International Men’s Day, November 19

Yesterday was International Men’s Day, and unwittingly I ‘celebrated’ it doing some stereotypically manly things. As usual, I woke early, and began with a few muscular exercises, toning my body into something that would be a good sexy shape: tight abdomen, firm thighs, and some ripples where muscles were well defined. If this were the ‘good old days’, I would have topped that off with a cigar and an early morning pint of beer.

But, first let’s be serious. The IMD theme for 2016 is Stop Male Suicide. I’m already focused on raising awareness about male mental health issues and one of the concerns that need to be addressed is whether ‘being a man’ is so stressful that many men are falling foul to a set of mental strains, which stereotypically they are not talking about. But, men don’t talk about emotional stuff, as everyone knows, except if it’s about sex and to use the words of the man just elected to lead the USA some ‘locker room’ stuff like grapping women by the young feline. What’s a man to do? 

Actually, men (the ones I know from all my years) talk a lot about emotional stuff. It was a man who gave me advice about deciding if work was about my family or about satisfying some people who’d forget me in a second, once I was gone. I know plenty of men who cry when they are upset and excited–and not just when their sports team has won or lost. I know many men who hug their sons and kiss them and, hug each other and embrace each other freely, without thinking there’s anything wrong with that, other than what’s in YOUR mind. But, let the stereotypes have their day in the sun.

Let me get back to me and manly pursuits.

Funnily, I’d gone to bed the night before with more than a small smile on my face after reading about ‘10+ Handsome Guys Who’ll Redefine Your Concept Of Older Men‘. It featured some images of whawt ‘sexiness’ is for elderly. A few things struck me about this ‘concept’: it went for another set of firmly held stereotypes. Look at the hunk in the picture. Who’d not want a piece of that? But, hang on! All of the pictures were of white men.

Sexy is…bearded, tattooed, and…WHITE!

Hello! Where are my guys? Where was uber-hunk, Idris Elba–Mr. James Bond-maybe?

Is Idris too black to be sexy?

If you want to argue that Idris is too young, at 44, then what about Denzil Washington (in his 60s) or your favourite US president, Barack ‘Mr. Smooth’ Obama?

Well, beards are in, and while I ponder the tattooing and how best to stck my thumbs into my unbuttoned jeans, I know I am on the way to sexiness. My Movember beard is well on its way.

Facial hair is here! 🙂

But, back to celebrating manhood.

I watched some sport in the wee hours of the morning, with live golf from Abu Dhabi and taped tennis from London. Men were being men and showing that they can hit balls better than other species. Oh, the joy! Then, after a quick breakfast, which I made myself without waiting for any of the many women in my household to do it, I got into watching a mega-match between Manchester United and Arsenal–big boy football. It was good, strong stuff, with little love lost between the sides, whose managers, had shown before that even big boys get upset with each other about their toys. Who can forget last year’s lightweight bout? 

“Push me? I’ll push you, first!”

But, sadly, I had to drag myself away from another series of that boys’ games, and get ready to play in a golf tournament: more men, with men and boys, being men, at the weekend. Well, there was a smattering of women, but thankfully not enough to change things much. 🙂

Women released from womanly duties for a little fresh air 🙂

The golf wasn’t my best, but after a lot of early morning rain near my house, though not at the course, my mind wasn’t really on the task. My good wife travels a lot and was home for another weekend, and I didn’t want to be out all day, ahead of another of her trips on Sunday. But, I couldn’t control my time, as I waited a lot during my round. After about 6 holes, I really felt time would be well spent just packing it in and heading home. My partner was of a similar mind, as we watched clouds roll in. But like good, strong men, we pressed on, and toughed it out. We got better on the back nine. We finsihed in just over four hours, which wasnt that bad, really.

I scooted off across town to meet a man, straight after my match. He had promised to fix the screen of my phone, which had dropped while I was carrying a prize for another golfer a few weeks ago. I got to his work place with plenty of time and sat, grabbing a typical Jamaican Saturday lunch of a hot patty and cocoa bread.

Jamaican Saturdays are about patties and cocoa bread 🙂

While I ate, we talked…about his job, and helping people. Funny that!

After he’d fixed my phone and I thanked him, I headed home. I saw group of mainly elderly men on the school field as I was leaving: they were playing frisbee (with a smattering of women). They were not of the sexy shapes to which I aspired, but they looked happy.

As I reached my house, my wife and daughter were headed out. Oh, well! So much for my thoughts. Anyway, the weekend is their time.

Plans for drinks with a friend got hastily cancelled, so I sat and caught up with the day. I joined a Twitter online chat about what it means to be a man, which used the #ManTalkJa hashtag. Some useful conversations were going on about what it means to be a man in Jamaica, a place where I think stereotypes and labels are the norm, and people don’t want to delve deeply into understanding social issues. Fittingly, this exercise was organized by one of our energetic youth movements.

I’m not going to try to define what it means to be a man; each person should do that for him or herself, and try to agree, especially if they are in a relationship. I do/have done lots of seemingly less-manly things:

  • I parent (not babysit);
  • I cook (not just egg and chips);
  • I cry (just put on a soppy film and see);
  • I wear pink a lot (it’s my wife’s favourite colour, she says);
  • I have tried to braid my daughter’s hair (not one of my best efforts, but I tried);
  • I try to look after my health (including going for my annual check up–and the prostate check is not fun, but important :();
  • I am ‘the husband of’, which I dislike as much as my wife being ‘the wife of’, and it’s often women who refer to us so :(.

I fight stereotypes like they are my sworn enemies. Women who grumble about my not opening doors for them, or always taking out the garbage, need to reread that manifesto about ‘equality’. My wife has her own bank account, about which I know nearly nothing other than its number, in case of need for transfers. I own property jointly with my wife, who thinks that all of it is hers 🙂

I have no sons, and am extremely happy about that.

It’s hard for me to know now how much of my views on manliness are just what I grew up with: my parents were always equal parts of my upbringing, with my father often the one at home, when my mother worked at nights; my father’s a great cook (thanks to him mother); my mother taught me to sew and wash clothes to avoid marrying a woman for the ‘wrong’ reasons).

I’m also the product of many experiences. One of my favourite stories is about how I sat with a prime minister for a long meeting, and he held my hand on his sofa for most of the two or so hours we talked. It’s part of the custom in Guinea that men kiss on greeting (blame the French), and hug, and touch each other as signs of trust. If I had pulled away, I think our conversation would have been very short.

I don’t think you can ‘tell’ a homosexual by what he wears, or how he speaks, or what he carries. Effeminate men are not homosexuals, automatically; burly men are not rock-solid heterosexuals. If you care that much, better to get the story straight from the ‘horse’, rathe than making the sly and snide assumptions–women, again, are awfully bad at doing that 😦

One of the great things about European life is the need to carry documents, and with that has developed the need for ‘man bags’ or pouches. It’s OK, guys! I prefer small, leather, to large cloth bags. After a while, bulging pockets are limiting.  When I used to tote my baby and toddler around on trips, my bag was an essential part of organizing our movements.Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 3.38.30 AM.png
I’m not going to take on here Jamaican (or Caribbean) notions of maleness, much of which strikes me as ‘forced conformism’. Maybe, I’ll work my way towards doing that for this time in 2017.