What I learned from the Black men in my life about self-care

Black men and self-care don’t usually land in the same sentence and they are not often thought of as related, I believe.  In my last post I talked about how I didn’t see self-care modeled during my childhood by the Black women in my life, however, I did see it practiced by Black men.  Now, just to be clear, the things that the Black men in my life did wasn’t called self-care but I believe that’s exactly what it was.

What did the Black men in my life do then that I now realize was self-care, you ask?  Well, the first thing I noticed back then was that they engaged in certain activities with other men or by themselves.  Watching sporting events is the most memorable of those activities. My uncles, cousins, men in my church community, my Dad, my friend’s Dads and more would, without fail, watch their favorite (and sometimes not their favorite) sports team every Sunday (and often on Mondays) and they did so faithfully!  This was a sacred time for them and it often included their favorite foods and drinks.  It was a ritual, and the rest of us knew that this time was not to be disturbed by anything short of a medical emergency!  No one ever said that out loud, it was just understood!

Each summer, it got HOT where I grew up and there were BBQs every weekend at one person’s house or another.  Always, without fail, a Black man would be “manning the grill”.  Most of those men were very serious, even methodical about their grilling techniques.  And they’d often begin preparing the meats far in advance of any guests showing up.  To be fair, the Black women in my life would do a lot to help prepare for the BBQs as well, but from my vantage point, their experience was far different than that of the men. Those Black men would go out to the grill, often alone, have a few beers, listen to their favorite tunes and patiently cook up some of the most incredible deliciousness I’d ever tasted in my life up to that point!  Every time I saw this scene played out (which could easily have been dozens of times over the course of my childhood) the man, the Black man, seemed happy, proud and at peace. The ritual, the alone time, the tranquility, were all things that I observed and it was clear that it was sacred.

The other self-care related thing that Black men modeled for me was the importance of having a space to yourself to relax, unwind, work on your hobby, be creative or just chill.  The term Man Cave wasn’t actually used during my childhood that I could remember, but those spaces did exist.  A man’s sacred space might be the entire basement of the home, a room in the basement, or a workshop in the garage or tool shed in the backyard or sometimes a room in the house that was specifically used to engage in, well, whatever they wanted to.  These spaces were held sacred and often no one but the man of the house was allowed to spend much time, if any, in that space.  What I witnessed was that when life got intense, if the house got too crowded, if he wanted to just have some alone time or watch “the game” the Black men I knew would go into their man cave, their safe space, to relax, recharge, have peace and tranquility.

The Man Cave, more than any other self-care related thing, was the most impactful to me and once I grew up I have often thought back to how I witnessed and experienced the Black men in my life move through their own lives.  I’ll never forget when I was planning to buy a house with my partner I said, “For every room in this house that is exclusively yours, there will be one that is exclusively for me.”  When I hear my girlfriends say that their man is “going into his cave” I ask them, “Do you have a cave, a sacred space where you’re undisturbed? Where you can have alone time or truly invest in yourself?”  And far too often, just like our mothers, aunties, female community members and others, the answer is “no”.

It has been imperative to my creativity, my sanity and my overall health and wellness, to have a space that I can call my own as a refuge when I need it.  I urge everyone, regardless of gender, to prioritize having a sacred space (it doesn’t have to be in your home) because having this over the years has served me well and I thank all of the Black men in my life for showing me just how important it is for my personal self-care practice.  So, the next time someone scoffs at the thought that Black men engage in self-care, tell them to think again, because they have been doing it and showing the rest of us how for years!

The picture below is of my husband’s grandfather, John N. Robinson, in his art studio back in 1945. This is a self-portrait called In the Studio.  He spent a lot of time here creating masterpieces. I wish that we could have met, so I could have asked him if he felt that this space was his man cave!