Real men are always in control — of themselves, not others

image Anyone who reads my weekly newspaper column or blog posts knows I try to keep life in perspective through humor. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the reasons my children are still alive today. While I joke about that, for many years humor was also part of a coping mechanism from a childhood witnessing both verbal and physical abuse by the men in my family — specifically, my father and older brothers.

The good news is that each of them eventually turned themselves, their lives and the lives of the people they loved, around. It wasn’t until I became a father that I realized the impact that a childhood witnessing abuse had on me, and how some of those wounds — as both a witness and recipient — had never truly healed.

I know this because I occasionally saw reflections of my father and brothers in myself as I fought to avoid making the same mistakes with my own children; I also know this because I came to realize that as much as we want to tell ourselves we can choose not to take any baggage with us on our journey through life, ultimately it’s always somewhere waiting to be claimed.

There is no getting rid of it completely, only a conscious decision to leave it circling on the carousel.

Because I am a father with teenaged boys and girls, I stay hip to the way they communicate.

Wow… Did you just feel that? It was their eyes rolling.

Actually, I’m not “hip” as much as I am privy to how they talk to each other. While social media has opened the doors to communication in some ways, it has swung too far in others. Verbal abuse still takes place; it just happens in hushed Tweets and SnapChats instead. The result is the development of a disposable sense of emotions — a disconnect from face-to-face that has been replaced by Facebook-to-Facebook. As a result, spotting the signs of abuse has become tougher while becoming an abuser is easier. Thanks to social media, those opportunities are literally at our fingertips. For those with a hair-trigger temper, every Tweet, text or post sent in anger pre-conditions abusive behavior and makes it harder to recognize in ourselves. It becomes a conditioned response in a cycle that gets harder and harder to break.

For young men, their teens and early 20s are a time when they are defining themselves and establishing their place in a male-dominated world while, at the same time, trying to understand the intricacies of communicating with the opposite sex. How do I know this? Because, statistically speaking, I was a young man once. Trying to appear tough among your peers while still holding on to the part of you that is thoughtful and caring feels contradictory to what we’re taught about being a man. We see it in movies and advertising; we hear it in music: Being a man means being in control. In charge. In command.

Of life and our relationships.

It’s a social stereotype perpetuated mostly through media and advertising. Why? Because it sells. Body wash. Albums. Movie tickets. Clothes. Video games.

It’s baggage our culture has been carrying for generations.

Being a real man does mean being in control. But not of others. It means being in control of yourself enough to understand, acknowledge and accept your strengths and weaknesses. It also means never using your strength — physically or verbally — to overpower others. Particularly the women in your life, whether it be your wife, girlfriend, mother or daughter. A real man provides protection, safety and acceptance; a weak man dishes out pain, insecurity and denial. In either case, they are reflections of your inner self. The question is: What kind of reflection do you want to see when you look in the mirror each day?

There’s no denying sexism and a male-dominance mentality are still deeply woven into the fabric of our society. And while we have made strides in some areas by recognizing and discussing matters of physical and verbal abuse, that baggage is still out there circling on the carousel.

As men, we must make a conscious decision each day to avoid claiming it.


(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

109 thoughts on “Real men are always in control — of themselves, not others”

  1. Most of carry baggage of some sort, often blaming the sins of our ancestors for creating those things we like least about ourselves. At some point we have to take responsibility for our actions & make choices about who we want to be. Love this Ned!

  2. It is wonderful to know men… who do their best to control their actions and to love those around them… are out in the world!!

    Loved this post Ned and the story of redemption for your father. .. brothers. .. you and in turn… your boys… and your girls!!

    Moderate Daddy is a man who sacrifices and loves in the big ways and small. I know him loving me is dependent a lot of times on self control… control to not get upset. .. control to not push his way… control to say “no” or “wait” to his desires and dreams.

    The actions he takes then produces in me a wife who also sacrifices… loves and controls herself to not always push her way!

    The great outcome of us letting go of control in some areas and controlling ourselves in others has made for a deep… lovely… fun lifetime. .. so far 😉

    1. Clearly, the two of you understand that being “right” isn’t as important as allowing the other person to be heard. That’s the foundation for a relationship that truly is “deep, lovely and fun for a lifetime.”

  3. Man, I am stumped! I don’t know how to react when you write serious stuff.
    *takes a moment to collect herself*
    Ned, I really really identified with this post – you are spot on about the carousel of abuse. It’s easier to just go along, but if you do break the inertia, life can be so much better for us and the people we love! And at the end of the day, isn’t that life what is about?

    Brilliant, thought-provoking stuff.

    1. Thanks so much, Anawni. And it’s true, life isn’t about getting caught in past inertia but creating your own based on the desire to grow, contribute and love.

  4. The cycle of abuse can indeed be difficult to break. We learn what we see. Trying not to behave in the manner we’ve been trained takes insight and strength. And you’re right–society presents unrealistic views of what being a man is. It’s no wonder teenage boys get conflicted. Wonderful post.

    1. Thanks, Carrie. I truly worry about the message media and society in general perpetuates, bombarding our kids with images and examples based primarily on shock value in a world filled with white noise.

  5. I just posted this to my facebook page. The truth in the saying, “we parent as we were parented” is sometimes a happy thought but too often something we must fight to overcome. Thanks for the post.

    1. You’re very welcome and thank you for re-posting it. Certainly, no parent is perfect and has without question the most complex and important job in the world — particularly today when they have to compete against so much negative input. At the same time, we have to be accountable for ourselves and the lessons we take from our own parents.

  6. That was really lovely, thank you. So well said. Men are really wonderful, so to watch some of them not reach their full potential, is a tragedy.

    As to kids and eye rolling, my husband once said, “don’t mock your mother’s sense of humor, that’s a big part of why you’re still alive.”

  7. Boy, can I EVER relate to what you are saying. My dad’s father was abusive. Where dad tried to be different, the issues of control were still there. Then my brother came out as being Gay. In a conservative family that creates a HUGE problem and I was the middleman saying “Can’t we ALL get along!” When I left for college, my dad beat my brother up and he ran away. He supported himself selling drugs. Eventually he turned his life around and got his Master’s in psychology. I have volunteered for children’s organizations since my children were in preschool. I’m now a grandmother and STILL volunteering for children’s organizations. Your words are VERY wise! I hope LOTS of people are listening to you!

    1. I think one of the most painful things I’ve ever felt have been those moments I saw my father in myself with my own children. And even though I was able to recognize it and avert repeating those mistakes, the fact that it was there was a reminder of the pain I felt as a child, along with my fears as a father of being that source of pain for my own children. I’m sure your father experienced the same in spite of his efforts to NOT be his father.

      Thank you so much for sharing your insight, and for what you and your brother are doing to help others.

      1. My brother died of A.I.D.S. twenty years ago. He was a good person and a good counselor. He and my parents never did develop a good relationship, while I remained the middleman.

        Like you, I recognize aspects of my mom and dad in me, and I work VERY hard to NOT be like them. I have gone through eight years of group therapy to help me change. Thankfully, I have a loving and fun relationship with my grown son and daughter and my granddaughters. I work VERY hard at communicating with my kids through open conversations so we can work “stuff out” as this is critical to me.

        I am SO thankful that my parents are dead. I don’t want my children thinking of me in the same way. Change is SO IMPORTANT! Keep up your good work!

        1. Thank you, Gwynn. And there is no doubt that the efforts you have made to end the cycle of aggression and anger has made your life and the lives of your family better. The ripple effect will be felt for generations thanks to you 😉

  8. The hallmark of a great writer is that his talents extend beyond a single genre. This post resonated with me as deeply as anything else you’ve written, which is saying something. Thank you for sharing this, not just because we need to hear the male voice more often, but also because your experiences lend your perspective great credibility (though what a terrible way to acquire that perspective). The idea that we can acknowledge the existence of our baggage without having to claim it is especially powerful and important. I will be reposting as well.

  9. I agree we all have baggage, but being aware of that baggage is also the first step to being a better person, father, husband, role model, etc. Raising children is hard work, but if you acknowledge and are honest with your kids, they will turn out well.

    We have always been straightforward with our kids, my son, now 20 is a very sensitive young man, and though he makes mistakes, he grows from them. We all grow from our mistakes.

    Good post Ned. I’m sure your kids will turn out fab, you have the sense of humour that will get you through the tough times. Humour is key.

    1. I couldn’t agree more; be straightforward with your kids and they will grow to be straightforward with others. Especially in today’s society, we need more of that. And plenty of humor in between 😉

  10. Wow. As I raise two boys as a divorced mom, I realize how important a strong male role model is. Strong and sensitive is a tough row to hoe. I’m glad to know there are guys out there like you not just fulfilling this role but teaching it.

    1. I really appreciate that, Kay. That said, as a one-time single father of two, the importance of having a strong and sensitive female who can help provide the example of what a loving and respectful relationship is like is equally important.

  11. It will be easier for your children to parent than it was for you. That’s an amazing gift. When they recognize their father in themselves, it won’t be a source of pain. You did that by working to be a better father than you had. That’s no small accomplishment.

    1. Melanie, I never thought about it in those terms — the recognition of the father in themselves. So much of my focus has been on what I can do to be a better father in the here-and-now. I have to admit, your words gave me a realization and sense of hope that made me smile.

      Thank you for that;)

  12. As funny as you are Ned (and don’t get me wrong, this Rhode Island girl thinks you’re “wicket funny”), your best writing is when you’re serious. Your children will, indeed, be blessed by your maturity. Hah! I can imagine the eyeball rolling you’ll get over that one. 🙂

  13. I come from a long line of people who have passed on the aggression they received. If I’ve done nothing else of value I know I have been the end of that chain. I suffered as a child but never passed that on to my own children.

  14. this is so well said, ned. and obviously speaking from the perspective of one who’s been there and knows how it feels and the impact it can have. fantastic post.

  15. Ned you should be writing stuff like this everyday! I appreciated this so much more than other posts. Wonderful philosophy and great writing. We need to get this out into the world at large!

    1. Thanks so much! I enjoy stepping away rom the comedic stage from time to time and addressing things that I feel strongly about, but I am a humorist at heart 😉

  16. Great blog, Ned. Resonates very strongly here. My Dad was from “the greatest generation” era. A World War Two vet who quitely carried the demons of combat until the final days of his life almost 55 years later. He was a strong, quiet, stoic man not given to external shows of emotion or affection. I’m proud of my Dad. Loved him. But I’m trying hard not to internalize everything. Easier said than done now at age 72.

    1. It’s never too late to express how you feel to the people you love, and the fact that you recognize it tells me you probably started before you even realized it.

      Thanks for reading, Greg, and sharing your thoughts!

  17. Congratulations Ned. You are a winner in this ancient struggle for power. The only battle worthy of winning is an inner one-always. I wish you continued love and success with your own children. And thanks, on behalf of abused innocents everywhere, for doing something to break the chain.

      1. My pleasure. I was married to a victim of abuse who only healed partially. There was no abuse for our boys but he had hidden issues with women because of his mother. It was not a fun life. My heart broke for him so I endured for 11 years. Eventually a reason becomes merely an excuse.

        1. Though your boys may not have hd to eal with the abue directly, kids can sense an unhappy marriage. They pick up on the subtles as much as they do witnessing outright abuse. It’s not the example any of us want to give our children when it comes time for them to find the love in their lives.

          1. The final straw for me was my ex coming in uber late from his fast food management job at four am and me in tears because he never called, etc. He yelled at me so loud and was usually punching a wall or innocent appliance. Next thing you know, I felt my six year old, the oldest at the time, standing in front of me with his little arms wrapped backwards around my legs, protectively. That was it. I didn’t want them to think this is how to treat someone you claim to love. I can honestly say they have their own relationship with their Dad at this point but they are fully aware of his difficulties. I am happy to report they are all very gentle with their own loved ones and even when they have temper issues they deal with them quickly.

            1. Definitely “last straw” material. Not only for the complete disregard for your feelings and concerns, but especially the impact that kind of moment and surely the others to come was going to have on your children. It’s good that your children have formed their own relationship with their father rather than shutting him out — which never allows them to deal with their feelings. I’m sure your own sensitivity to the situation and example has helped them become the loving people they are with the people they care about.

  18. Well said. I am impressed and moved. Consider that victims of child abuse have a greater than average swallow of pride to ingest when these abusive instincts strike – and realize that being human is at the core of everything.

    1. I think forgiveness leads to understanding which, in turn, allows us to grow as people. Without the forgiveness there is always that seed of anger that leads to the potential for violence — verbally or otherwwise.

  19. Some people confuse control with respect — and I think all men want respect rather than control. Men need respect. When my wife wants to hurt me, almost to the point of abuse, it’s when she shows me or tells me she doesn’t respect me. It’s then I can understand why some men resort to physical abuse.. and they end up losing what they really need.

    1. That is a powerful truth about men, Steve. I think some men use control to “gain” the respect they seek while, inside, they know it’s not genuine respect. This creates frustration and anger they are either unwilling — or incapable — of recognizing. Violence becomes the last resort in dealing with a lack of respect they don’t know how to “gain” otherwise. Not to harp on boxing, but I think at its most basic level it is the perfect example of one man gaining the “respect” of another through violence. Bowling, too…

      1. Definitely bowling. It’s a sport where size doesn’t always count, but the size of the ball does help.

        There is something to boxing, football, any type of sport that involves hard contact. The ability to dish out punishment or take it (made Rocky a hero) gains respect. Heck, in cycling, the guy who can make others hurt by enduring the most pain gains the most respect (even if it is from other spandex clad guys).

  20. I’m admittedly a little choked up right now. What a poignant and painful post from a man and friend I respect immensely. I’m so blessed to have married a man who is much like the father who loved and treated me a like a queen and I never had to experience abuse (verbal or otherwise) first hand. That said, I have close friends who have and they carry ghosts with them in their lives and relationships.
    So much of your post gut-checked me as I thought about the role of social media in our lives. Both of my kiddos have experienced some level of bullying in a cyber manner and I’ve felt powerless to do anything. There are days that I curse FB and Twitter and others that I’m so thankful that it keeps me connected to people I care about.
    You have a gift, dear Ned and I’m so thankful you let this side show from time to time.
    PS: Surgery this week?

    1. Thank you so much, Michelle. And I’m sure it was the example of your father’s love that helped you recognize the wonderful qualities in the man you married, and to know you deserved to expect those qualities from someone who loves you.

      As for surgery: Set for Nov. 12. And I am counting the days!

  21. “In modern speech the term gentleman (from Latin gentilis, belonging to a race or gens, and man, the Italian gentil uomo or gentiluomo, the French gentilhomme and the Portuguese homem gentil) refers to any man of good, courteous conduct.” Wikipedia

    Ned, your post is so spot on; you are indeed a “man of good, courteous conduct.” or as I would say, a good, gentle man.

  22. My 13-year old daughter is going to her first boy/girl party this Friday at a friend’s house. I can’t tell you how freaked out I am about it. I know it’d be wrong to lock her in the basement until she’s 32 but it’d save her a lot of hurt and heartache. 13!! I was still watching Scooby-Doo cartoons when I was 13! Why didn’t I have sons?

    1. Boy, can I understand what you’re feeling! My youngest daughter is 14 and already has a social life and seems tethered to social media. I, too, wish for the days of Scooby-Doo and Saturday morning cartoons sometimes.

  23. you’re a wonderful person… it’s nice to know that there are people out there who recognize their struggles and know they have to overcome it… it’s the same for both men and women… and it seems too often people what to just excuse their actions for one reason or another… in class the other day we were talking about a book where the narrator was an alcoholic and did some horrible things… and people were trying to excuse his actions because he was drunk and sadly bringing up real life situations where drunks in their own family had done bad things but they were like it wasn’t their fault… but it is their fault if they chose to keep drinking… while alcoholism is a disease no one should have to suffer living in fear of someone’s drinking habits… and I know this may not exactly be what you’re talking about… but I think it’s bad how people have come to just accept such actions as a part of life… no one should have to live like that… so keep on keeping on making the world a better place…

    1. Thanks, RG. I think today’s society has been conditioned to blame others first before taking a look at themselves. It’s ironic to me how the “Me” generation only applies to expecting the positive with little or no regard to accepting our own responsibility for the negative.

  24. Well said Ned. Your message needs to be spread near and wide. It is awesome that you show this side of yourself and advance the cause to wipe out abuse. Thank You.

  25. Thank you for writing this. My 13 year marriage fell apart because of his abusive nature. We are still fighting in court. He has the lawyer, I don’t, so fighting to get to even see our kids is an up hill battle for me.

    1. The fact that you are fighting for them is what they will remember, Nalaya. I’m so very sorry you had to experience that abuse and that your children witnessed it. The road you’re on right now is a tough one, but the right one for you and your children. My thought and best wishes are with you.

  26. How did I miss this one? The important thing is I read it now. It takes such a searching of our souls to come from that sort of childhood, to process it and channel it in a direction so diversely different. I have to believe it was a painful process to get from there to here, I just have so much respect for that. Wonderful post for men and women of all ages to read. Thanks for sharing

  27. Ned, awesome post! These words brought tears to my eyes…”Being a real man does mean being in control. But not of others. It means being in control of yourself.” So many of us have left abusive relationships where we have been victimized by this control and loss of control and then struggle to raise our children with that very principle that you spoke of in an effort to break the cycle of abuse. Children learn by the behaviors that they witness and then they have to relearn that yelling, cursing, hitting, and all loss of control is not acceptable. I have tried to teach my children to treat all people with kindness and respect. I pray that as they go their ways and have their own families that the negative behaviors that are still exhibited by their dad will not become acceptable in their households.

    1. I think children are inherently good, and as long as they have someone in their lives who can show them the right way to treat people, they will understand. Eventually, the behavior exhibited by their father willonly strengthen the point you’re trying to make 😉

      1. Amen! You are so right, Ned. Children are inherently good. I just pray that more parents will realize the damage that they do and begin to build up their children instead of tearing down. So many lives could be improved! God bless you!

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