Pathed by balcony and bathed in pink and orange glow, my walk to the drinking fountain is often met with beautiful sunrises which blanket the grounds of my school. Though today was met with something unexpected, perhaps more glorious than what was previously anticipated. On the third floor of my school facility, I watch below surely the most wonderful thirty-second interaction of the entire day. A father, having to be at work by 7:00 am, tentatively though trustingly releases his son into another day of exploration.
I reach for the tap to fill my bottle and miss, I'm so wrapped up in the moment of bliss unfolding below me. Dad kisses his son's forehead before reminding him about pickup time. "I'll be right here waiting, buddy," he starts, a stammer in voice. "Promise you won't forget," he concludes, almost pleading. By this time, I can't help but smile, my heart full of adoration. I've seen this scene many a time before, but never like this. The son has made his trek, barely fifteen metres when Dad, still standing motionless but full of emotion, makes one last effort to attain son's attention. His eyes are poised and body statue frozen. "Have a good day," he calls. Son looks back, "Yep. I will Dad". The water overflows my bottle as I snap back to reality. What a moment to witness. In my decade or so of being a teacher, I had been openly seeing this type of connection a lot. But never with Dad, always with Mum.
It was simply amazing. I quietly thanked this father (to myself) and used the inspiration to ensure one thing: that I never let my status as a "MAN" get in the way of my status of a "PARENT". This small snippet of my morning opened my mind to an array of memories and brought me to the question: when did the male stop showing this kind of emotion? Is there a rule where we, as men, are not allowed to? I wanted to investigate and what better way to do so than by using my iconic mate as a perfect side story.
Although it wasn't that long ago, I grew up in a time where men were men. Men had to be men and boys had to be mini men. I cannot say things have changed too much but they are changing, slowly. I still embrace the state of vulnerability and implore all to prioritise, wholeheartedly, the ability to form and hold authentic relationships. The rigour of our everyday lives must always come second to this. Despite this, there was a time when vulnerability was a sign of weakness and bravado outranked any form of sensitivity. The impact on my age bracket is severe; mental health taking its toll on our nearest and dearest, tenfold. I actually cringe at the thought of having to hide my sensitivity but that is how many around still behave. Think about the previous generation of men, the fifty or sixty somethings, and the environment they grew up in. Living up to the Bondsy wearing, bronzed chunderer from down under, who was funny, well built and extremely brave must have been excruciating. Always. I can't think how exhausting that would've been. One of my generation's many representatives, actor Justin Baldoni, has had a gutful of always playing the shirtless macho man, "I'm tired of being man enough, all the time". And aren't we all?
A close friend of mine and I recently chewed the fat about the way we, as teens, once were. We were strong, chauvinist and reckless; popularity swaying in our direction. We drank way too much, VB of course, and rebelled in almost all interaction with authority, except on the footy field. We lived like we were heroes and, despite behind closed doors our so-called admirers thinking we were crazy or jerks, we were glazed with glorious appreciation. We were alpha males, accepted for this and felt valued as a result. We were jocks, carbon copies of our fathers. The same fathers who probably had the same pressures in years foregone. This acceptance, from people, in all directions, is what drove (and has driven) this trail of masculinity for the ages. All we all ever really want as kids and impressionable youths (perhaps even as adults) is acceptance. Not for who we are but for who we think others want us to be. It tends to become a rotten cyclic notion and it needs to stop.
During this conversation, Robbo (hilarious we have such occa nicknames to coin our token of acceptance - something we also inherited from our dads - I get 'Bricka', a derivative of Dad's 'Bricko') and I talked about no longer feeling the need to impress with our drinking escapades and drunken tirades. Something surprising for most, as we prided ourselves with this very act for over a decade, so much so, I earned, justly, the term "Frank The Tank". It felt good to be accepted and feel valued for taking on Frank, but where did it all come from? Is this truly how we want society to be? Ostracising those who do not conform?
We complain about bogan-ism taking over the country and our reputation for unsolicited mistreatment of those beneath us as a whole but the mentality we have acquired through our short tenure as a country has not only been bestowed upon us from those before, we, as a nation have bathed frenetically in all of its hideous spotlighting. We mistreat our immigrants and visitors, despite recognising our laid back and easy-going personality as a strength; we welcome desperate ways to get ahead, by cheating, disregarding comparisons of our cheating, criminal and not so humble beginnings as a 'white' state. Our culture is rich with pride and history which dates back to the dawn of time, though we do our best to shunt or dissipate what makes us whole and great. We chop down those poppies who are tall and worked tirelessly for their worth, for the jealousy that rages within continues to plague our own progression. We sit in the shadows and whine that no one ever gives us a voice, a hand up or support, then shoot down any first sight of one with an ounce of moral courage. All this is just the beginning of one almighty shit show our upbringings have created, yet there is one ginormous thing we all should hang our heads and wallow for. For when all of this rears its ugly head, our own mothers still tell us we are all perfect. Oh yes, our humble and ever caring female. Our treatment of women is deplorable. For every show of masculinity and its pressures, we hack away at the beauty of femineity. Underprivileged is one thing, outcast is another, but the true show of us as a country, a society, is mistreatment of our girls.
A few years back, Robbo ran for a purpose, not just to show his strength and determination (something this brut was accustomed to) but to see the pain one's body can endure, physically and mentally. A raiser of funds and awareness for an amazing entity, Bravehearts, an organisation trying mightily to protect children from the pits of sexual abuse. This run was no ordinary run, and the fact that only thirteen runners took place epitomised its complexity and rarity. The task: run seven marathons in seven days. Oh yeah, did I mention it was done in seven different states, one each day? Just the thought of this is enough to make your muscles ache, your spine tingle and head pound. Who in their right mind would do this? Robbo would! Was this to prove he was truly man enough? I think so, but in the same breath, when he would be done, running his body into the ground, he would become a real man to a totally different accord .
Never have I known a more go-getting, inspiring self-believer. In fact, one of his drunken misdemeanours came from the cursing of his peers proving this very point. Robbo needed to be the man, at every opportunity, so when drinking onlookers posed a simple query with him, "you wouldn't do this Robbo!", the challenge was on. This applied in every situation and trust me, some of his "you wouldn't do this" accomplishments are now like folklore. This grit and uncanny need to prove others wrong opened his mind to new places, places he thought his intellect would never allow him to explore. The place this race took him was one of despair, darkness, isolation and emotional wreckage. Not because of the pain he was enduring over the nearly three hundred kilometres he had run, moreover because of the people he met and their stories of hurt. Their stories firstly filled his gut with agony, then filled his heart with admiration and his head with the drive. "If these people can go through that, such afflictions from others, I can surely keep running" he reminisced. "The worst thing," he recounts, "was the fact I hadn't been through it nor known of this type of behaviour from adults, grown men". You see, most of these runners, like Robbo, would have to endure relentless chaffing, staunching blisters and ripped skin, severe athlete's foot and unthinkable cramp, to pair with daily nausea, sleep deprivation, travel ooziness and baffling muscle soreness. This was something they had all agreed to do, on their own (sane) accord. What they hadn't ever signed off on was a different hurt. The pain of their childhood mistreatment. Then the stomach knots of self-shame, the ridicule of feeling the freak when thoughts of suicide and solidarity knocked down their resilience. This type of pain, a few runs, seemed a grain of sand on a beach in comparison. What Robbo witnessed during that time was life-changing. "Most of these stories were of males mistreating women". He remembers one female competitor wailing in tears during a circuit run (4 x 10.55km), somewhat because of an ankle injury, but mostly because that time, running all by herself had gurgled the pain and suppression from within. "It [howling] was almost unbearable to listen to", he recalls when running passed or beside her during that particular leg.
Each night, the group would delve into their own life stories; most were of abuse and most about the stigmas surrounding men being all powering and emotionless. The experiences were hard to listen to but had to be echoed. This run was making an impact on many and sending a message, a loud one of the hope for change... one bloke at a time. It is important to note, not all abuse is at the hands of men, but, according to ABS's survey on domestic violence in 2016, a staggering 77% of victims are female, at the hands of males. It is never pretty, regardless of gender, the point here is that as Robbo and I experience more in life, we have come to realise that our own education and upbringings could have played a part in the expectations surrounding the treatment of others, particularly girls. That country boy, scruff and rough, which has an abundance of advantages, may have been overexposed to a backward expectation upon how he should treat women.
True to his occa style, Robbo got a tattoo of his achievement but knew the permanency of his new addition would bear no comparison to the emotional scarring and traumatic permanency of the victims of which it represented. A greater awareness of the facts, a more emotionally intact being and a greater respect for minorities ensued this experience for Robbo. His parting with bravado was celebrated internally as much given kudos from beyond. Conversations stemmed about the nature of males verse the nurturance of this chauvinistic, bullish and boisterous behaviour inherently habitualised by men. When we grew up with those who care, we care. When we are exposed to trauma, we are traumatised. When we see strength in aggression and violence, we foster the behaviour. "Boys will be boys" is no longer an excuse for disrespect. If we show love for ourselves, as men, the nurturance of sensitive vulnerability will engulf those around us. I realise it is my job to break the back of an ugly monster that has exhumed from all corners of society's bedrooms. As educator, as mentor, as footballer; as author, as Dad and as man.
The question we have to confront is clear: are we man enough to be a real man? This means having the courage to be honest with others, to stand up for what we believe in and most of all be honest with ourself. We are all born with an ability to love, a dependency on others and the yearning for care. The way we are nurtured is completely up to those who love us. One thing is for sure, respect must be nurtured. If we cannot foster respect, in all we do, so that those beneath us can then grow into respectful beings, these vicious cycles of mistreatment may never alleviate.
I've grown up with one version of Robbo and now know the same being but a completely different man, yet I still respect him, perhaps more than ever. There's an old saying, which probably spawned from the same scripture as, "boys will be boys", but should cease to exist from all realms of an equitable society; it exhibits perfectly how this revolutionised bloke has changed. "The boy you see at seven is the man you see at thirty", a saying so true in general society but not for Robbo, not for I. If this bloke can change his perspective on everything, I can. We all can. We are not destined to treat people a certain way, we make a choice to do so. That includes ourselves.
So, why try link a converted blokey bloke to a dad dropping off a kid at school, to the treatment of women? It is quite simple. These scenarios all play out scenes of the past and of future change. The key is education, care and a nurturance of positivity. The amazing world we grow up in isn’t always really that amazing. Let us foster what is good and what is worthwhile, like equals. We preach respect and now it is time to practice what we preach. That dad showed me how all dad's should be: proud. Sensitive and proud. Be man enough!
All good men out there, who was the boy you were at seven and who have you become?