I have a grief ritual that gets me through each week, more or less. Every Thursday, after my working day is done, I head to one of the excellent, loosely craft beer, pubs in Islington, buy a lonely pint and read a chunk of an interminable tome called ‘Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living Through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies’. It was kindly bought for me by my Stepmum in the absence of knowing what else one could do in the aftermath of my sister’s death last year.
The book itself isn’t so difficult as the fact that it allows me space to open a painful wound and allow some of the difficult feelings out. It’s a weird thing to feel all teary as others around me are going for post-work drinks, hot dates or cool-guy time, but something about the atmosphere allows me to blend in and feel unnoticed in ways that other places don’t. I’d never pull the book out on public transport (too performative), and I never feel able to bring it out at home (where I read books for pleasure). The third place of the pub is a genuinely safe space to read some difficult material. When I’ve finished the book, I’ll find something else that fits the topic, or I might write about it.
I said around the time that I would have the rest of my life to mourn her death and that still feels true. Events have conspired to ensure that I have an upcoming reminder. The process has been very slow and after the postmortem report was released to us, we found out that we have to attend an Inquest – which will take place on Wednesday. The Inquest is presented to us as a straightforward 30 minute appointment in a small town courtroom, during which time we have the opportunity to raise any questions we might have for the Police who attended the scene, the doctors who conducted the autopsy and her regular GP. The reality feels like it will be a great deal more monumental.
I chose to read the post-mortem report a few weeks ago during one of my allotted griefslots. It was a really bad call. I wasn’t prepared for the unpleasant details, that her body could be referred to as ‘it’. I hated reading the police description of the scene, reducing 30 years of her life to circumstantial details around the house. I hated the incomplete medical history – for all the connections that could have been made. I hated that this last official document to her life will have been a piece of begrudged paperwork for some of the contributors. I hate that it is a series of pieces of evidence to the fact that she is dead. Whilst I read this in the pub, I felt sick and wrong in the head. It turned out that this was something I should have read at home.
I feel a sense of dread about the impending Inquest. I worry about the consequences for my parents of having to relive that day and I worry about how bureaucratic the process might feel.
Having struggled for some time with feelings of inadequacy around my ability to be a man, I find myself strangely heartened to repeatedly hear that masculinity is in crisis. It’s an idea that the British press has grabbed hold of and continues to run with. Unfortunately, the consequences of this crisis are pretty terrible for men and the people who know men.
In typical fashion, we don’t tend to talk about our experience of being men and so I have started this blog in order to try to articulate some of my experiences. I have lots of opinions and I’d like to hear from other men so that we can understand each other, understand how to explain ourselves to others and ultimately attempt to find some sort of way out of aforementioned crisis.
Struggles I have faced:
- Anger – anger is a human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It can be harnessed to positive effect but it can also be extremely devastating. These feelings can lead to domestic violence, family annihilation and suicide. Not all men will go to those extremes but my sudden losses of temper frighten me.
- Money – the old model of masculinity has men as breadwinners, providing for their families. This is an ancient idea, harking back to the image of man as strong ‘hunter-gatherer’. My generation has struggled with student and consumer debt for some time and in certain fields, thanks to positive changes in the workplace, we can no longer expect to have as great a slice of the collective wealth, power and status. I find it hard being caught in-between the expectation to be a provider and the understanding that I should not expect to be one.
- Love – sexual politics is complicated and we receive mixed messages. Men need to be romantic, but they also need to have a bastard element (if they want to be attractive). We need to be ourselves but we need to be better. We need to be amazing at DIY and incredible lovers. We need to be there for our kids and do more housework, but we also feel the urge to provide for them.
- Communication – if there’s one thing that ties together all of these issues, for me it’s about communication. I frequently find it hard to tell people exactly what and how I feel, who I am and who I want to become. I think that an inability to communicate clearly leads to many of the struggles and issues that men face.
- Appearance – men aren’t supposed to care about their appearance but they’re also supposed to look like Rambo / Arnie / Ryans Gosling and Reynolds. It’s confusing. I’ve found myself worrying about my appearance and odour from time to time. I’ve recently lost weight and found myself preparing for a mud race. More about this next week.
- Faith – I grew up in the Church of England and have gone through Evangelical and Liberal phases, settling on an uncomfortable agnosticism that recognises many of the positive aspects of organised religion. I studied Religious and Theological studies at University, so it’s likely that some of these themes will come out in this blog.
- Friendship – I have a good number of friendships with other guys, but few of them are deep and involved. This I’d attribute to difficulties around communication on the whole, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. I’d like to explore the nature of male friendship.
- Role Models – who are the people that we should look up to in these times? Let’s try and find some role models that aren’t Chuck Norris cartoon archetypes and celebrate men who are doing it right.
It suffices to say that being a man in the early 21st century is confusing. I’m going to do my best to share some of my experiences, I hope that you will join in too.