Over his five or six decades on this planet, he lost his father at a young age, moved from India to the UK in his early 20’s, and in more recent years lost 2 brothers. He took on the responsibility of being strong for the entire family, effortlessly, with more strength than I’ve ever seen. This same man will bawl his eyes out to every emotional audition on X-Factor and five minutes into a Bollywood film.
Leaving the cinema hall after watching Lion (all red and puffy eyed) my Dad looked at me and said: 'Crying only shows that you’re human'. 'Human' being the key word, not man or woman or adult or child, it simply shows that you’re ‘human’.
How many times have we told our young boys to 'stop crying like a girl' and in later years to 'grow a pair'. We tell boys that they shouldn’t cry because it makes them weak and then we say that only girls are weak. Not only do we build them up to be emotionally unavailable, they will always believe that being compared to a girl is a bad thing.
Being emotional is nothing to be ashamed of and neither is being female.
Growing up with someone as expressive as my Dad, I struggle to comprehend silence in place of emotion; to me it feels cold. When I come across men in our community who are reserved and cautious I mistake this for arrogance, forgetting that they too are as human as me.
We belong to a society where men are constantly under immense pressure: to earn a lot of money, to be the bread winner, to please his parents, and to always remain unaffected and emotionless. This can lead to a growing number of mental health issues. Sadly, in the South Asian community there is a stigma attached to mental health. The air of secrecy and the burden to conform can leave you feeling isolated. Women often find themselves trying to get men to open up about their problems, only to be confronted with silence. If from the very beginning (I’m talking generations) their emotions are buried, it’s difficult for them to understand the concept of an open conversation that might show ‘weakness’. These situations need to be met with patience and reassurance.
We must remember that their way of expressing emotion will rarely match ours, because girls will often receive affection growing up, that young boys were denied. It is important to be compassionate and to understand that several years of conditioning will not change overnight.
When he lost his brothers, my Dad expressed how lonely it made him and later mentioned that he was at the risk of falling into depression. Importantly, he was vocal about it, maybe not immediately but he made sure he let us know how he felt. Even my friend’s showed concern, 'Your Dad's really quiet, he’s not himself'. It was heart-breaking and still can be now, but looking back I couldn’t be more proud of him. He truly allowed himself to feel every emotion that came his way, he didn’t suppress it and nor did he run from it. By allowing us all to be there for him, he came out even stronger.
I want everyone to remember that their emotions are just as important as everyone else’s. You are allowed to express what you truly feel without feeling ashamed and if you take the first step towards opening up, the rest will flow. The one basic similarity, the one basic common ground between us all is that ‘we are all human’. All humans feel, all humans desire and all humans hurt.