Marriage For Men

Articles by: Henry Sawatzky

MA; RCC and Director

The Foxhole

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.

4 Comments

  1. Christine Smith

    Great article Henry! And i love the foxhole image, it makes me think of us all, in our respective foxholes, peeking out of them and bravely waving at each other.

    Reply
  2. N. Rice

    I love the Marriage for Men articles, and I believe the content is equally if not more insightful to women than the title suggests. You break some of the biggest relationship barriers between women & men down into smaller bite-sized bits of information that can be easily consumed and then add upon them. This is a great resource for anybody in any type of relationship. We are all made of the same “layers” at our core, we just have different priorities and therefore our “layers” are ordered differently based on our experiences as a child and then as an adult. Our “layers” and the order that our “layers” are prioritized is what makes up our individual personalities, which evolve as we age. Trauma brings some “layers” closer to the surface and causes other “layers” to retreat. It is a beautiful cycle of individual evolution.

    Reply
  3. dwbrown1951

    Hi Henry. Just read your latest blog. I enjoyed it but I think your description of climbing out of your fox hole and observing how much better those around you seemed to be doing when it came to social interactions and career seems to have reached what I consider to be somewhat over-simplistic conclusions. My own experience during high school was that those around me seemed to mostly be happier, more goal directed and socially competent that I viewed myself to be. I concluded I must be a failure/loser/incompetent. At my ten year high school reunion, what I discovered was that many of those I saw as the most “successful” were going through (or had already gone through) divorces and were in many cases (but not necessarily the majority) re-thinking their career choices and going in very different directions due to concluding that their original choices were more about satisfying parental expectations that following their own desires and gifts. In other words, they may have been better at hiding their fear and confusion than I saw myself being able to. Appearances can indeed be deceiving!

    Reply
    • Henry Sawatzky

      Thanks for your great feedback David. Your thoughts are so appreciated. As I peered out from my foxhole as a youth, I saw many of my peers apparently succeeding and thriving. And some of them were. They were vulnerably trusting and seeking the support of their accessible support network. They believed that help existed, and are reaching for it. But of course, this was not the case for all of them. Some, who appeared from my perspective, to be thriving were merely in their own foxhole of a different nature. Whereas my foxhole was essentially the safety of isolation, not all foxholes look like that. Some are being the class clown, or achieving academic success or athletic prowess, or social popularity. Or even projecting weakness and developing and over dependence on others. The list of possible foxholes is endless. But whatever foxhole a person moves into for safety, life becomes one dimensional and prevents the occupant from truly expressing needs and trusting others.

      Reply

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