This is my family. As you can see it’s not short of a male influence or 11. I absolutely love them all to bits and each and every one of them has contributed to the man I am today. That’s not to say that the woman who have been and who are in my life don’t continue to make me a better man. However, this blog is about the men, the lads, the dads, the granddads, the grandpas, the uncles, the mates, the coaches, the managers, the teachers, the supporters, the club patrons and the bros and how they help define each and every one of us blokes into what we become.
This blog post was inspired by a movie I watched recently on Netflix, My Own Man.
My Own Man is a self reflection documentary of a 40 year old man (David) whose partner has just become pregnant with a son. This life changing event forces David to look at his position as a man in society today and how he will be a male influence for a young child about to come into the world. David’s internal struggle with his apparent lack of ability to “arrive” at manhood inherently comes from his difficulties with his own father and puts doubts in his mind about how he will raise a son himself. It’s a candid, raw and entertaining look at the insecurities many men face but often never talk about.
My Own Man forces you to think about your own position in life. Parts of the movie leave you feeling a little uncomfortable and squeamish, watching as a fellow man struggles to deal with his identity. David has the option of either accepting the very macho and masculine idea of “just suck it up mate” or delving into his own insecurities and accepting/dealing with them.
When questioning his father about how he dealt with raising a family, playing high level sport, going through med school and becoming a leading surgeon, David finds out that not too much thought went into it for his father, he simply sucked it up and did what he had to do. As a stereotypical Gen X, David is much more about the experience and the understanding of why and how rather than what, and when comparing himself to his ultra masculine father he can’t help but feel slightly inept (especially when David’s friends describe him as feminine).
My own Dad is very much a reflection of my Grandpa. He is a gentle man, who is most often quietly spoken and reserved, but has a tremendous sense of humour and determination for success. He is also highly skilled in a wide range of fields and to top it all off, a wealth of knowledge.
In the Movie My Own Man, David’s key issue and struggle was he felt his father was (at times) overly aggressive and removed from his own life. It made me reminisce growing up as a child and being disciplined by my Dad (a Rowing coach). People within New Zealand who have been involved in Rowing, may be familiar with how my Dad can raise his voice and make you as stiff as a board and without hesitation, stop whatever you are doing. As an accomplished High School Teacher, Engineer, Rugby and Rowing coach and Official, he has the ability possessed by both my grandfathers to demand respect when it is needed, and take control of a situation.
Seeing how David was struggling to deal with his issues made me think about how discipline as a child impacted my own life; I knew what was wrong and what was right, and from my perspective I feel it established for myself and my two brothers (one older, one younger) a very definite sense of what was acceptable behaviour. I am lucky that my fathers stern words were compensated by a tender side, and the ability to listen, guide, nurture and always support. I owe a lot to both my parents, taxi-ing me to various sports involvements, including 5 am wake ups for swimming. They always paid a keen interest to my performance, whether on the sports field, in the class-room or on stage and provided a safe and supportive environment in order for myself and my brothers to explore our interests and excel.
I feel very privileged and lucky to have had many supportive and influential male figures in my life. I still have my mother’s Dad and my father’s Dad only passed away 2 years ago in my final year of University. Both of these hard but gentle men have played a huge role in my development and I look to them as heroes in my life. Granddad and Grandpa were tall, strong and confident. Funnily enough, they had both worked in insurance, had upbringings with a rural influence and were from the generation of getting on and doing things (most often doing it themselves). These heroes demanded respect but also nurtured, supported and praised; they perfected the balance of masculinity/femininity.
Not only did my male grandparents have a positive influence on my life. My Uncles have always been there to provide an objective and alternative angle on life and often gave a different perspective to how the challenges of life could be overcome. They are excellent role models in loving families, each fathering two young men of their own, and I couldn’t have asked for better role models than the guys in my family.
Team sports and sports in general, while not exclusively a masculine activity, often mould us into how we are. Growing up in Invercargill I was able to take part in many sports. To name a few: soccer, swimming, softball, volleyball, water-polo, cross-country, athletics, rowing, mountain-biking, cycling. Since going to University, rugby has become a huge part of my life. For me its not just a competition, but provides a personal challenge, an outlet from day to day life and is a great way to accumulate a diverse array of tremendous influences. The people you meet by being involved in sport broaden your mind, your life experience and your exposure to different cultures. Sport strengthens an ability to strive towards common goals with people you otherwise may not come in contact with.
A great role model who is striving to achieve great things in his community is Sam Ward from Tika Training in Auckland; the man lives for code but also people. Men like Sam are what its all about and set great examples for the rest of us, his gym is not just about getting in better shape and fitness but about creating supportive connections within a community.
My final note on being your own man that many great men have taught me: is that life is to be enjoyed, and sharing that enjoyment with others gives that enjoyment meaning. Life should be about experiencing things with other people, and when those experiences improve the lives and well being of other people then you’re onto something pretty great. So all you men out there, be your own man and give the men around you a hand to become their own, better, greater men.