"Every good boy deserves favour," my father told me, while we looked at one of his Moody Blues records, examining the old man on the front cover who was rewarding a little boy for good behaviour.
My older brother's suicide attempt was described by my father as a thinly-veiled effort to get attention. Nonchalance isn't what you'd expect when discussing teen suicide, and it doesn't help that my father undermined its severity by lumping it alongside my brother's trying, a few years after our parents divorce, to grow marijuana in his cupboard.
After my brother stopped visiting him, my father said I was old enough to get the train to him alone. He couldn't understand why I'd cry every time. I was afraid of being seen as a wimp, so I acted tough at school, though I didn't speak about girls in front of my family for a long time. He told me, "I don't mind you looking at porn, just as long as it isn't gay."
My father mistook my shyness as a rejection of him and his perception of what a man should be, rather than a response to a traumatic event. It all came to a head when he took me on holiday. I was told I could bring a friend, so I chose someone I didn't see that often because he was at public school, like my father had been. My father said, "Why can't you be more like him?" when I rang home to speak to my mother.
The very idea of 'being more like' a man is toxic. It echoes centuries old propagandist sentiments, doing your duty without question and obeying that other old lie of keeping calm to carry on. If every man is an island, then they are isolated. Old definitions of masculinity have no right to govern the adherence of younger generations of men to them because they are no longer relevant.
To build yourself, as my brother did, into a person who is male (and a new father, no less), strips those ideals. It puts that person into the world naked, without the rags of old masculinity, able to wear as their clothes all the evolved, compassionate responses they make to victims of outdated social constructs - victims like men of my father's generation, whose inherited shared consciousness of mortality must in turn be unclothed and archived as lessons in how not to dress their children. My father frequently refers to himself as "kept" - a term of emasculation used to encapsulate his feelings at being depressed and unemployed that, in 2016, is frightening in how much weight it carries when he says it.
Young men need to understand that they don't need generationally-defined favour from outdated masculinity. But at that moment, and in many others, those ideals were turning the record over and saying, "These are the bad boys": two children who were trying to get the old man's attention. Based on their teenage appearance it seemed the loss of their innocence was to blame for their being pushed out. I was the good boy, my brother the bad: getting underage tattoos, dropping out of school, not being that perfect, idealised white canvas he was when he was born and, crucially, encouraging change that goes against a pre-set patriarchal grain.
Blood isn't thicker than water, and my brother was drunk and angry when he took that "small" overdose. He says it was "silly" and that the ambulance wasn't necessary. Yes, it could have been worse, but no one has a right to reduce its severity.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
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