What makes a man?

28 Dec

I was talking with a young man recently and he suggested that “Present times are much better now than they have ever been”. I asked him whether high youth unemployment in this country, widespread civil war in the Middle East, and Global Warming constituted ‘better times’. He had no cogent answer. Thirty years ago I would have called him an idiot and scorned his naivety. Now I am a little gentler.

It got me thinking about what qualities make a man. Is it strength, or bravery? Is it wit and wisdom? Can we become men by emulating our fathers or our heroes?

Here I am in 1959 with my dad outside my grandmother’s flat in Den Haag, Holland. Whilst the pants are hilarious the picture is a nice illustration of my dad demonstrating manhood. Let’s face it you have to have some bottle hanging out with a kid dressed in a preposterous set of bloomers like these.


I look happy enough though!

Many many years later, the same man put his hand on my knee in the locked ward of a Psychiatric Hospital and said “Steady on son”. It was one of the few things that got through the serious manic episode I endured back in September 2001. In the 50 plus years that have passed since he played with me as an infant to now he has fathered three other sons and a daughter.

Those sons have each produced children:

The youngest, has recently become a dad for the second time to a daughter:


The next eldest has also become a dad to a daughter Down Under:


The next, has two lovely children – here he is with his eldest, a daughter


and here I am giving mine away…


We all share more than genes with him….

Which brings me back to my question ‘what makes a man’? I think that those we love unconditionally make us men. Not strength or bravery, wit or wisdom. My dad loved me in the depths of a serious mental illness and helped to pull me out, he didn’t just play ball. My brothers are fine fathers all, they love their children unconditionally, may they reach out as he has done.

I am not arguing that a bloke has to become a father to attain manhood, lots of men have fatherly qualities. But not many young ones.

I remember when my daughter was born. I was 24 years old sitting in a cafe with her in a sling on a sunny autumn day at a busy cafe in Manchester. I was wearing a crisp white shirt and new jeans, as proud as a peacock. A couple of tables away a father of three children was observing us. All of a sudden, my infant daughter produced a gigantic poop which oozed out of the front of her terry nappy, all over my shirt. The bloke caught my eye and just nodded sagely.

That knowing ability to put up with crap, like the proposition that was put to me the other day, and not react to provocation is a the true mark of a man. May I endeavour to cleave to this precept.

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