I attended a talk from the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention at the Stay At Home Dads Conference in Denver and was shocked by the suicide stats for fathers. I wrote about it a while back – Men and Suicide –but after trying for months, finally got a chance to interview Dr. Rich Mahogany. Hold on, though: Rich is a fake therapist, the creation of the Man Therapy partners, but with its generous dose of humor, “he” also addresses some very serious issues with men. You can see some of the Doc’s hilarious videos too at ManTherapy.org.
Q: Hey Doc, fatherhood is incredibly stressful, and with a crying baby and no obvious ability to “fix the problem,” a lot of men crumble inside, even as society (and likely their wife and buddies) expect them to be strong and capable. What do you think can be done to help new dads out?
DR. RICH MAHOGANY: From the moment they’re brought into the world, many guys feel pressure from society to prove their independence. That pressure builds, and just like a piston firing in a cylinder, all that pressure needs an escape valve. Not all escape valves are created equal, however, and if you’ve ever broken wind at the dinner table, you understand. Finding a positive outlet for that stress and pressure can be difficult, but I always keep a handy list of “One-on-none” activities to keep me inspired.
But the best resources men have are each other. Women instinctively lean on their girlfriends and can readily find “new mom support groups,” whereas men have to dig in and work harder to find these types of resources. When men have an opportunity to just be men, and share their problems in a safe environment, it can go a long way towards calming the chaos of new parenthood.
Q: New dads. Ha! As a single father with two teens, I can tell you that babyhood isn’t the only time things can be difficult. Dads are kinda in a tough place. Why IS being a father so darn difficult?
DR. RICH MAHOGANY: Teens can really smack down a Dad’s illusion that he’s got it all under control. It’s a teen’s job to blaze his or her own trail. They are drawing connections between the various aspects of their life– teachers, faith traditions, social class, ethnic groups, gender identity – and their relationship with you. These experiences forge the adult identity that may carry with them forever.
Fatherhood is so darn difficult because it’s so darn important. My old man, Ron Mahogany, put up with a lot from me throughout my adolescence, and his persistence helped make me the manly man I am today.
Tips for Dads of teens – empathy is your best friend!
1) Remember what it was like for you when you are teen and conjure up a little empathy and encouragement.
2) Tolerate your teen’s self-centeredness as long as it doesn’t interfere with the family functioning. When this becomes problematic, insert hypothetical thinking into the conversation that opens up perspectives of empathy. “I am wondering how you might feel, if your younger brother spent 20 minutes in the bathroom and wouldn’t let you get ready for school.”
3) Have open and honest conversations about sexuality and the confusing feelings that might come with it (and realize that your daughter might be uncomfortable talking to you about this just as you are with her).
Realize that your teen will often turn to their peers before you for information, but they still value you when you are credible and understanding.
Q: So you know a Dad who is falling apart, even as he’s toughing things out and trying not to show his desperation. Or that’s you and your life. Concerning, for sure. Now what?
DR. RICH MAHOGANY: Experiencing despair is one thing; doing it all alone is another. The best thing we can do during these tough times is lean on one another. One thing that keeps me centered is always keeping a list of people to call – 10 or 20 people that I can talk to when I’m really down. You don’t need to talk about anything heavy – sometimes just knowing that they are there and that they care is enough to get you through.
If social support isn’t enough to carry you through, you might be dealing with something more serious – like a significant mood or anxiety disorder. These are critical health conditions that left unchecked can escalate and become life threatening. Do yourself and your kids a favor and see a medical professional if your sleeping or eating become significantly disrupted by your mood or if you become so irritable or agitated that your relationships are falling apart. There are many ways to help you get back on track.
Q: And, finally, Rich Mahogany. Yeah, okay. Tell us about your childhood and your relationship with your own father, Doc.
DR. RICH MAHOGANY: He was my biggest role model growing up, though I never told him. My dad was a busy man who worked very hard, but he always took the time to help me make sense of the world. We had our disagreements, to be sure. After all, how would you feel if your 14-year-old son sported a thicker, more lustrous mustache than you ever could? But even when he was at the end of his rope with me, he never threw in the towel.
Ron Mahogany was a man of few words, but he chose them very deliberately. We’d go fishing and camping where he’d tell stories from his childhood. Out in the wilderness, he would teach me how to build a fire without matches, shave with a straight razor, and wrestle a grizzly bear. I will always admire my father for showing me how to live a fulfilling life, rather than telling me. But would you expect anything less from a man who named his son Richard Warhammer Mahogany? I think not.
Did You Know? Men commit suicide 4x as often as women do.
Why is this? Men of working age (especially white men ages 25-54) carry the burden of suicide in the United States. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for men aged 25-34. Suicide can be prevented when the people who surround the suicidal person know what to look for, know what to do, and qualified care is accessible. Men tend to use more lethal means than women, so their first attempts tend to be more lethal. Women attempt about 3X more often than men, but use means like pills or cutting which allow for a greater window of rescue (self-rescue or other rescue). There is some evidence to suggest that there is some gender conditioning that contributes to this difference in means selection. Men “don’t want to fail” at suicide, so they choose a way to end their life that will get the job done. In areas of the country where there is a strong gun culture, many men have access to and familiarity with firearms, so this is often the method of choice, followed by hanging. Women on the other hand are conditioned to think about how they might appear to others, and often choose means that preserve the body (e.g., pill overdose).