When I got my first job as a videogames journalist, I think my mum found it quite pleasing that I’d ‘proved her wrong’, that my not-so-sensible option had come good. Another favoured memory was the wry comment a friend’s mum had said to her about me, that “he could fall in dung and come out smelling of roses”.
The tie between the two being that despite what might be expected to happen, despite what sensible expectations might be, I’d often confound them. To her credit my mum has never let me brush away the changes I made or the challenges I took on, being sure to tell me that what I’d done was certainly not easy or straightforward.
I think there’s a pride she has in me for proving her wrong, for proving wrong those sensible expectations. But of course what anyone really wants is to prove the people they love right, because their beliefs and expectations are high, are inspirational, and I’m sure my parents have high expectations – but are those expectations of what I could make of what I had, or in spite of my less conventional dreams?
In my last post I veered off at the end. It’s hard to talk about things that are both vulnerable and never explored before, but I was also keen that these journals should maintain contact with the 90s, with the time I’m trying to reconnect with. Though that might be an unfortunate new avenue for me to pursue my ‘Am I A Writer’ path – did I want to be a writer when I was young, or is it some new invention?
Alright, enough pussy-footing around. There’s two issues at the heart of this. One, is me as a writer – where did it come from, where is it going, what do I want to do with it. Two, me as a man – what does that mean, how can that inform my writing, where did the issues I struggled with, the guilt I shouldered, where did it come from and why did I hold onto it?
The policeman memory is a clear authority figure stamping a mark, a very masculine mark, on my young memory. Policemen are protective, strong – I remember the tall, uniformed presence – and driving around the playground was bringing that male influence, that glimmer of the path from man to boy, into the small world I was inhabiting. A typical role model, grounded in male attributes like strength, power, control, confidence.
Okay. The hard part. I’ve talked and thought and shared so much about my relationship with my mother, but my relationship with my father is… trickier. Harder to talk about. We’ve obviously had arguments when I was growing up, but can I remember what they were about? Were they ever about the big things? No. It’s easier to rail against my mum, or at least to examine that tension, than to open up a new vein of tension with my dad, one which had never existed before.
My dad is a very different kind of role model. As a Lancashire man, he’s the epitome of the self-made hard worker, and some of the strongest memories in the late 80s and early 90s I have involve his work – taking us to an event at a coal mine or something, though a long while after Thatcher had broken the industry and he’d been freelance with several action agencies, and me lying in bed in the next room hearing him working into the night in his office.
In terms of work I couldn’t ask for a better inspirational ethic… and though on one level it seems out of sorts with my dreams, actually now I come to write about it my dad’s freelance career is a perfect show of how hard work in something you really care about and care about being good at can pay off, can support your family. It may mean, like him, I have to work into the night. But if it means, like him, that I become a success…
I turned away from him as a role model. I am of course not at all proud of this, but it’s the truth. I looked for role models everywhere, but for some reason my dad wasn’t one of them – and when I’ve recently brought him up like I just have done to talk about how I wish I was more like him, how his admirable work efforts should inspire me, I have struggled. I have struggled because I’ve wanted something else from a role model.
There’s less emotional honesty with my dad, even with myself about this with my dad. It’d be hard, traumatic even, to talk about this with him because I fear so intensely that I might upset him. But, as with my mum, though I’m worried about making people upset, the fact is that I’m upset, have been for a terribly long time. But if doing this makes me feel better, solves anything, then it has to be worth it, doesn’t it?
I’ve looked for a long time for a mentor, someone to mimick in many ways, to learn from. I looked for one when I was a journo, hoped some ‘old hand’ would take me under his wing and guide me, show me the ropes, help me become the man I could be. I used friends as mentors, scouring them for answers, asking for advice. There are many of my peers I’ve constructed as role models. As father figures.
It’s very different now, and though my writing I anticipate will be strongly focused on maleness, father figures, the search for mentors, learning, making your way in the world, even back then in my lowest time I was already thinking that, in the end, I would have to be my own mentor. That I would have to find my own way to the answers. It’s taken me this long to work out how to do that, how important a process that is. Much longer than many. But then I’d gone so far in the other direction first.
I still feel I would love to have a role model that showed me how to be a man, a real man – not your swaggering, beer-swilling, bellowing, ego-maniacal, self-obsessed, instant-pleasure-hunting, inconsiderate, lash-out-angry, isn’t-the-wife-a-pain-she-wouldn’t-understand, boorish, simplified, uncomplicated, unthinking, brash, soundbite-spouting, unquestioning, objectifying, giant-man-baby, so-called-strong wilful idiot man that seems to line the streets.
Someone who was noble, but flawed. Searched for truth but wrestled with inner turmoil. Trod the line between strong and sensitive, thoughtful but decisive, firm but kind. Someone who could show me how I can become that role model for my own sons, how I can help them to make the distinction between all of those attributes, to mark the value of those attributes and strive for them against the easier-to-grasp options. The neanderthal options.
Who are the role models for that sort of man today? We’re surrounded by staggeringly handsome and wealthy famous men, as out of touch with our own lives as they probably are, or need to be, with their own accounting. With petulant and self-obsessed sports stars. With those men who say little, though it’s unclear if there’s a reason other than they have less than little to say. The men who might fit the bill don’t get the airtime, the column inches. They don’t sell papers. But they are desperately needed.
When our politicians lie and patronise, and the papers exult in picking over the lurid affairs of men who appear to effortlessly wallow in everything the majority of the male population want – beautiful women hurling themselves at you, no responsibilities, endless money, status and a licence to act in whatever what pleases you – and when elsewhere nothing seems to make sense because no one who knows is taking the time to explain, genuine real male role-models with emotion and admirable qualities seem in periously thin supply.
We have a famine of positive male examples. I look up to a great deal of modern female role models, women with dignity and honesty who show fantastic examples to everyone, regardless of gender, who wants to make something of their talents, their abilities. Men have had it easy for so long that now women are finally feeling their rightful confidence to express themselves the loudest voice from the male camp seems to be a condescending whine about negative equality or over adjusting the status quo.
There are diginified men out there, men who have failed but redeemed themselves, men who have erred but corrected, men who have made the honest and human mistakes all us men have made, but have realised it and made every effort to make things right, or to keep things right. We need them to start standing up, to start speaking out, to start leading. Most of all we need the rest of the male population to start listening. Which may be the hardest part of all.