Beyond Man Up: My Brother and I

This morning, I was on a conference call gearing up for the upcoming Healthy Masculinity Campus Conversation event the Women’s Center is hosting on February 4th. I’ll be in the role as a co-facilitator and as a team we were processing through the most effective ways to be a successful facilitator. Over the course of the conversation, I was prompted to think about how I would ask questions to guide the dialogue around unhealthy and healthy masculinity. Maybe because his birthday is tomorrow, my brother kept popping into my mind.

The most vivid of these images came from a time after my parents separated. I was 16. He was 14. My mom had recently moved into a new house. In an effort to help with the transition, I offered the larger bedroom to my brother – after all, I had the larger bedroom growing up in our childhood home which is where my father still resided. It ended up being the bedroom that he locked himself in every night. Once we got home from school, he would vanish into that room. It was fight every night to get him out of there – to eat dinner, to talk to us, to do anything. I remember screaming matches between the two sides of the door. I remember the pointless efforts from my mother to block my brother from going into his room. Some of the memories are violent and scary, while others are just sad and lonely.

It is without a doubt that I contribute our genders to the way we both dealt with my parents’ separation and eventual divorce. As a young woman, I reached out to my friends. I cried. I talked about it – even when it felt hard to share. I also lived up to the gender expectation as a woman to be nice. I didn’t take sides. Every Sunday evening for the next two years, I would pack a suitcase for the week and switch between living with my mom and dad. They never made me pick and I could have stayed in one place but the thought of hurting either of their feelings was too great of a risk to take. On the opposite side, my brother lived the out the dominant story of masculinity that most boys are told. In his attempt to bottle up all of his emotions, he literally locked himself away in his room. When any emotions came outside with him, they were angry, aggressive, and intimidating. He was mad at everyone and especially blamed my mom. He later resorted to drinking and drugs to lose control of the situation and his feelings while I developed an eating disorder to gain any control I possibly could over the situation and my feelings. As my dad always puts it, we’re as different as night and day. I am his daughter, the sun, while my brother is the moon. But I am wishing that my brother and I had more chances to connect and be alike during that time than just the rare solar eclipses that put us on the same path for only a short period of time.

These are all the feelings I’m unpacking today as we prepare for the upcoming Healthy Masculinity Campus Conversation to happen at UMBC. I’m looking forward to being a part of the conversation about masculinity that I’ve never been able to have with my brother. I hope it not only teaches me more about manhood but it teaches me more about who I am as a woman. How can I grow? How can I learn? How can I be a healthier version of myself not only for me but for men – especially my brother?

For more details about this event: http://my.umbc.edu/groups/womenscenter/events/22042

For more details about the Spring Semester of Rebuilding Manhood and/or to apply: http://my.umbc.edu/news/40143

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