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.
If I stop to think about movies that influenced what I thought of fathers as I was growing up, the first two that come to mind are Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back and Superman. The reveal of Darth Vader had a huge impact on me, how could such an evil man also be a dad? And then fight with his son? As for Superman I always wondered why his mum and dad sent him away on his own, surely they could've made a bigger spaceship! For me it felt that these fathers had to push their sons away. I wondered if perhaps that's what you had to do to allow your son to become a man.
My dad was perhaps typical, in that he was very much part of our family, but still distant at times. When I was a kid I knew what my dad did each day for work; I knew he built buildings and bridges. Okay not just him; maybe he had a little help. I knew he was no superman, but I looked up to him and knew he worked really hard each day. I could see it on his face, his hard skinned hands, the way he fell asleep quickly in his seat at the end of the day and from the dirt on his clothes.
When I found out my wife was pregnant one of the first things that came to mind was a desire for him to really know me and who I was. I also wondered what my son would think of me, how he would relate to me and whether he would know I worked hard. I wanted him to look up to me and between you and I, being his superman was my aim.
Holding my son for the first time was an amazing experience, and so humbling, he was so small and perfect. My first words when I saw him were: "wow he's all legs and everything". Profound I know. Talking to him was brilliant, I knew he wasn't going to talk back, but I wanted him to know how much I loved him and to hear my voice. I knew very little about what being a dad meant, so I decided to start with giving him as much love as possible.
Of course my son had other things to contend with as opposed to wondering where his dad went every day and why did he disappear for so long. He had to focus quite rightly on growing, learning and all the other fun stuff that comes along with children. That last point was quite fundamental to me as well; I decided early on that I wanted to have fun with him. I wanted to do things as a family and to have some time for just the two of us as well. I had one day off during the week (thank goodness for flexible working policies) and on those days we would have great adventures. Okay maybe I'm building it up just a little. We would do the usual things such as swimming, playgroups, play parks and bus journeys (he loved those).
I remember trying to talk to my son about where I worked and what an office was. Let's just say I wished I could have told him I built bridges!
I loved watching Peppa Pig with my son, especially the episode when Peppa and George go to work with Daddy Pig. It turns out his job is to stand at a board all day and work out some formula. The way his job is explained in the cartoon is brilliantly simple for children to understand.
The quiet five or ten minutes, playing, reading or sitting on a bus with my son are still the most precious moments. It's in those times that I feel connected and get a little insight into his thinking and his world. I love him with every fibre, and tell him on a daily basis.
My son is now seven, and the older he gets the more confident I feel about being dad, like most I'm making it up as I go along. I'm doing what feels right and true. There's a little part of me that still wants to be his superman, however the bigger voice in my head says I'm good enough for him. That's also good enough for me.
We clearly want men to avoid the trap of becoming like Darth Vader, nor do we need them to strive to be Superman. I think men need to give themselves a break about being dad, find some middle ground and if their hearts are full of love for their family they will be good enough.
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