I thought I knew what love was. I have parents, siblings and friends, but the love I have for them doesn’t hold a candle to the love I have for my sons. The moment I met my firstborn in the delivery room, I was instantly in love. Some of this is biological, I know, but the feeling a mother has for her son never goes away no matter what. It was also made apparent to me that taking on the responsibility of growing a future man was a unique opportunity to create an environment for them that encourages open dialogue and honesty.
It will surprise no one when I declare how being a mother in the modern world is fraught with many challenges, but as a single mother, even with a very involved dad, I am constantly reminded that my children’s future relationships and wellbeing are in a large part predicated on their relationship with me. However, it was not until I had my first son that I realized just how little I knew about men, and some of the biggest challenges they face.
In some ways it is a complete surprise, and yet not a surprise at all, that I am the US Country Director for the Movember Foundation. For the past 18 years I have been trying to understand men so that I can be the best mother possible, in the hope that they will live long, healthy, happy lives. The Movember Foundation shares this mission as the only global charity focused solely on men’s health. My passion for this organization is driven by what some men in my life have personally suffered through in Movember’s focus areas: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. But my desire to grow Movember into a household name as the largest men’s health charity in the US is fueled by my love for my sons and my job as their mother.
Once my second son was born, all my assumptions about men flew out the window, because as many men as there are in the world, there are just as many differences among them. I continued to read books that attempted to advise me on how to raise my sons, hoping to figure out what it was like to be male. Though some of them were helpful, I soon realized that there was only one way I was going to be a good mother to these foreign creatures. I needed to listen to them; not just hear, but listen. Really listen.
At Movember, we believe that if men open up and talk about their struggles and others around them, their siblings, mothers, doctors, listen actively and encourage action when needed, we can create a world where men are more mentally and physically well. This is why I hung one of Movember’s ball soaps in my sons’ shower with a “How to Check your Balls” sticker to instruct them. Believe me, with my increased education about men now that I work for the Movember Foundation, they are fully aware of how nearly 8,850 young men are diagnosed with testicular cancer every year and how early detection is key to beat the disease.
My sons are teenagers now, and I am so happy to have such a wonderful relationship with them. “Wonderful” in the true meaning of the word, full of wonder. Joyful wonder at their attempt to grow a moustache in support of Movember, and sorrowful wonder at how many of their friends talk about mental health issues and suicide. I know I am so fortunate they have trusted me enough to tell me their thoughts, joys and fears. And I take my responsibility to them as a privilege; to listen, not judge, and do what every mother wants to do – to help.
While this is my first year running the US office for the Movember Foundation, this Mother’s Day will mark 18 years celebrating as the mother of two sons. However, this year I now hold the weight of all sons in our country. My mission is now to help and listen to the nation’s men with the hope of giving a gift to mothers across the country – a healthy son.