As men, many of us are not forthcoming when it comes to male health. A recent survey indicated that 62% of fathers wish that their own father had spoken to them about health issues. Growing up, I remember one conversation about the birds and the bees with my father when I turned 16. It mainly consisted of him telling me I wasn’t allowed to bring girls back to his place for a late-night romp.
IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY TO TALK ABOUT MALE HEALTH PROBLEMS
THE GENERATION GAP THAT STILL EXISTS TODAY
It wasn’t his fault. His father never spoke to him about health problems, so it wasn’t natural to him. But when I was in my early twenties and I contracted a sexually transmitted infection, I was clueless and terrified.
I had no idea that this was something that happens to most men at some point in their early adult lives. I didn’t want to go to a doctor or tell anyone and a problem that should have been sorted quite easily lingered on.
It wasn’t just physical health problems. I never recall my father asking me about my mental health or how I was feeling. He expressed interest in my life, which is more than some of my friend’s fathers did.
He would ask me about my day and how I was doing at school, asking questions and getting excited about my progression in the school rugby team. But he never asked me how I felt about anything if I felt hurt, or low, or anxious about anything.
With mental health so rife among the young male demographic, it is becoming even more essential than ever that we equip our boys with the ability to open up about how they are feeling to those they love. To do that, we, as fathers, need to set the example.
COMMUNICATING OPENLY MIGHT NOT FEEL NATURAL
It doesn’t always come naturally. Depending on the age of your son, it can be a painfully awkward and embarrassing conversation. But having frank conversations about masculine physical and mental health is like investing in their future. The pennies you invest early, while it may be awkward and difficult, will pay dividends in your son’s future.
WHAT TO TALK TO YOUR SON ABOUT
Where to start? In terms of physical health, I needed to know that sex wasn’t just an emotional issue; it was a health issue. I knew sexually transmitted diseases existed but thought they were reserved for people in sub-Saharan Africa and the gay community. Nobody told me that they are a common issue among the heterosexual community as well.
I needed someone to tell me to check my testicles for lumps regularly, someone to inform me that depression was an illness and not a sign of weakness and someone to tell me about health issues that ran in my family.
These were things that would come up several times in my life and with frank and honest conversations with my father when I was younger, I would have been far better equipped to handle them later on.
SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR SON
Finding the right time to broach the subject may not be easy. I find that for issues of sexual health, condom advertisements on the TV provide a good opportunity to mention the topic of sexually transmitted diseases.
Conversations with other family members and people you know suffering from prostate issues or testicular cancer is another way to raise the subject and stress the importance of regular checks.
Talking about mental health may require more effort than just one conversation. Try and be more forthcoming with your feelings. If someone in your life made you feel hurt, or sad, or lonely, share that with your son.
Show them that, as men, we can also talk about negative emotions, not only anger. Ask questions about how your son felt about incidences. For example, if they got dropped from a sports team, ask them how it made them feel. Try to foster an environment where it is okay to share sadness as well as achievement.
It may not be easy but your job as a parent is to prepare your son to live in the world without you and dealing with health issues is an important part of this. It may be easier to talk sports or music, but knowing how many goals Lionel Messi scored in 2016 won’t calm him down when his penis is itchy and he is panicking about going to a doctor.