By Doni Joszef
The overstressed modern mom is a character we know well—well enough to stay far out of the way when she’s losing it. Her vocal cords consistently exceed their natural limits, determined as ever to rise above the frequency of her screaming (precious) children who know exactly the right buttons to press, and exactly the right moments to press them. She catches milliseconds of reprieve by amassing likes on Instagram in exchange for posting cute pictures of those same children in their #SuperAdorable (=overpriced) matching outfits. She is a capable and competent cookie. That we know.
But what of her male counterpart? The Martian? The dad? The dude? The dude abides—ever so mellow in the backdrop. Schlepping along, his head buried in his phone, wishing he was, in fact, as busy and important as this gesture was designed to portray. His apparent mellowness does a good job of masking his not-so-apparent, but silently surging, sense of restlessness. His inactivity is less reminiscent of the relaxation variety, and more akin to a sort of paternal paralysis.
The bathroom quickly becomes his safe haven to which he frequently escapes for some air—if by “air” we mean checking Twitter, e‑mails, stocks, and sports stats. After a sufficient amount of time in the safety of a locked stall, he returns to his family—and continues to check Twitter, e‑mails, stocks, and sports stats.
He seeks solace in these cozy crannies of control to compensate for his obvious lack of it. His body language reveals the uneasiness which his silence seeks to conceal. He becomes uncivilly obedient; he does what he is told, but with a heaviness so palpable it nearly fogs up the room. He says “Yes, Dear” with a smile that says “Kill me now.” Why is he so afraid to be present? Why does he get so restless so easily, and why does he bottle it up like a combustible grenade?
Because he feels trapped. He adores his family, and yet he feels tightly bound by their needs. He wants to be genuinely loving, and he wants to be genuinely free, and he’s not always able to be both at the same time. He doesn’t verbalize this conflict, because he’s not always conscious of it.
So, next time he seems distant and withdrawn, don’t be fooled by his external shell of aloofness. Beneath the surface of his consciousness simmers a whole galaxy of conflicting, confusing, confounding emotions. Sometimes we just need to take a closer look. v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, is in private practice working with individuals, families, and groups in Lawrence. Available by appointment. Call 516-316-2247 or e‑mail DJoszef@gmail.com to schedule a consultation.