I’ve always wondered how I would react to finding out a girl that I have been with has fallen pregnant. Having known of many men who have impregnated a women and then dashed to greener pastures without looking back when they have found out that the girl is keeping it, I struggle to shake my attitude of disdain toward these individuals. But would I be any different? What if the girl in question had created an impression that was no more than a drunken one night stand and a name in my phone book? How would I react to her telling me that she was pregnant AND she was keeping it? I’d sob, I’d curse the skies and I’d have to watch my mother hear the news knowing full well that she would be so bitterly disappointed in me. I would never be able to tell that girl that she should reconsider her decision for we only shared one mindless night together where we chatted about bullshit, shared saliva and eventually made the foolishly abrupt decision to jump in a cab together in order to, even more abruptly, fulfil our wanton desires without any sort of protection.
The hypotheticals in my mind would zoom around after she informed me of my tragic downfall to fatherhood. Why wasn’t I wearing a condom? Why did I get in that cab? Why didn’t we just cuddle? WHY WASN’T SHE ON THE PILL?
That therein lies one of the issues. Would I eventually come to blame her for this unfortunate event? She must be thinking the exact same thing about me. Why did I have intercourse with such a fool? Why did I not ask him about wearing a condom? What will become of my life? So we probably both blame each other. We probably both rue the night we entered that dingy premise with the sole intention of finding a bit of pleasure for a few hazy hours and we most definitely cannot see there being any sort of romantic future between the two of us.
So what would I do?
Such a hypothetical has led me to look into the whole concept of manhood. Interpretations of manhood range from the first legal beer in Australia to the tribal leader in Papua New Guinea to the Bar Mitzvah for Jewish communities around the world. The rituals of different cultures explains a lot about their views on the world, be it women, sport, human rights issues and family. It’s a proud moment for any boy to ‘become a man’ so to speak, no matter what the ritual that precedes it is. The circumstances vary from person to person, family to family, tribe to tribe, culture to culture, country to country. However, no boy actually becomes a man on a given day. Society can pretend that custom will define when a boy becomes a man but let’s face it, it is a contrived custom, perhaps one that originated thousands of years ago, but still simply a man-made custom.
Biologically, a boy becomes a man when changes occur in their anatomy. They grow hair, their voice drops, they gain the delightful ability to emit seamen (it sounds like a superpower… it looks like a superpower… but it most certainly is not a superpower) and they learn to love cars, footy and women. Alright, one of those options is hardly more than a rash judgment that has been made in the past to sum up what makes a man. Such reckless judgments have led to powerful prejudices against the effeminate, the homosexual and the just plain unusual. By nature humans conform to social norms. To shun those who are different in how they come to terms in their manhood is quite frankly, disturbingly naive. With the rapid maturing of some young men in the face of the slow development of others, it is becoming increasingly important to foster in the youth of today genuine empathy for our fellow adolescents. Not doing so will accelerate early onset of mental instability in our youths which will most likely continue well into ‘manhood’. I’m talking social isolation, bullying, a fear of the unknown and a social hierarchy that emphasises the importance of physical strength over mental strength which can set many youths up for a dangerous fall later in life.
My own experience in ‘becoming a man’ has alike many other men, been a far more complicated experience than I would have expected as a young boy. I did not develop physically until 16 when I shot up from a small, skinny boy into a rather tall, lanky teenager. Having none of the sexual (albeit minor) experience of my peers, I was daunted by the opposite sex, in fact I was petrified by them. Finally, with the assistance of alcohol, I started to believe one of the misconception of manhood. ‘Sexual contact with girls maketh the man’. The shallow nature of this contact that was, whilst fun, ultimately short term made me feel more like an objectifier of women than a real man. However as you can see from my most recent post post on Tinder, I still am no Mr Darcy but I certainly feel I am far more advanced than I was 8 years ago when I proudly sniffed my fingers for the first time… Manly admissions…
Although my physical development accelerated from the age of 16, I don’t believe that I matured mentally until I hit my 20s when I finally discovered that to be spoonfed was actually a pretty dangerous thing. It was only with age that I learnt that not everyone was going to like me, not everyone was going to agree with me and most importantly, not everyone was going to think I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Of course I knew that in the back in my mind as a schoolboy. But I constantly told myself that I would prove to be a success on a remarkable scale without much work.
Being a man for me was working out that I wasn’t invincible, that I wasn’t universally liked but that it didn’t matter and most of all, that I was living with people of many different creeds and mantras, most of them I didn’t agree with and no amount of my cringeworthy overconfidence would convince them that my way was far more defensible.
As a young lad I watched and observed the men I admired and attempted to emulate them. My father who taught me a large amount of what I know. I was consistently amazed at his general knowledge as I sat through drives with him to school as I questioned everything I saw. There seemingly wasn’t anything I raised that he didn’t know about. He has fostered in me a desire to read, a desire to learn, a desire for equality and social justice. But in myself I also note his lesser qualities. His stubbornness and his occasional lack of patience have most certainly become part of me. I can’t help that and neither can he.
Other boys grow up without a father, without a male figure in their life they can learn from and thus seek to replace this missing figure with someone else. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it so tragically wrong. We don’t all have the wonderful advantage of having a father we respect, trust and love dearly. In fact, fewer of us have a male figure in our life who hasn’t crossed us, lost our trust and proved themselves to be far less than the man we thought they were by the day.
But is it simply part of becoming a man that we begin to identify the faults of our fellow man? I would argue that this is most definitely the case. Personally, I have come to assess everyone I meet, not with distrust but more with a knowing eye. I like people. I’ve always liked people but I’ve come to think that as I mature as a man the people I associate with says just as much about me as my own behaviour.
Further complicating matters are the stereotypes of manhood the mainstream media often portrays as ‘normal’, such as the royal treatment we dish out to sportsmen and celebrities, the distrust we often show toward those who are different, enigmatic, unusual, left of centre and the standardisation of our lifestyles. I fear that young males who are stuck in a lifestyle of accepting the things that are classified as ‘normal’ are setting themselves up for a life of bigotry, ignorance and fear of the unknown.
Conservatism reigns worldwide just as it did in the 80s but there are clear signs that radical wings are challenging more agendas leading to those in power gripping a little tighter. Thus we see the Murdochs of the world pushing their agenda harder than they ever have to keep control of their fortunes. It’s hard for a young male not to be confused as they grow up. Who are they? Who should they follow? How come everything I do is viewed as wrong? As much as dominant discourse is hard to combat, more and more alternative avenues continue to appear. For young men who are still developing and coming to terms with what they are, there are always answers. Sometimes you just have to search far and wide.
I haven’t forgotten the original hypothetical and I have not forgotten the impact women have on how develop as men. Society’s treatment of women reflects something about men that drinking a beer with our mates cannot. Women. Sensual creatures, delicate beauties and emotional beings… or maybe these are just the qualities that are figments of our imagination. Women appear to be far more complicated than men from afar but up close, human beings are innately insecure and indeed, particularly complex. The way men treat women reflects their psychological state, their upbringing, their circumstances and their worth as a person. I attest to the notion that a ‘real man’ never hits a woman. I would like to think that a real man would also never berate a woman and I hope that a real man would treat women with genuine respect. However, I know that life is never as simple as labelling a person in one bucket and simply leaving them there without consideration. Whilst it is encouraging to see that celebrity figures such as Ike Turner and Chris Brown have been deposed as misogynists, it is just as disturbing to see that young people across the ‘Twitterverse’ still very much condone and even celebrate the disgraceful antics of these figures with zest. I understand it is very hard for individuals and groups to dismiss their love for a singer, a sportsperson, a politician, a person of authority, a father or a brother because to do so would be admitting they were wrong in their belief however it is so incredibly important that we do not simply accept that this behaviour is going to happen. To do this is to discourage the next generation from viewing this conduct as abominable.
I still often separate my relationships with men and women. My mother and sisters have taught me things about manhood and life that I never would have learnt myself. How to treat women, the consideration of people’s feelings on a deeper level and how to find our passions in life. But I still question myself on how I view women. I shake my head at my arrogant dismissal of the ability for men and women to have purely platonic relationships and I disappoint myself when I ogle women on a night out and objectify them to an extent.
But I digress, I am a human, I am a man and I am flawed. And I try to get better as a man with every day that comes and goes as well as attempting to do everything in my power to develop in a way that will eventually make my own son or my own daughter proud. I am ridiculously lucky that I have been brought up in an environment where my destiny has somewhat been controlled. I am well-educated, I have grown up in a loving family with so many opportunities to make friends and follow my aspirations. For so many others it is so much more difficult. But I ask myself how much are we all accountable for? At what point do we have to stop blaming our circumstances and upbringing for our inevitable actions? Is it possible to separate them?
Becoming a man is an incredibly confusing and confronting experience. Being a man doesn’t make things any less complicated and no one wants to hear your excuses when you fuck up.
‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’ – Frederick Douglass.
If only we could approach the concept of being a ‘real human being’ with the same zest as we do with upholding the ridiculous notions of being a ‘real man’.