Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Death of an American Man

He was the quintessential American Man, the very epitome of Mr. Modern Middle Class.

Born in 1960 of Italian-American Catholic parents who taught that nothing was more important than the family, and that by the Word of God each one of us should always know who he is and what God expects him to do. And God expects a man to be a Father. A cold sober role model who would dish out the discipline when necessary, go to work every day and provide. And the father must always keep his feelings, his emotions and yes, his insecurities, in check. The man does not cry; he does not complain; he doesn't ask for help; he never admits failure or weakness.

And he filled the role perfectly from the time he was sixteen until he was forty-five. But somewhere along the line, the reality that is modern America began to interfere. His wife was not to work outside the home, his children would be educated in a Parochial school; he would provide them with a house and all the conveniences of the Middle Class. And he would work as hard as necessary; and he wouldn't complain; and he wouldn't ask for help.

He bought his first home in Northeastern Massachusetts when he was only 20. The mortgage was high, but a man does what it takes. He works; fifty-five, sixty hours a week. A man has to be the role model for his children, even if there is no time to actually be there. As the family grew, the neighborhood started going bad. The crime rate had gotten so bad that when he sold to buy a bigger piece of the American Dream, the house was worth barely what he paid for it. But he bought a bigger house, with the bigger mortgage to be paid for with just a little bit more overtime. Then as many who have climbed the corporate ladder have learned, there comes a time when one reaches a level of competency that one becomes too important to be paid overtime. Placed on salary, the bills mounting, the credit card maxxing out, he saved his cash flow with the newest manifestation of the American Dream, the Home Equity Line of Credit.

Then one day a few years ago something seem to change. He didn't feel quite right; maybe just getting older. He couldn't seem to get a good night's sleep anymore. Sometimes he would feel an ache where there didn't used to be. A ten-minute commute started feeling like a chore. Life didn't seem like much fun anymore; hobbies seemed like work. The doctors didn't know what to do; his body checked out fine. They did suggest that maybe he was working too hard, but you know, a man has got do what a man has got to do. Men don't slack off; they suck it up, and they don't complain.

His wife wasn't feeling well either. She didn't feel quite right; maybe just getting older. She couldn't seem to get a good night's sleep anymore. Sometimes she would feel an ache where there didn't used to be. Life didn't seem like much fun anymore; nurturing her children seemed like work. But she had to do what God expects her to do.

The trips to the doctor started getting a little more frequent. Yeah, cholesterol was bit high, but there's a drug for that. Blood pressure was bit high, probably just middle age; there's a drug for that. A good night's sleep is hard to come by, but there's a drug for that. Pains here and there, nothing major, just makes it a little harder to get out bed, but there's a drug for that.

And then there was the sense that nothing was real anymore. The doctor suggested a psychiatrist, but men don't do that. Men take personal responsibility, you know; men don't talk about things like feelings and emotions or worse, insecurities. Insecurity, that's the big one. If there is one thought that should never cross the mind of man it is this: "What if I can't do this?" Not an option. A man must do what a man must do, that is what God expects him to do.

But at some point even a man has to change strategy. He and his wife were prescribed anti-depressants. Health insurance doesn't cover it all. More debt on the house, more pain to deal with, more drugs to ease the pain. Work is getting harder now; life is beginning to feel like a stupor. But the bills have to be paid.

He quit his job just so he could take his retirement money to pay down some debt. Getting another job should be easy. After all a professional Engineer with twenty-five years experience should have no problem. And he didn't. In fact found a job in a matter of weeks. After a while, his new employer began to notice that he was not always focused. Sometimes in the morning it would seem that the sleeping pills were still in control. Or the painkillers. Or the anti-depressants. Or something.

He was fired. Getting fired comes dangerously close to questioning one's reason for living.

He sold the big house. He sold his musical equipment. He sold his record collection, his stamps, his coins. He sold it all. Everything he had ever worked for was gone, and the cash was just not quite enough to pay for it all. He admitted to me once that he knew that he didn't make it. He knew he didn't do what God expected him to do. He told me that his family would be better off without him. A man who doesn't provide, protect and defend is useless.

I do not know the official cause of death; the family isn't saying. He was 46.

1 comment:

John Hosty said...

This is a very touching and well put article. It really makes you stop and think, doesn't it?