Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Men are talking

men talking

L-R: Andrew Burton, Jim Coyle, Brandon Grant, George Wiens

As a young man with a young family, I was a nursing nomad and worked freelance for about three years. This saw me working one day on an eye ward and the next in an industrial complex like the steel works in Motherwell (near Glasgow, Scotland). Some of those industrial shifts were scary but the humour of some of the men often helped to lighten the load. I am still a nomad. In fact I have even moved office space right now as I write. All I need is a laptop and a tent.

I was once at a sermon where the pastor spoke about ‘male essence’ and I found myself asking: Is there such a thing as an essence of man? How would we know it and is it important? Does it change with illness?

I am not suggesting dancing round the fire naked (although I am ok with it if you want to) but rather about exploring what is unique about being male. What is our internal understanding of our self as it relates to being male?

Is there a difference between how a male feels and how a female feels or are they essentially the same?

An African friend used to joke with the ladies while we were shooting the breeze during lunch.  Whenever any woman went to speak to us he would say to them, “Men are talking.” I think he got away with it because of his keen sense of humour and his accent. If I had said that, I would have been slapped even though I have an accent too. It did, however, remind me every time he did it that we were different and different in a good way, a complementary way and he was my brother man.

Men should be talking

It’s a long established fact that males need to talk and also that those same males can bottle up much of their experiences inside of themselves. This has consequences in the long term, such as male aggression, illness, depression and suicide or substance abuse. So our song should be “Talk about it.” (See the men’s health website for more info about these consequences.)

With that notion in mind, I am starting my regular blog posts on men’s health – Tales from the Man Cave – by introducing the idea of what it is to be a man in the first place. Do I have the answer? I’m afraid not, but sometimes questions are more interesting than answers and this question is sure to be able to start a good conversation around the fire.

Men need to be talking about health

I had a good friend pass away recently, having succumbed to cancer. He never made a single complaint. I also have a friend that has cancer and says not a negative word about it. They both remind me of my young days, when I worked in all male hospital wards in the old Nightingale style in Glasgow where all the beds were separated by a curtain and each ward contained about 20 beds a piece. Personal space was a rare thing indeed. These were funny places to work and also some of the best places I have ever worked. A great deal of that was down to male camaraderie and putting a humorous slant on a desperate situation. One doctor was called Dr. Angel and the men would call him the “arse angel,” because he did all the anal carcinoma surgery. Very few complained.

Most men I have worked with are like that and it seems to me that the male of the species brings exactly that to the table: the need to be courageous.

I don’t mean the festering silence of suffering alone but the communal sense that we are not alone and we are in this together.

Men are talking and suffering and are courageous

These men are my heroes, my role models and my brothers, and they remind me that sometimes to be a man is difficult but there are other men to share the load and keep up our spirits. So don’t bottle it up but rather talk about it and use your own sense of humour to lighten the load.

Share your joys and your sorrows – let’s start talking

Share your story in the comments below. Keep it short and sweet and even gruff, but tell it like it is and how it’s experienced. We men need to talk and Northern Health wants to provide an outlet for that. So share and make it so that when people visit our site they can do so with a sense of reverence because men are talking.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.



  1. Charles Justice says

    Great Blog you have Jim. I enjoy your writing, and will make a point of reading your posts from now on. You have yourself a challenge with tobacco cessation. I am a nurse that works in geriatrics at Acropolis Manor. I have started a drum circle program for residents which has been a success for over a year. I am planning to start a drum circle for adolescents and the object is the same, as what you are saying: To get people to open up and trust the group. The drumming is a way of non-verbal expression that makes this process possible.

  2. Thank you Charles. I am looking forward to hearing more about your drum circles. It sounds like a very good way to build trust and community. keep up the good work. 2 Men are talking!

  3. Jim, I really appreciate your humor! Couldn’t help smiling while reading your introductory entry. I generally don’t know what really goes on when guys are talking to each other, but I don’t think they like to share their personal problems as much as women do with other women. I have unfortunately had first hand experience with guys and gals who made to the choice to fix a problem by attempting (several succeeding…) at killing themselves.

    Call me Pollyanna, but do think that couragous conversations can change these dark solutions; the more people that open up and normalize their issues, the more others will find they do have common bonds. On this point, last week I attended CMHA’s Bottomline Conference. Michael Landsberg from TSN was one of the guest speakers. He feels it is his duty to speak out about depression, which he battles. He said simply: “depression is an illness, not a weakness”.

    • Jim Coyle says

      Thank you Beverly,
      I appreciate that we men often equate illness with weakness – thats a very good point. we also want to fix things which gets us into trouble with our partners and significant others and obviously when there appears no other way for some people- also to fix the problem in the way that you pointed out.
      I really appreciate that you bring up these very important points and I am also pollyanna too then!. Because, I truly believe that at the root of all these tragedies is self rejection and despair, and that talking about things is a way to shed light on the darkness and to realize that man or woman,we are loveable, can be loved and that no matter how big our problems are they are usually never as big as we think they are.
      Thank you and keep up the good fight.