One of the most important conversations in my life was held before I was born. In 71’ Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin sat and conversed on black life, black love, and evolution of the black family. At one point in the conversation, Nikki spoke about how vital the black man’s physical and emotional presence is to a black woman. James created a scenario; a man and a woman are dating, eventually, the woman gets pregnant. Now, throughout the man’s life, he is taught that a real man provides for his family, he also understands that many women want a man. The man has also been conditioned to believe that men are there for financial stability. Realizing that he does not have the means to take care of his newly formed family, feeling ashamed and less than a man, he leaves his woman to fend for herself and their child. Nikki counters saying that a man is more than money, a man can provide in other ways. He can be the emotional security that is necessary during pregnancy, raising a child, and life in general.
I was never taught this! I was raised as a typical male; be tough, don’t cry (unless I’ve won or lost a really close game), handle your business, etc. The value of a man’s presence wasn’t taught or emphasized, especially after my parents split. They did their best, but some lessons we simply have to learn through first-hand experience. When I reflect on some of my downfalls as a husband, I find that I didn’t understand the value of my emotional presence. The man that Baldwin was referring to was me, not literally, but certainly emotionally. I felt that I couldn’t possibly be a man because I was barely carrying my own weight financially. Believing that I wasn’t the man I thought I should be, I ignored being the man that my wife needed me to be. I was failing myself and my wife. It took time, self-reflection, some counseling, and several conversations with Leah to understand that the way I was thinking wasn’t best for my life or my marriage. But the work isn’t done, the subliminal and overt messages that conditioned me are still reinforced in media and conversations with other men, especially older men, so I have to check myself sometimes. Many (older) men have told me what a man is supposed to be or what a man is supposed to do. Some of these things are great and I keep those with me, some are not so great and I rebuke those traits. Of all the things men told me, few mentioned and even less stressed that a man is supposed to take interest in his wife’s actual needs. I think that is one of the points Nikki was trying to convey, it is not just about the man and his idea of manliness, it’s also about the woman and the man she actually needs.