was captain of the team.
If your current challenge is unemployment or under-employment, feel the frustration, let it motivate rather than defeat you, and get creative. Perhaps you’ve been ignoring a passion, hobby or skill that can actually be monetized. This may lead you to a new and more exciting career.
Do what you can. As I mentioned earlier, men are natural providers and are prone to depression when unable to play that role. Earning money is one method of providing. There are others. If you can’t be an earner, right now, find other ways to provide.
-Do you and your family need more exercise? Lead the way. Plan some fitness-related family activities.
-Are there inexpensive around-the-house projects that have been neglected? Get on them.
-Does your son or daughter need homework help? Give that a shot.
-What about self-improvement?
-Would learning a language help you in the job market?
-Have you been itching to break into a new industry?
-Why not pursue an internship?
These efforts may not immediately pay off financially, but increasing your marketability increases your potential as a provider.
About the Author:
Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake. He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt. He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.