One day, my father sat me down and said, “Son, there are 10 things you gotta know about being a man, and I’m gonna tell ‘em to you now.
1. Be A Real Man. One of them salt-o’-the-earth types.
2. Never fail your friends.
3. Never break your word.
4. Never lie.
5. Never mistreat your loved ones.
6. Honour your parents.
7. Protect your family.
8. Always be strong & successful.
9. Be generous with your wisdom.
10. Fix what’s broken.”
Not a bad list, right? Well, it got me thinking about what I would tell my own son, what advice I would give him, so I came up with ten of my own.
1. Know this: you will never be a Man. At least, not if I have anything to do with it. Men are fictional characters that think and react in a carefully conditioned fashion – they are as thin as paper and as easily torn. They are masks worn by little boys afraid of their title, of the letters next to their name. If you are to have a type, forget salt and dirt; look to the stars from which you were born.
2. You will fail your friends. You will fall. This is as tragic as it is inescapable but failing and falling are not the end of the world. You can’t be everywhere at once, and neither can they – we each have our burdens to carry. And that’s okay, though sometimes you will have to part ways. Accept it, and move on, there are always more friends to make and you never know when you might meet again.
3. This is a hard one – in a lot of ways the hardest. Understand that you are made of clay, not bronze or stone or steel. You are malleable. Your words, not so much. Be careful of wedding them to cement because there will come a time when you have to tear up the pavement to undo them, and trust me when I say, your hands will bleed.
4. There are a hundred, a thousand, a million different kinds of truths. Some of them will eat at you, will gnaw your insides until you are just hollowed bones. Some of them will weigh on your shoulders until your muscles ache, and that’s all right, it’s not meant to be easy. Some truths are like molten flame, not to be touched, let alone shared. You will learn to know the difference, to know when and where and to whom you should illuminate. This knowledge will come from bitter experience; treasure those scars.
5. If I could carry your mother or other-father in my ribcage and forever shelter them from harm, from my own temper or arrogance or impatience, I swear to you I would. I’d give them the warmth of my blood, and the comfort of my skin, I’d do this in a heartbeat. But I can’t. My lovers are not egg-shells to drop and shatter at a clumsy touch, and even as I bear the bruises of their contempt, their neglect, their shouted words, so too will they bear mine, but love is more than scars. It’s a history of shared breaths, of intimacy woven in blood and guts, that accepts the pain along with the pleasure, the ugliness along with the beauty.
6. I would hope by now that you’ve come to respect your parents, but I recognise that is optimistic at best. It takes a long time to recognise your parents are more than just your parents, that they had lives before you, they had loves before you, a whole history of lessons and heartbreaks that shaped them into who they are – a collection of fault lines in the earth. All I ask is that you listen before you act, because your decisions must be yours and yours alone. The consequences, too.
7. At some stage, you may want to have a family of your own and when you do, you’ll realise that you are a phoenix: willing to die and rise again in flames for those you love. You’ll burn so bright, the sun will seem but a distant spark, a contemptible candle – you’ll feel so mighty, you’ll welcome any fight just to prove yourself. None of which will matter. As with friends, so with family. Bruises will bloom. Accidents will happen. Do your best, but know your limits.
8. Some people would have you believe that you must be strong. Must be tempered metal, must be infallible & unmoving. You mustn’t be anything but yourself & success can be measured in a multitude of ways, not a single one of which has to do with money. Chase your dreams, not your bank account, and you will be well on your way.
9. Be generous with your wisdom, so long as you recognise that you are not wise, and the sum of what you don’t know could fill oceans. I want you to always strive to learn more, to study, but never at the cost of actually living, of doing, and exploring the world around you. A day of laughter is every bit as important as a day of learning.
10. Some things can’t be fixed, no matter how hard you try, or how long you strain. This is what I know to be true but maybe you’ll feel differently, and if you do, that’s okay, because the final step is knowing there are no steps. There are countless beaten paths in these woods and I have thrashed my way through only one. I encourage you to find the others, to make your own way, and learn your own truths so that maybe one day, you can look back and see the path you’ve carved with sign posts pointing the way. Give the map to your son with X marking the spot or not, that’s for you to say. Me, all I have of value are these worn out words, these old truths, these secret flames – if they provide even the smallest light, the tiniest measure of warmth, I will have done my job.
NB: I don’t actually have a son. This is for everyone.