A friend got in touch with me to present a problem: She found it difficult to find a Father's Day card as her dad has problems with alcohol and many of the cards she came across glorified drinking. While it is true that greeting cards use base level, superficial stereotypes as a selling point - from grandmother's floral, cursive rhyme to the 18th birthday boy's beer and tits - there are surely plenty of neutral cards out there for Dad. But it got me thinking about the way we encourage men to be 'men' in our society. Have we got it right?
It's a tricky subject to approach, especially in 600 words, but not the only challenging masculine stereotype I've encountered in the last couple of weeks.
"How could you not have baths?" I asked a female friend I was dining with. "You've got a massive bath at home. Baths are brilliant! I love baths!"
"You love baths? That's so gay." replied my friend matter of factly. While my friend's use of that adjective may not be a surprise, I imagine it will provoke a collective sigh amongst some people (whilst others furiously nod their heads in agreement.)
On more than one occasion I have had friends who, despite my protestations, have told me that I am 'definitely gay', while plenty of strangers in clubs, and once on the street have felt the impulse to enquire. I can understand how my enthusiastic approach to life and turns of phrase that would make Tobias Fünke cringe might confuse some. Despite being secure in my heterosexuality, it doesn't stop such incidences piling on the pressure to conform to a more conventional manly archetype.
Recently I passed a father shouting at his son in the park. It became clear that the boy had been involved in a scuffle but the dad was telling him off for not having fought back. "Don't just stand there. Do you think I wouldn't fight back? Of course I would. Don't just stand there and cry." I looked back at the child, no older than seven. There were no tears in his eyes, but a face that was solemnly and unquestioningly absorbing his father's words.
I was shocked. This boy was being taught in one of the most direct ways how to act like a man.
When wronged, violence is the answer. Crying is weak.
When somebody doesn't fit the male mold, it's easy to pass comment, whether to that person's face or to our friends. Sometimes we simply let these judgements fester in our minds, adding to the certainty of our convictions that have been rooted over decades.
Our young men are rarely given the opportunity to explore their own masculinity. They have manliness served to them on a plate, with an extra side of misogyny. They are born into and raised in a society that values on the whole traditional role models, who themselves have not set aside the time or space to consider the attributes of male identity. Violence, seeing women as sexual objects, binging on booze to boost the banter are just a few of the items on the to-do list of manliness, as if they were written on stone tablets by Moses (Lad).
Does our veneration of these manly attributes in kitsch cards on the every third Sunday of June buy into this? Maybe. Do they help perpetuate these attitudes? Probably. Can we use them to create a dialogue? I hope so.
If I become a father, I hope my kids get me a card portraying a more accurate portrayal of my masculinity, like a man crying over the credits of The Time Traveller's Wife, or enthusiastically dancing along to Man I feel like a Woman. Tune.
So when you're picking out your last minute Father's Day card this year, take a second to consider the message you are truly sending Dad.
Not just what you're buying, but what you're buying into.