HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
Professor Green's Suicide and Me documentary aired a couple of weeks ago, articles on male suicide have been popping up on major news sites and CALM's #BiggerIssues campaign with Lynx seems to be gaining some real momentum. I feel as though it would be an injustice not to talk about my father's suicide and the impact it had on me.
The story of my father's suicide mirrors many others. On Wednesday, May 29 2013, in the afternoon, my mother came home from work crying, called my brother and I down into the living room and said: "It's your Dad, he's hanged himself." I heard this on the cusp of my 21st birthday and, two years on, it stands as the day my adolescence ended and, sadly, as a definitive moment of my life.
The time before a funeral is a purgatory of tears, shock and disbelief, and it followed me through the weeks until it was time. I half expected Dad to burst through the doors behind us misquoting Mark Twain shouting, "the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated", but it didn't come. The curtains closed, my father was cremated and my brother, grandfather and I stood outside thanking the handful of guests for coming, many of whom where my grandfather's friends.
My brother and I saw Dad a few weeks prior to his death. We watched Star Trek: Into Darkness and he was fine; he looked good and appeared happy. I always thought of comedy as a way to help the healing process and to make awful things seem less awful, so I sometimes joke about how the movie was so bad it drove my father to suicide. In reality though, I don't know what drove him to the point where he could make the decision to take his life, but looking back on my father's life there were clear signals that he was not okay.
My father was a severely unhappy man. He was in massive debt, his sister died of alcohol poisoning, he had very little in the way of friends, his third marriage was failing, and he suffered from mood swings where he would go from a "happy chappy" to scarily angry and then be so sad he would sleep for days. I learned that the last days before his death were not happy ones; his wife kicked him out over a domestic dispute and he was living with his father in the house he grew up in.
As far as I'm aware my father never looked for help, which is a common theme in male suicide. I've also fallen into this trap, except I was lucky enough to get better. I've tried to rationalise why men don't ask for help and it's not an easy answer; some blame it on society and its expectations of men, while others blame biology and the anatomy of the male brain. There is no definitive answer and I don't expect to find one, I only know that the current figures for male suicide are at 12 deaths per day, which is absolutely unacceptable in my eyes.
Not a day goes by where I don't miss my Dad. He'll never be at my wedding and he'll never hold his grandchildren. My room is filled with photos of him, old RAF stuff as well as his old knick-knacks, from a half strung guitar to an old mug with his name on it. I miss my Dad so much, I miss his big bushy beard and his stupid quirks, but most of all I hate that he's never going to see how happy my brother and I are because I know that would have made him happy.
For men it takes incredible strength to be willing to appear vulnerable. I'm lucky enough to have people I'm comfortable crying in front of, albeit rarely and with great difficulty. It's very hard to find comfort in a call centre or warmth from a doctor's office, and it feels as though we're a long way away from a time when the majority of men will express genuine emotion to each other, but I can see that things are changing.
I don't know for sure that things will get better. All I have is hope.
If you've been affected by suicide, you can find information and resources via Support After Suicide. If you're worried about someone, CALM's Worried About Someone page advises how best you might approach the situation. If you need help, CALM's helpline (0800 585858) is open every day from 5pm until midnight. It's free, confidential, staffed by professionals and it doesn't show up on your phone bill. Their web chat service, also open every day 5pm-midnight, runs in the same way and is available for anyone who can't face talking on the phone.
This post was originally written for Campaign Against Living Miserably, CALM, and published here: YOUR VOICE: Hope After My Dad's Suicide.
CALM works hard to challenge a culture that prevents men from seeking help when they need it. Part of this is asking real men 'what is it like to be a man today?' You can get your voice heard by emailing your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. CALM is currently working with Lynx to raise awareness that suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, and to encourage people to park the small talk and discuss #BiggerIssues like this. Find out more at biggerissues.co.uk.
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