International Men’s Day: Talking about Masculinity, Childhood, and Male Role Models
Disclaimer: All names have been changed to maintain confidentiality
Today I am writing a blog to recognise International Men’s Day. To be honest, if I wasn’t writing this blog, I wouldn’t have known. International Men’s Day in the UK is on 19th November every year. This year’s International Men’s Day (in the UK) has been split into three core themes:
- Making a positive difference to the wellbeing and lives of men and boys
- Raising awareness and/or funds for charities supporting men and boys wellbeing
- Promoting a positive conversation about men, manhood and masculinity
I wanted to focus on the last point for this blog.
Men and childhood
I am a man who has suffered with mental health issues since my teenage years. I have always found it difficult to be in my own skin. When I was very young, I use to knock about with some boys my own age, who lived around the same block.
My best friend was one of these, his name was Rob. He was so cool, everything I wasn’t. Everyone wanted to be friends with him in infant and primary school. To me, he was like Fonzie: when he entered the room, everyone stopped and looked. In school he was the leader. I felt comfortable when around him and also felt protected.
Things changed when we went to secondary school. He was no longer the centre of attention, he was a small cog in a large school. Well if Rob felt like this, how was I going to feel? I felt small like a snail!
At this point I am going to admit, secondary school was not fun for me. It was a period of ‘unknown’, trying to find who I was. For me, kids in secondary school were not forgiving and were spiteful. On top of this, I would have to deal with body changes. I remember waking up one day and had a sore throat for two weeks, once this went, I had developed a deeper voice. This was concerning to me, as any funny changes would be picked up by other school mates.
My first experience of anxiety
During this period, I still hung around with Rob. I still felt he was such a great person. He made friends with the class bully who I didn’t like. His name was Kevin and he loved to find someone’s insecurity and use it against them. Rob told him a couple of things that I didn’t want other people to know – especially Kevin. This was my first experience of anxiety at around 12 years old. I felt that every time Kevin saw me, it would be a reminder of the stories Rob had told. To me, I felt like I was in a trap and I couldn’t win – if I stayed in, I missed out. If I went out and Kevin saw me and said something, it would be my fault. So as you can tell, secondary school was a difficult period of my life.
What would have helped me in this period? Speaking to others? Having a forum to talk about my worries. We all have to go through these stages of transferring from a child to a teenager and then an adult. I believe having therapists and counsellors at school is a great idea and also mental health charities supporting young children and families.
I didn’t feel more comfortable in my skin until I met my first and only girlfriend called Amanda at 20 years old (she is now my wife). I met her whilst we both worked at Marks and Spencer. She had to make all the moves because I didn’t want to face rejection. Eventually Amanda had to directly tell me to my face that she like me after I ignored all the obvious signs, and we went on a number of dates. I was so anxious, terrified I was going to mess things up. But somehow I never did. Amanda was different, she was caring and considerate. Being able to talk to her about my feelings made a huge difference to my life.
I wanted to share my journey from child to adult with you today to show I am no longer that 12 year old who would hide if he saw Rob. I am an adult now and I am not scared. I just wish the younger me had realised earlier than 20 years of age, that all of this was not the end of the world. My 2 best friends are from primary and secondary school so I can’t be too bad! I wish I had talked to these friends when I had insecurities. I wish I had reached out to my older brother to look back on his experiences of school, or to my Dad.
Male role models
One of the purposes of International Men’s day is celebrating male role models. For me, my dad is my role model. He is the most wonderful person in my life (as well as my Mum and Amanda) and if I was half the dad he is, I would be chuffed.
I suffered from Dyslexia and my dad would come home from work and would sit with me to write essays. If I had overslept from a night out, he would give me a lift to work?
Try to cherish these moments. I use to love going to my pub in my teens with my dad and brother. We would play pool and then my dad would treat us all to cheeky bag of chips with only the one stipulation, that we kept this activity secret from my mum! Now my Dad is older it is my turn to start looking out for him!
I was thinking of ways to end this blog and I think put simply, lets talk to others. I have made mistakes in my life and I feel If I had spoken out at the time, I wouldn’t have as many issues as I now have as an adult.
Thank you for taking your time reading this blog – please find below some useful links to charities and further resources.
By Peter Flexman
HFEH Mind Volunteer
Check out all our adult services for advice and support with your mental health.
Posted on: 19th November 2021