Growing up, I was never taught much about becoming a ‘man’.
At school, the girls were ushered into a separate classroom most weeks to talk about their changing bodies and impending womanhood. But us young fellas were only ever thrown into the gym ad-hoc to talk awkwardly with our sports teacher about deodorant and erections. It was never about becoming a better bloke: emotions, relationship, masculinity or being a good mate – just to name a few characteristics.
So, looking back, it’s no surprise that adolescence caught me off guard.
Before I could even get my head around what was happening, it arrived. My brain shifted gears and things started to grow, drop and shrink. But it wasn’t just physical: the simplicity of being a young kid quickly disintegrated, and questions around alcohol, drugs and relationships appeared.
On episode thirteen of Mamamia, I spoke about how influential Sam de Brito’s work has been in the construction of my identity.
The reason: I believe that de Brito is one of the very few Australian men who is prepared to tackle our blokey culture that’s renowned for men burying their blues in beer. Emotions? Piss off. Depression? Nope. Fight with a mate? She’ll be right.
de Brito is having the conversations about manhood that we all should have had at fifteen. He is a writer who’s educating the next generation of Australian men about how to become better blokes by confronting and discussing life’s realities. In two of his most recent novels, The Lost Boys and Hello Darkness, we follow the Australian everyman Ned Jelli. It’s a painfully honest narrative of mateship, love and family that showcases the numerous black holes boys can fall into when becoming men.
(Parents: if your son’s over fifteen, buy The Lost Boys for them. If money’s tight, get your local library to stock it. Once they’ve finished, it’s your turn. Get past the swear words and get caught up in the content. If this is the first and last book you can get your hormonal time bomb of a teenager to sit down and read, they’ll be all the better for it.)
But why did it take a book to teach me a range of fundamental lessons?
Most fathers of men from Generation Y come from a world where the words depression and alcoholism were best left unsaid. Acknowledging either of them would be admitting to weakness, and for any man of that era, that would be the ultimate sin. Talking about emotions isn’t often their strong point either.
And mums? Well they’re the closest things we have to a free counselor. But we (read: me) often only realise this after the adolescence bump. For most of our teenage years, mums are just a relentless ball and chain tied around our feet constantly pulling us back to reality with questions about what we’re doing, where we’re going and why. We hear it, we absorb it, but we ignore it. We shouldn’t.
Growing up, de Brito’s was a voice that I’d never heard before. It was one big refreshing and exciting slap in the face. I learned that blokes don’t have to speak in short grunts, and sharing emotional and complex perspectives doesn’t threaten your masculinity.
We read about the rise in binge drinking and party drugs in Generation Y. In my experience the reason is simple: some blokes just want to escape their own realities. I believe that over generations Australian men have been encouraged to become more open, but then not taught about how to deal with our own internal dialogue.
So, when it gets too hard and you want it to shut up, some smother it in amphetamines and alcohol – a vicious and dangerous cycle. Many others fall into a spiral of depression.
This is an easily avoidable reality, with a simple solution.
Young men need to be taught about depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and relationships from a young age. It can’t be just one school lesson and a homework worksheet, all in order to tick off a few compliance boxes.
We need to have these ‘big issue’ conversations every day of their lives: at home, at school, at the playground and then inevitably at the pub. And we need to be taught about the tools that prevent, diagnose and assist in the recovery of these common illnesses.
We need to know all these things because it’s likely that someone you know – your mate, your brother, your son, or your partner – will experience at least one of these scenarios.
When it happens, we need to be prepared and know how to help each other and ourselves.
Some will have read up to this point and be screaming ‘first world problem’; they’ll claim ‘look, another inner-city white fella is winging about how hard life is.’ Well guess what? The failure to have these honest conversation about manhood has the potential to affect every bloke, mother, sister, and lover in this country – regardless of where they’re from, who they are or what they do.
So, the next time you’re sitting down with a young bloke that’s in your life, ask him the tough questions and help prepare him for manhood.
His reaction to your honesty might surprise you.
Here’s the clip of Sean talking about this subject, with Sam on the panel of Mamamia:
Where did you learn what you needed to learn about love, life and relationships?