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.
In November 2012, my wife was hit and killed by a speeding car right in front of my two-year-old son and me. She was just 33 at the time. Two months later, still bereft and desperately trying to connect with other men who had lost their wives and were raising children alone, I started writing a blog about grief.
For the next 18 months it became my salvation and my sanctuary. I found empathy through sharing the words I wrote and support from the messages I received in return. It kept me sane.
A year and a half later, I made the decision to completely stop writing. I'd begun to question whether or not it was actually doing me any good anymore. Once something that I truly believed I needed as a means of therapy, it began to feel more like a burden and something that was perhaps holding my progress back.
I decided to cease self-counselling through blogging and leave my therapeutic needs in the hands of the professionals. And it was during this period of professional counselling that I discovered something significant about myself: I'm impulsive to the extreme.
This is something I was probably only aware of subconsciously before grief hit; I guess this spontaneity used to be a positive part of my life when that life was built mostly around having fun. Now it's become a cause for concern. I find myself making snap decisions that feel absolutely appropriate in the moment but that often leave me feeling anxious for some time after.
I realise now that deciding to never blog again was one such impulsive decision that I didn't need to make. What difference does it make after all? No one ever told me I needed to write as regularly as I once did and I had no responsibility to anyone with regards to what I wrote, anyway. I began to tell myself to let any future decisiveness percolate for a while before taking impulsive action.
Then one day, after a period of extended percolation, three things happened that had a huge effect on me. From each, the same issue arose - one that I'd thought little about in that past. As the father of a little boy who would be raised without his mother by his side, I felt compelled to consider it on his and my behalf, and to share my thoughts. That issue was feminism.
The first occasion amounted to little more than a fleeting comment from a naïve toddler who was unaware of the context of what he was saying: "We can do that, can't we, Daddy? But they can't because they are only girls."
I was horrified. And in my horror I can no longer remember what perceived gender imbalance my son was even referring to. Whatever it was, though, it was ill-informed and misguided. Thankfully, however, I knew it hadn't come from me.
The second instance was perhaps more of a reflection of a society deeply (if often unconsciously) entrenched in sexism: it didn't seem to matter how flexible I asked potential employers and clients to be with me and my working hours, they seemed to be so incredibly accommodating. Yes, I'd lost my wife and was raising a child alone but on the face of it, wasn't I just facing the same challenges as any other sole parent? Perhaps, I started to wonder, I was receiving special treatment based on my gender. I only had to talk to a few female friends to know that I, as a working father, was feeling better supported than many working mums.
I wanted to speak out on this subject - maybe approach a couple of newspapers about writing a feature on the subject - but my impulsive decision to stop writing made me cast aside something I probably should have paid more attention to: raising my son the way his mother would have done.
The third event was back in September 2014, when I watched the actress Emma Watson speaking out about feminism at the United Nations headquarters. Until that day, I, like many others I imagined, had clearly misunderstood and misinterpreted feminism. But then her rousing speech reminded me of an article I was drawn into reading some weeks before, which suggested that all men should be feminist. I chuckled ignorantly to myself at the subject matter, wondering how that was even possible.
Suddenly it made sense, though. It dawned on me, at last, that feminism essentially just means advocating that all rights of women be equal to those of men. So why not be feminist? After all, what modern British man could look his mother, wife, girlfriend or daughter in the eye and say that they are worth less than their sons or themselves? And what father raising his male child without a mother would feel like he'd succeeded in raising him the way his mother would have wanted, if he grew up to believe he was somehow superior to the opposite sex?
"Daddy?" my increasingly feminist four-year-old son asked several months after his rather derogatory 'only girls' comment, "Why do you have to go to work today?"
"Because I've got an important meeting with my boss," I explained.
"Your boss?" he enquired. "What's her name?"
I smiled to myself and thought of his mum.
Our home may not be blessed with the same female influence it once was, but I've decided that it is still going to maintain the same values it would if my wife - and my absolute equal - were still here. After all, if I want my child to grow up believing in gender equality, how can I just sit back and wait for women to do all the work?
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