I do believe that our passion for our calling often comes from the wounds we experience in our lives. I still remember vividly hearing that my father was hospitalized following a suicide attempt. I was 5 years old. He was 42. At the time I had little idea of what had actually happened, but I knew my father wasn’t home and I was sad and scared. Somewhere deep inside I wondered what happened to him, did it happen to other fathers, and would it someday happen to me?
These questions weren’t far from my mind when I went off to medical school in 1965 following a heated argument with my father ending with him screaming, “You’ll never be a good doctor if you won’t even take care of your own father.” I went into, and dropped out of, U.C. San Francisco Medical school within a two week span and found the path to my calling when I enrolled at U.C. Berkeley’s school of Social Welfare.
When my son, Jemal, was born on November 21, 1969, I made a vow to him that I would be a different kind of father than my father had been able to be for me and I would commit my life to helping make a world that was safer for fathers, their wives, and children. I now have five grown children and twelve grandchildren and I continue my commitment for their sakes and for all the other children and grandchildren in the world.
It was at Berkeley that I first learned that the suicide rate for men was 4 times higher than it was for women and later when I was getting my PhD in International Health that the suicide discrepancy was even higher as men got older. For men in their 60s the rate is 5 times higher than it is for women of the same age. For men in their 70s it is 8 times higher and for men in their 80s it is 14 times higher.
When I wrote my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man in 1980, I touched on my father’s depression and suicide attempt. But the memories were still too painful and confused for me to write about it in depth. It wasn’t until my 10th book, MenAlive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools that I could write about what happened to him, how it impacted me, and what I now know we can do to keep men alive.
Most of us know men who have killed themselves and we know even more men who didn’t die physically, but have died emotionally and spiritually. I have struggled with depression in my own life and have faced those bleak nights when I didn’t want to wake up, thought my family would be better off without me, and I just wanted the pain to go away. Too many men suffer in silence, or with irritability, anger, and rage. Too many women and children suffer because of the absence of their men.
My colleague Randy Nesse at the University of Michigan says, “if we could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer.”
Quite simply, this is why I have written the books I’ve written and created this website. I have a vision of keeping 1,000,000 men alive who would otherwise die in body, mind, or spirit. I know I can’t do it alone, but I know there are a lot of people in the world who share my passion and want to help men, and the women and children who love them, to live long and well.
I’ll be writing regular blog posts and look forward to engaging with you. It means taking some risks to be vulnerable and to open our hearts and minds to each other. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy writing this first blog. A little voice whispers, “no one will want to hear about these things…it’s too depressing…people are too busy with their own lives to respond.” But there is another voice that says, “We can save the lives of a million men and their families, if we share our experiences, expertise, hopes, and passions. What could be better than that?” I look forward to hearing from you.