Letter: Caring for the mental health of the men in our lives

By Ms. Pang Chia Yee, Lecturer from the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Taylor’s University

Barack Obama once said: “Being a father is about more than just having children — it is about summoning the courage to love and support them over anything else.” 

In the Asian context, most of us are conditioned to believe that men and fathers need to be tough and strong. We are conditioned with the idea that fathers are the protector and provider of the family and are to be stoic in the face of struggles, only occasionally showing their feelings of love through actions instead of words. Fathers are often perceived as pillars of strength who hold their own weight while supporting the whole family. These characteristics aren’t only displayed by fathers, but most Malaysian men tend to be more restrictive in sharing about their challenges and issues.

So, how do men then cope when faced with adversities? What would be the probability of them seeking help or advice from others? Our culture, religion, society, family upbringing, and education has taught men that they would need to buck up and do what is necessary in order to meet their expected roles and responsibilities. At the same time, most men are not taught the essence of self-care, self-expression and even reaching out when in need.  Hence, it would be easily forgotten that men or fathers are also humans with the rights to feel and have thoughts on their own.

The year 2020 up till the current situation has been extremely tough for all. Everyone of different age groups is being affected with the many changes, challenges and improvisation that constantly take place. Without a doubt, our mental health also pays the price as we try our level best to adjust and adapt. Then again, if we look around us, women and children tend to be more expressive of such difficulties compared to men in general. With the expectations mentioned above, it does not imply that men or fathers are less impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They could potentially be very stressed over not being able to provide for the family, work complications, health issues and such. All of these could be just kept deep down and hidden. A noble act of true love of a father, and yet as a family unit, how can we also provide the necessary support to the individual? 

In this month of June, as we are celebrating all fathers everywhere, I pledge to everyone to start taking notice of the men in their lives, and do simple steps to ensure that they are alright and start checking in. Fathers may not always be expressive but the struggles they go through to meet cultural, societal, and family expectations could be really exhausting. In this month, let’s take steps to rethink our expectations of how fathers should be or what they should do and reach out to them. They may be resistant to your advancements but at least they know that you are there for them. Let us all appreciate all fathers and men and remember that they are human beings after all. Maybe all it requires is two cups of coffee, a table, and a simple conversation to strengthen that pillar in your life. Just a simple act of showing our gratitude and trust to the men and fathers around us. 

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