Champion dads

Shea Emry

Shea Emry is an award-winning all-star middle linebacker and two-time Grey Cup champion. Shea played eight seasons in the CFL, most of them with the Montreal Alouettes. In 2011 Shea suffered a concussion that derailed his football season. He found himself battling mental health difficulties; the depression he had experienced during adolescence returned to him. Shea has been using his platform as a professional athlete to share his story with youth, fostering awareness about wellness and mental health. Shea has two children: Rozen, who was born in 2014, and Clooney who arrived in 2016.

Words from Shea:

I get asked a lot about the men in my life. Who were the men who raised me? What they all looked like to me was big, strong and powerful. They worked in what were then male-dominated or exclusively male occupations. Dad worked in the forest firefighting and disaster response business. My mom’s dad was in the pulp and paper industry and a few of my uncles were in the timber, forestry, and fishing industries. They were coaches in hockey and rugby; they were fishermen and hunters. My family, the world around me and the movies I watched all reinforced the same image of how to be a man. Men are tough, stoic, strong and courageous. They don’t make mistakes and they’re not vulnerable. That’s for damn sure. Over and over again, that’s what I picked up on.

In my teens I couldn’t escape my limiting negative thoughts. Because of the messages I had internalized about masculinity, I gave myself nowhere to lean. I kept it all bottled up inside me and became buried under the armour I felt I needed to put on to defend myself. All this changed who I inevitably became, changed my identity. I was depressed but I was not going to admit it to anyone, not even myself.

I stopped doing the other things I enjoyed in my life like piano and guitar. I lost myself in football, as it gave me the outlet for the one emotion I wanted to express—anger. I was good at putting on a mask, hiding what was going on inside me. I was a handsome and fit bloke, a quarterback, had a great social life and beautiful girlfriends: it all looked like something out of the movies. I was an expert at giving people what I thought they wanted.

In 2011 playing for the Alouettes, I got a bad concussion that put me out for the remainder of the season. Another concussion in 2015 ended my career in its prime. I learned that I was not a machine. Having to reckon with my vulnerability brought on a big identity crisis. I had to dig deep to get better.

My wife and I welcomed our first child Rozen into the world in 2014. Rozen and I developed a strong connection from the get-go. I didn’t really know a lot about babies; I had no clue what I was doing, but I was determined to make it work, and out of that I got this beautiful relationship. Fatherhood exceeds any expectations I had for it. I’m getting more because I’m giving more.

I worry about technology and its potential effects on my children. I’ve seen some really negatively affected kids, especially when it comes to video games and their content. The desensitization to weapons, sex, drugs and violence against women is grotesque and I don’t envision it getting any better. We won’t have video games in the house, but it’s going to be hard to run interference and protect my kids from this out there in the world. Censorship? It’s gone out the window. I was away for a weekend on an island getaway and there were these six-to-ten-year-old kids stuck in front of video games on a gorgeous summer day. They were like zombies—killing zombies. It’s non-stop violence: boom, boom, boom. Guns, rape, violence.

I was at a friend’s place and he was playing Grand Theft Auto. He’s like, “Watch this.” He drives this car in the game, he proceeds to pick up a prostitute, and there is literally a drop-down list of all the things she’ll do with him and all the prices—this is all in a “game” that kids play. They perform the chosen sex act and he kicks her out of his car—then he shoots her in the back of the head. How does this “game” exist? How can it be legal? That was five years ago, and that version has been superseded as the consumer seemingly wants it faster, more furious and more violent. And we talk about gun control? On the one hand we have the Me Too movement empowering women and challenging men to take responsibility for their actions, yet on the other hand boys are immersing themselves in these misogynist, violent worlds. Where’s this all going?

In alpha-male environments, a lot of “peacocking” goes on. I think about the “dude” culture. As guys, we amplify some very negative aspects of being male that are one-dimensional, and that cut us off from who we really are.

Excerpted from “Forty Fathers: Men Talk About Parenting”, with permission from Douglas & McIntyre, 2022.

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