We all know what’s wrong with men. Let’s be honest, the media, and politics, and sport, and business, and entertainment, and just about any other field you can think of are not currently awash with great examples of non-toxic masculinity.
At times it feels like we could probably cancel the whole ‘male’ project and start from scratch and nobody would mind too much.
But what if you are a man, and you’re a father, and you’re responsible for raising men?
This is where I lift my hand, like they do at the meetings, and say “my name is Owen, and I’m a Dad.”
I like Dads. I trust them (as much as I trust anyone – I am a man, after all). They make me laugh. It’s an exhausted, desperate kind of laugh, yes, but as Dads we’re used to taking what we can get. And as a Dad, and friend of Dads, and Dad of two potential, future Dads, I wrote a book.
It started by accident: with me trying to define all the things I needed to teach my sons about, in order to help them grow up into happy, decent, well-rounded human beings (who will hopefully look after me in my old age one day).
Things like relationships, and work, and money, and women, and sex. And sport, and war, and crime, and violence. And philosophy, and heartbreak, and drinking, and art. And friendship, and food, and The Fifteen Foolproof Approaches to Making Someone Fall in Love with You.
And women, again, just in case.
Not to mention the really important subjects like pirates, and Vikings, and the world’s most dangerous spiders, and what happens when you get struck by lightning, and ghosts, and the abominable snowman, and video games, and the big bang, and haunted houses, and the extinction of the dinosaurs, and Martians, and teenage girls, and the crucial differences between zombies, vampires and werewolves.
But a funny thing happened when I started writing about all these things. I found, by accident, that I was starting to write about how I felt about being a father.
About the terror and the magic and the ridiculousness and the terror and the joy and the terror of being responsible for raising these new human beings. These new men! And about being a man and a life-partner-slash-common-law-husband, and about pregnancy and childbirth and loss, and about getting older, and about how I feel about my own father, and how he must have felt about his father, and so on and so on and so on.
Somehow, it turned out, I’d tricked myself into writing about my feelings – feelings that, in some cases, I didn’t even know I had (because I am a man, after all).
So, in a way, I feel like I’ve written a self-help book – except it’s a self-help book that probably won’t help. I don’t have any answers. Any Dad who tells you that they’ve got this stuff all worked out is likely a charlatan, and is possibly only pretending to have kids to impress women.
Because nobody, really, knows how to do this. We’re all making it up as we go.
Some of us are looking to our own fathers and trying to be as good as/ better than/ exactly the same as/ completely different to the way they were. Some of us look to our mothers, or our partners, or our friends. Some of us don’t have any examples to follow/ reject at all.
And sometimes it’s a bit of everything. Because, whether we like it or not, we’re in the business of inventing the future.
All I can offer is solidarity. And, hopefully, some exhausted, desperate laughs.
Because we’re all in this together, Dads.
What We’re Teaching Our Sons is out now.