Marriage For Men
Articles by: Henry Sawatzky
MA; RCC and Director
I remember when I got my first GPS device.
It was a puck-sized disk that connected via Bluetooth to my Palm Pilot (there’s a piece of archaeology for you). I was awed by this technology. I threw out my paper maps and exclaimed: “I’m never going to have to ask directions again!” Of course, by now, it all fits conveniently into my iPhone and all I have to do is ask Siri how to get to my destination, and presto, I get full colour, real-time directions with voice-over instructions. I wonder how many marital spats that has saved us all from!
What is it about asking for help that makes many of us feel we’re facing a tooth extraction?
And it goes beyond asking for directions. For many of us, It’s hard to ask for help in things that are small or monumental. Who should I talk to when I’m stuck in a career that isn’t going where I want, or I just can’t seem to get control of a nasty bad habit? Who can I ask for directions in situations that impact my life beyond a simple destination? Something seems to get in my way. What is that? Why do I suddenly feel completely exposed, while the fear of being that vulnerable keeps me, with my head ducked beyond visibility, in my little foxhole. Where I hope no one can see that I actually feel quite lost.
Foxholes. That flashes me right back to my growing up. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in one.
Mom & Dad had come to Canada from Europe after the war, and the trauma they suffered there was never addressed. So, in a manner of speaking, they brought the war home with them. And when your living in a war zone, foxholes are the safest place. Especially if you’re out gunned. So that’s where I spent most of my childhood. In a foxhole. What does living in foxhole look like? Well, for starters, you certainly don’t ask directions. The risk of being made to feel the fool was simply far to great. Ultimately, you do your best to make sure you’re not seen. And asking for directions, or offering them to others, makes you extremely visible. And that is why I love my GPS device. Siri is safe. She will never blast me, ridicule me, or look at me like I’m an idiot.
To be sure, GPS devices are beyond wonderful. I don’t plan to give mine up anytime soon.
But there is a bigger issue here that affects our ability to engage in our lives. Growing up in my foxhole, I would, from time to time, peek out into the world and see how my peers were making out. What I saw amazed me. Everywhere I looked, I saw them getting passing grades, having enviable jobs, going to parties, and getting dates. I wondered how in the world they were doing this, and more significantly, what was wrong with me that I had no clue how to pull that off? What I didn’t know, what I had no way of knowing, was that all those peers of mine who were thriving, lived in the same world I did, could see something I couldn’t. They had learned that asking for directions was not something to be feared. They were able to, in clear terms, state what they wanted, and ask for directions on how to get it. I didn’t even know that was a thing. My experience had taught me that asking for directions meant revealing my ignorance and that meant humiliation. I thought that in order to get any place I wanted to go, I had to figure it out on my own. And when I couldn’t, that was proof that world was dangerous and I had no idea how to live in it. And so in my foxhole I stayed.
I’ve learned to climb out of my foxhole. But I couldn’t do it until I learned to see the world the way some of my peers did.
They believed that help, love and support were available to them. Call it trust. We often refer to it as faith. Faith in ourselves, others, God. The trendy word for it today is “vulnerability”. Of course, growing up, I had every reason to not have faith. My experience told me that love and support did not exist. At least for me. My world was dangerous and I was alone in it. Therefore, I stayed securely closed off in my foxhole.
In order to more fully engage my world, I had to start seeing it in a different way.
It’s taken risk and failure, but over time I’ve learned, there’s more than just danger outside. There’s love, and people who genuinely care, who will go out of their way for no other reason than to help me. Sometimes they’re in my family, or they’re friends, and sometimes it’s the attendant at the local Esso station happy to provide directions.
There are still times I find myself back in my foxhole. Frozen, scared to trust, ask for support, or let myself be seen.
That’s when I need to remind myself that love and acceptance is available. But I have to reach for it. I have to climb out of my foxhole. I have discovered that the more I venture away from the apparent safety of my foxhole, the more I find that support is actually available. So, as I said before, I plan to keep using my GPS device. But I also plan to trust a little more. To ask for help in getting what I need.