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I look on my past and see the anger of a mother that abandoned us, and a father that didn't really teach the lessons I was looking for, the lessons I needed. A father that was emotional, but never in a good way. A father with stories that were violent and never really about the good he created. I can only remember stories of high school fights and girls, and well, us and my mother. The way he acted was always with authority, but with a smile. He was a people person and he pushed those ideas onto me. Being able to talk on the phone, talking with family and friends, but really I never knew how. I was awkward—well, I sort of fell into it.
Maybe it was because I never really had many friends, and mostly bullies. As I come to see it now, I never had a strong male role model or peers at that. Not ones that showed maturity and emotional intelligence that I needed. I learned everything that it meant to be a man from 80s movies, cartoons, books, and video games. As you can see, not great stuff. My father and grandfather—the ones I lived with—were childish and never really talked about my mother when she was gone.
However, theses little things weren't really noticeable until my sixth birthday when my great grandfather died. I heard stories of the kind and hard working man he was, and every time I saw him, even though he had dementia, there was a kind beautiful smile on his face and we would always do a puzzle together. I didn't learn how bad he was when we weren't there until I was older, but when he died, my sisters cried a lot. The decision I made when I was holding them at the wake showed how little I understood about what being a good brother and boy (later man) was.
I held back my tears, prevented myself from grieving, so I could appear strong for my younger sisters. As if that was somehow good for anyone. Except I was a kid, I just did what I saw on TV, and how my dad reacted. See, my dad never let me be emotional. I cried at every sad moment in a movie, got embarrassed when they did, and he would sort of mock me for it. On the bright side, he would say don't worry because he was like that too, but he'd still make fun of it.
It's funny how these little things turn to anger. I mean, as a guy that's basically the only way they let you express emotion. You see it on TV and most forms of media. Recklessness and bursts of anger push men to the finish line to achieve greatness. And in all the 80s movies I watched, the guys were sleazy and horrible people all around, but it was the 80s, so what can you expect?
And when my mother came back after a year and half, the anger only got worse. The reason? She got married, was abused, and came back after her divorce. She didn't know I knew, but I did. To me, we felt like the second choice and it pissed me off because I was sad and didn't know how to cope with anything that happened in my life. I mean, my parents—who are where you are supposed to learn from—hid their emotions unless they were angry (or literally ran away to another state).
To put it simply, I was blowing up in classes, destroying school property, and throwing tantrums. And when I needed to learn why I was feeling this way, they gave me a stupid anger management class that taught me stupid control techniques that actually made my problem worse. Oh, no more tantrums, but I became very depressed and slowly became what the world showed me. Immature, childish, spiteful, and vindictive. I became my father, my grandfather, and my bullies.
I deluded myself into believing I still cared about my sisters and mother, but really, I was angry at everything. It became more frequent as I got older, living in an abusive household with my stepfather. Because my mother went to court and said my father wasn't fit to be a parent. It all culminated when one night I tried to kill said stepfather, but my mother stopped me. I'm grateful for that.
I'm not grateful for how my 11-year-old self dealt with it. I hated myself, and this is when it got really toxic.
I hated everyone. My anger, my masculinity, it wouldn't let me be who I was made to be and it made everyone a target. I shut myself off, even more. I grew spiteful towards everyone. It wasn't until just recently, after my 19th birthday, had I decided to change. Because it got worse and worse. I ruined my relationships. I ruined my own happiness because I was trying desperately to fill a role that was spoon-fed to me on TV and games.
I became my bad role models. I became the people I hated. Now I am trying desperately to get back the relationships I destroyed. Trying to redefine manhood.
Manhood was about being strong, fearless, angry, and violent if need be—which to me, that was a lot. I twisted words to suit my fragile mind and emotional landscape. I became delusional in how people perceived me, and how I perceived the world.
I became the abuser and a part of me still hates myself for it. How I treated my sisters, my mother, my father, and my grandparents. How all that resentment bled into how I treated everyone and later my ex-girlfriend.
I ripped love out of my life and love for myself. I drowned myself in mindless entertainment, had no hobbies, no real friends, and now I'm picking up the pieces.
I'm developing social skills, and reconnecting with what is truly important to me, because I lied to myself a lot. I lost my wonder and gratitude for the world and what I have. Trauma and reaction basically became who I was, and now I'm looking outside of that. I grew up broken—a million experiences that point to poor emotional intelligence, structure, and ideas of manhood that make my masculinity into a toxic tool that destroyed my life.
I was planning on marrying my ex-girlfriend, planning on a successful career and future, but right now, I can't plan on anything but myself because the way I was and the way I still am will only bring pain and misery to everyone.
If there is a takeaway from this, from a little bit of my story: It doesn't matter who you are; there are probably a thousand reasons why you are the way you are. But the only reason why you stay that way is yourself. I'm finally taking responsibility for how I ruined other people's lives. The horrible things I've done and didn't do. Because I can blame the school system, media, and my family every day, but at the end of it, when I look in the mirror, I know I'm the only one that can do anything about it.
This is my first article, so I didn't exactly know what to write. I kind of stumbled on this. I thought what would be better than my own realizations of my childhood and my own journey I'm taking. So a sort of buzz word popped in my head: Toxic masculinity.
Most men don't like the term because they think it says being a man is bad or something, but really it's more on how it can turn bad if you let it. So I wanted to write my own piece on it. How it does turn bad when that's all you know?
I mean, I was close to being a killer and I became an abusive horrible person without even consciously being aware of it.
It's a damaging cycle in our society, and it has plenty of causes, but I kind of wanted to tell my story or a piece of it at least, to maybe help someone come to their own realizations.
It really is in the little things—your friends, family, media, schooling—and it's how you talk, what you hear, and eventually, how you cope.
So laugh in its face and let's grow. Let's be better.