What I’ve come to observe as I’ve spent time reading, writing and engaging with people involved in drug education, treatment and recovery, is that men are way too often among the missing. I’ve studied pictures and videos of rallies and marches and meetings. I pay attention to numerous postings on social media. There are plenty of women involved, mothers especially. Fathers are in noticeable short supply.
We can speculate about why so few men are afraid or unwilling to ask for help, or to participate openly and vigorously in the battle against substance use issues. There ought to be no speculation about how our reticence to come forward and deal with addiction openly only serves to perpetuate the shame and stigma that keep the individuals afflicted, their families and the community at large from moving forward toward solutions to this epidemic.
The other day I ran across a post on Facebook which read “This Father’s Day I Invite Dads to Help Fight the Heroin Epidemic.”
My first reaction was, “What about me?” I lost my son. I can always use a few hugs. I’m grateful for those I’ve received, literally and figuratively. Then it occurred to me that it is possible that men have fled the emotional territory surrounding addiction so completely that women are left alone, to plead for a hug on Facebook.
All of us — men and women alike, who contend with family members, especially children, suffering from substance use disorder, are haunted by loss. Whether potential or actual, loss and the change that comes with it become the moth holes in the fabric of our lives. What becomes frayed and torn, especially for men, is our ability to talk about what haunts us — to tell our stories.
This week, I had the opportunity to talk with Don Downey, a father who lost his son Kyle, only several months ago. We talked about handling grief, coping, and figuring out what to do surrounding addiction issues that can enable our sons’ lives. Don wrote me an e-mail later in which he said: “I would very much like to place my feet in the line and walk with you. Men need to start carrying some of the responsibility for issues dealing with the heart. In truth, this epidemic is a present threat to us all and men have always stood up to threats. It should not all have to be on the shoulders of brave women.”
Perhaps, this Father’s Day can be a day where fathers everywhere can emulate Don. We can begin to be fathers in a fuller sense, to reach out, to share our stories, and to pass out a few hugs. Who knows? We might even get one back.