A thank you to the men in my life on International Men's Day
Growing into manhood is confusing and a little sketchy, don't you think? Despite my frequently unwise and dangerous behaviour as a youth, older men consistently had my back with a guiding hand and a voice of reason. I'd like to say thank you to a few of them because on November 19 it's International Men's Day, a day to celebrate men's contributions to our lives.
At 36, living without my children, and in a second career as a psychotherapist, it feels like there has been no shortage of pain in my life, but writing this has reminded me of the abundance of support we have around us at all times, if only we remember to notice.
Thank you to Roger Mansfield, the former British surfing champion, for teaching me to surf when you were going out with my mum. It changed my life. I was 10. You even did a video recording of me surfing to show me my technique.
Thank you to my best friend's dad, John Conway, RIP - the man credited for bringing the world surfing tour to Newquay and founder of Wavelength surfing magazine - for taking me seriously when I didn't take myself seriously, giving me advice about drugs - "it's always a trade-off, what you gain in one way you lose in another" - and being so good-natured about our horrible drunken behaviour in your house.
Thank you to the judge who stood up for me when I was 14. I'd been skateboarding down Falmouth Moor Hill on my Sector 9 skateboard when a traffic warden shouted, ran at me and fell, hurting her knee. She sued for damages in Truro Crown Court and I was petrified, but you told the woman: "You put yourself in Zac's way. Skateboarding is not a crime." Your attitude gave me a lifelong faith in our legal system, imperfect as it is.
Thank you to my father for maintaining a loving presence in my life and prioritising good relations with my mother even after having your heart broken when you lost regular contact with me from the age of four. Thank you for being steady and still supporting me in so many ways, especially in understanding business.
But also for your unstinting belief in me as someone innately good and with something to offer the world even when, at times, my confidence and self-worth has been very low.
Thank you to the male school teachers who saw through my cockiness and pressed the deputy head not to expel me after I committed an idiotic act of vandalism in the library.
Thank you to the officer who dealt with me at Falmouth Police Station. I was 17, drunk and stoned, and decided to drive to a beach party. I took my mum's car without permission or a licence. I got halfway, thought better of it and turned back, then crashed into a hedge. You held just the right tension between a reprimanding authority figure and a compassionate elder. I went to university a week later and started a new life, unplanned.
Thank you to my Uncle Steve and my Grandad for always being there as I grew up, just around the corner. You showed me how to fish (badly), bet on horses and stay up late to watch boxing matches, none of which I found very interesting, but it didn't matter. You made me feel like I belonged.
For persevering with a teen
Thank you to all the men who patiently endured my incompetence, unreliability and self-absorption in the jobs I had as a teen. I was so self-conscious, anxious and/or stoned that I struggled a lot, but you were always kind to me. I'm remembering the gentle South African handyman at the Falmouth Hotel. You were in your 70s. You took me under your wing and told me stories about your life on the road which inspired me to travel through Latin America for a year.
Thank you to my sisters' partners for welcoming me into their lives, cooking for me and encouraging me as I broke up with girlfriends, got too drunk, behaved selfishly, and made my way in London in my 20s. There was a place to crash at your houses and I knew that you got me in a way that my sisters couldn't.
Thank you to the men who trusted me more than I trusted myself by giving me responsibility when I began my career in newspapers. I was so nervous, I'd go between overwhelm and cockiness, but you held me steady so I could provide for my daughter.
Thank you to Ray, RIP. You were kind and supportive even though, aged 24, I got your daughter pregnant and left her. You made a permanent difference to the relationship I have with my daughter.
Thank you to my Grandpa, RIP, who died on October 17, aged 93, for your confidence in me and for making me laugh. Thank you to SN Goenka, RIP, who taught me how to meditate, and to Chad Varah, RIP, who founded the Samaritans, which changed my life. Thank you to the GP who told me I was depressed and what to do about it. Thank you to Kevin, my counselling teacher, who encouraged me to explore masculinity and called me out on my mean behaviour.
Thank you to the man I saw removing the mud and moss out of the crevices between the pavement and the curb on my road. To the men who collect my rubbish every Monday morning in all weather, and the men who keep my water and electricity working. Thank you to the men who built the building I live in, the car I drive, the phone and laptop I use, the wetsuit I wear and the surfboards I ride.
Maybe today you can remember how much the men in your life have done for you, or the positive impact you could be having in someone else's life. If you're struggling with anxiety or depression, connecting with other men can help. During lockdown, you can attend groups or one to one sessions online.
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