Whenever there is a discussion of gender roles within our society these days, it can quickly escalate into a clouded mess of dividing lines, bifurcating messages, and a further perpetuation of confusion. This is especially unhelpful for the individuals with disabilities, who are dealing with the issue of what their role is, whatever gender they may be, within everyday life as well as within marriage. My purpose is not to endorse or discredit any particular view, so I hope you'll keep that in mind as I share my experiences.
How I built my idea of a man.
I grew up in a single parent household, but was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to observe how a "normal" household operated. Living with my single mother and having weekly visitation rights with my father, I was able to see individuality and true couple dynamic at its best. Internal desire and outside observation of my peers lead me to hold a different perception then that of what even society at that time was progressively pushing. I understood as a child that girls and boys can be and do anything they wanted, if you had asked my generation where we saw ourselves in 10 or so years, the answer was often the same across the board except for the "why" question. We boys put our perceived value in being strong, both physically and monetarily for someone else – generally a spouse – whereas for girls the value was always placed on family. Psychologists believe this to be true because men tend to view unemployment as defeat, whereas women look at it as a chance to spend more time with the kids. This idea that a man was supposed to be a strong "protector" was further ingrained in my beliefs because of how I saw couples intimately interact as a boy. I continually noticed that girls would wrap themselves under the arms of the boys, and buried their faces in the chest, as if that was where they were "meant to be". Not in a subservient way, but "this is where I feel comforted; at home." Eventually, for me, being a man meant becoming a strong central force within a marriage, satiating that desire of feeling needed by providing for those who "depend" on me. Physically holding my wife in a way that please her, and made her feel safe.
Then it all came crashing down.
As time went on, it became increasingly difficult for me to ignore how my physical body would not allow me to meet the idea of what it meant to be a man. The struggle with my height was always the central focus as a kid, I thought being short was the worst thing this disease had dealt me. I could deal with freakishly curled fingers and restricted range of motion, but the mental anxiety of being short was the worst; how was I ever going to hold my wife the "right" way? In 2006, both of my hip sockets had become so mangled that I could no longer walk again and would be forced to live in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It took over 2 years before I started trying to live my life again. As my disease has still progressively gotten worse, I'm constantly battling internally with these ideas of what it means to be a man. I am not bed bound, and still have some physical ability, but according to all standards, I am considered highly dependent. What then do I bring to any relationship as a man if I am unable to work or help take care of the household, and need constant care?
There has been one thing that has remained constant through my ever changing circumstances, and that is the idea of strength. Even a tattered flag flapping in the wind can provide strength to those who observe it, and what it symbolizes. Sometimes mental and emotional strength can provide just as much safety and security for those around us, as money or a hug can. If someone able to continually "turn the other cheek" no matter how many times life strikes them in the face; that is a contribution that serves to satiate the invisible need in everybody's life. That need is hope. Hope through the adversities of life everyone faces. I know now that even if my body cannot meet my past expectations of a man, I can still contribute to a marriage with my strength.
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