The great pretender

Men's grief afer separation needs to be acknowledged, writes psychotherapist Lorraine West.

Oh yes I'm the great pretender,
Pretending that I'm doing well
My need is such
That I pretend too much,
I'm lonely, but no one can tell.

The Platters.


You probably know the song by the Platters called The Great Pretender. Well I believe that men are conscripted into this role from birth. As a psychotherapist I see couples grappling for the "perfect" relationship. The women want heros who can slay dragons, and be SNAGS simultaneously. Dragon slaying takes sweat, energy and large amounts of intestinal fortitude. Following which they need simple calm rest. You know, that old fashioned sleep on a quiet bed on a Sunday afternoon!

The Baby Booming men are in transition, but the X Generation men will be worse off as they are the recipients of fractured parental systems.

As I write this, Fathers' Day looms again and I would like to send a message of hope to all the men who are fathers but whose efforts go unacknowledged. Be they Biological, Step, Serial, Distant, Imprisoned, Forgotten, Hated, Loved, Revered, Adopted, Borrowed, Gay, Missing or Dead.

I am talking about the fathers who are not with their original families for myriad reasons.

I once read that it is easier to become a parent than to make a telephone call. To father a child is a biological phenomenon in which the offspring have no vote.

It is when the parenting begins in earnest that the wheels often fall off the trolley. Dreams are broken and the age of innocence is lost forever for hundreds of thousands of men.

No fault divorce was innovative in the mid-seventies, but the fallout of grieving fathers is still largely unaddressed by society. Or it gets refocussed in workplace issues or in subsequent relationships that become problematic.

Books on fathering are now written, but these are accessible to only a privileged few in comparison to the ordinary bloke who does not read but still becomes a father either by choice or circumstance.

Some men search among the How-to-be-a-good-father-books for the Holy Grail that will prevent them from failing and falling by the wayside of lost and incompetent fathers. They may lose the right to see their children due to geographical difficulties, to learn from their mistakes or be forgiven for their ignorance of fathering in the X generation.

This unacknowledged grief is called "disenfranchised" if it is named at all. It is to the fathers who are still unable to name their sadness, who have not attended support groups for men, and who are unsupported by families that I would like say "happy Fathers' day"; for the times when they had a sense of belonging and shared moments of bliss with someone and some child.

I do not want to be a merchant of doom but until men get a "sense of entitlement for themselves" that goes beyond the world's expectations of them I believe that little in the relationship stakes will change.

I want to work with men to enable them to grasp this sense of entitlement for themselves as the feminist movement has done for women. We need to move from the position of "Ain't it awful" to one of "this is how it is" with balance and authenticity.

Lorraine West is a psychotherapist working in Sydney.

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