"And-which is more-you'll be a man my son!"
The final line of IF by Rudyard Kipling. It was written in 1895 and published in 1910.
That's two years before the start of the First World War and with no prior knowledge of the Christmas ad from John Lewis. Pretty old, pretty wordy, pretty bloody brilliant as far as I'm concerned.
It's one of the very few things that answers the biggest question of our gender in 2014. What makes a man? I just think it's a crying shame that many of our gender- in 2014, wouldn't take the definition of manhood from him today purely because he's named after a really stale cake.
While you take a moment to work out that shit pun, I'll throw my hat in the ring.
My dear old Dad, now no more than a couple of pounds of calcium-heavy fish food since we scattered his ashes off North Pier, had no problems defining manhood. He was, in chronological order: A Royal Marine Commando (where he briefly held the heavy weight division boxing title), a copper and a pub landlord. He was huge and strong and, it turned out, in possession of an attitude of denial towards the dangers of saturated fat that makes creationists look like Christopher Hitchins.
His own father was a steam train driver and occasional anchor-man for the British tug-of-war team and I also think it's a crying shame that a good proportion of you are now wondering why a tug-of-war team would need some guy in a studio reading an autocue. Forgive me... it's what I do.
I think it's safe to say that 'manliness' was a common theme in my upbringing. It was an assumed status but, and here's the important bit, it was the Rudyard Kipling kind. The emphasis was on gentlemanly conduct, sportsmanship, fairness and stoicism. You did 'the right thing' regardless of your own wants and needs. It was about having shoulders broad enough to carry responsibility not start a punch-up.
Don't get me wrong. My Dad's motto in the Manchester police was, 'drag a young idiot home by his ear and an older idiot will answer the door.'
In fact, as far as I can tell, ears were an essential part of police work in the 70s. You could have yours 'cuffed' by him if you were an obnoxious, criminal brat and then 'thickened' by him if you continued your errant ways into adulthood. He would place quiet words into the ears of mothers and older brothers about tearaways, immune to the effects of the aforementioned cuffing, and he was clearly aware of the vulnerability of his own ears as they were kept 'to the ground' at all times. He lived and policed in seemingly violent times and used the language of his surroundings to deal with them.
By the time he died he was a dinosaur. Massively overweight to the point that he was a double fish supper away from qualifying for a free arse-wiper on the NHS and his snoring sounded like Pinnochio being dragged over a cattle grid. His old-fashioned ways were becoming extinct but, having refused passage on the good ship 'tomorrow' he was adrift in a changing world. If you swore in front of a lady you would get severely reprimanded, even if you were one of a large bunch of drunken hooligans. If you kept your seat on a bus or train while a lady stood up you were told to give up that seat whether he knew you or not. Words like 'puff' and 'little lady' and 'Paki' were staples of his. He had ethnic friends but they were 'welcomingly' renamed, 'Guru' and 'Chalkie'.
Dad's world was simpler than mine. Those he considered cowards were bullies and wife beaters. His idiots were layabouts, the intentionally uneducated and the spineless.
My cowards are racists and homophobes. My idiots are the intolerant and the close-minded. People too scared to even try and understand anything that makes them look at their own lives. Evangelical pro-lifers threatening rape victims with hell fire. Morons so utterly afraid they might have to change that they dig in until their motto becomes, if I don't already do it, eat it, like it, understand it- it's shit. The kind of safe, white, pseudo-middle-class wannabe Free Masons that call Clarkson 'cheeky' and open chats with, "I'm not racist, but...". I shake my head at the 'lads' who talk about rape like it's a career option and think a selfie with a tongue out is proof of a great night. I call them the 'Way-Heys'. Point a camera at one and you'll hear why.
If my Dad were alive today I know what he would make of the gay marriage I support, the disgust I feel when half-wits throw bananas at football matches, of TOWIE, Russell Brand, Harry Stiles and man bags. He could barely bring himself to drink lager as it was 'unnatural and artificial crap' so what he'd make of World of Warcraft is anybody's guess.
My Dad was the definition of manhood in his day, but this is my day.
Or it was.
My fear- my phobia, is that I will fade as the world moves on just as he did. That my values have reached their final destination and, like my old man, as I enter fatherhood and my late forties, I too will start throwing my arms up in despair at new technology and huffing and puffing when modern art, reality TV and bad music pass my way. That I'll start voting to stop change, not bring it about.
Do I still know what is ok to say in the presence of women, black people, Muslims and kids? I believe so, but for how long? I believe I've got the best of both worlds- a modern man with old fashioned values. I'm happy to be a house husband but won't let my wife carry her own bag.
But I feel a Jurassic sheen forming on my anxious brow. I don't moisturise. When drunks swear in front of a woman I look away, praying it doesn't escalate and force my hand. And if she's not old, pregnant or disabled, I stay seated too. Does that make me a coward or a modern man? Are those pointless 'Way-Heys' now captaining the good ship Tomorrow and should I hop aboard?
Dad's funeral was standing room only, most in attendance were strangers to me. At the back, a lone Marine stood silently then left. People told me he'd saved their life or helped them in their darkest hour. He'd championed their causes and scared off their abusers. The living waved him off with a great big 'Well Done'. I wonder who will be at mine.
While the words of Mr. Kipling ring true in both our lives I find it hard to reconcile the paradox that the man with so many traits I oppose was the man who brought me up to oppose them. How does one species breed another?
Are we just two different versions of manhood?
... and which is more?
My Dad is my hero and I'm sure that if he were to read this and slowly look around the world I inhabit he might just shrug his shoulders and say, "you are a man, my son!"