28 June 2004

Being a man simply not easy

Another week of traffic jams, mindless TV, petrol prices drifting ever upwards and an inbox filled with spam. Surely there’s more to life?

Another week of traffic jams, mindless TV, petrol prices drifting ever upwards and an inbox filled with spam. Surely there’s more to life?

In Steve Biddulph’s book Manhood, there’s a cartoon that shows a sorry creature getting up and going to work. The dialogue is a poem which is just as meaningful without the pictures. Here it is: “When I awoke this morning, exhausted from my rest, a demon dark and terrible was sitting on my chest. He pinned me to the mattress and seized me by the head. He pressed his knees against my heart and overturned the bed.

“He dragged me to the mirror and showed me my disgrace, then took a razor in his claw and dragged it down my face. Some faded rags he bound around my shoulders and my hips and poured a cup of steaming muck between my faded lips.

“And then he took those wilted lips and in his evil style, he paralysed the corners up into a pleasant smile. A masterpiece in wickedness, this last sadistic joke, he sends me into the world, a smiling sort of bloke.”

So what's missing in your life?
It’s a grim sketch of the way many men feel about their lives. Happy enough, with a functional body and mind, they feel there’s still something missing. Even the most fulfilling of careers can hit a dull patch and even the best of times can seem like an existence, not a life. Remember these things:

Rest.We fritter away our evenings by watching mediocre stuff on TV “to unwind,” and go to sleep unfulfilled. You’re better off budgeting your TV time, reading something worthwhile and getting a good night’s sleep.

Believe in something. Research has shown that belief systems are good for you.

Keep learning.Even when you’re in less-than-ideal job, learning something new will keep you sane as well as saleable. Whether it’s Buddhism or support for Arsenal, find something that lights up your eyes.

Experience silence.Sailors will tell you that they can smell a big port from miles away after weeks at sea. If you’ve ever been in the Kruger National Park for a week, you’ll know that a big city smells. It’s also noisy. We’re so seldom without the white noise of traffic, computers, fridge motors, air conditioning and aircraft. Find time to leave it all behind. Spend time barefoot, alone and without cellphones, MP3 players and car stereos.

Make peace with your father. Many of us have “issues” with our parents and our fathers in particular. Sort it out. You might not be able to reconcile completely, but you can agree to disagree.

Give your best at work. Albert Camus wrote: “Without work, all life goes rotten. But when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” You can cheat on your time in the office, surfing the web, gaming or making paperclip chainmail. But inside you’ll have cheated yourself. It’s better to put in a good day’s work and go home tired. There are people who derive a sense of achievement from being slackers. The only people who admire them are other slackers.

Date your partner.You can have a lover who’s also your friend, wife and the mother of your kids, or you can have a stranger who’s linked to you by an arrangement of shared bank accounts, beds and home, but not lives. Make time to hang out with your spouse and have actual conversations, whether it’s while you’re hiking, working in a soup kitchen or just having a pizza.

Be a man. Biddulph writes: “You have to guard against ‘creepification’ – the temptation to choose power over women, rather than the risky and vulnerable path of meeting them as equals.” You can be what he calls a loveable dope, or hold your head high and let your spirit soar. (William Smook)



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