Since as far back as I can remember, one of my favourite topics of conversation has been ‘men’. From passing notes about boys in school to giggling with the girls about guys to relatives asking when I was going to find the right man to marry. My relationship with men has had it’s highs and lows. I have gone through boy mad phases and long periods when I’ve wanted nothing to do with them.
The other day my husband was busy mending something and had his toolbox open. It was overflowing with all types of tools. I thought back to when I first met him; he didn’t even own a screwdriver. In a short period of time he’d acquired a mass of tools to fix any type of problem. It made me think how much this man had grown from a boyfriend who used to leap onto night buses with me, sleep till noon and enjoy lazy brunches, to a husband and father who’s main focus is protecting and providing for our family. It made me stop to appreciate what an amazing job he does and my thoughts turned to the men who take on this role. It is not easy. It gave me a new perspective on men, because I’ve not always thought so highly of them.
I banned boys from my fifth birthday party and aged nine announced I was allergic to them, specifically the loud, boisterous ones that were eager to show off their private bits and ‘accidentally’ trip up in the playground to look up girls’ skirts. Unfortunately around this time I developed a crush on a boy in the year above. So new and intense was this feeling, that under a mad haze of euphoria, with my stomach feeling like it was under the attack of a million butterflies, I asked him out. He mumbled something about me being too young and delivered my first painfully brutal rejection that no amount of Walkman rewinds of Kylie and Jason’s Tears on My Pillow could soothe.
After my 11+ I was carted off to an all girls boarding school. At last, no boys! This should have been my idea of heaven. Within the first few weeks the gossip about why the science lab was short on test tubes had completely grossed me out and the expectation to sit around braiding each others hair was just a bit weird. As soon as I was in, I wanted out. Suddenly all I could think about was boys. Boys. Boys. Boys. The boys were on the other side of the school wall. I became good at climbing walls. I just thought they were so cool, I liked the way they made playing pool look easy, I was entranced by their heated competitiveness when kicking a football in the park and the way they started nudging each other, then pushing, then hooking an arm over each others necks.
By fifteen I was a mature, sophisticated woman. A woman who, from photographic evidence, was taking makeup lessons from a drunk clown. I was never impressed or interested in boys and their cars, I was always more about boys who would put their jackets over my shoulders when it was cold and pretend they knew something about astronomy.
By twenty I was completely disillusioned with men and stuck between a highly addictive, unstable relationship and a world of clubbing where some of men’s worst traits were revealed under the mask of alcohol. During this time I began to lose respect for men. Sometimes a girl did just want to dance without some bloke grinding up behind her. Some men seemed to lack any control of their hands, especially when a girl’s outfit included a skirt. Some men didn’t come to dance, they just stared. Some were solitary, prowling around the edges of the dance floor waiting to corner the girls who looked the most drunk. I watched men as they watched girls. I saw how worthless some saw women, how they thought the cost of a cheap drink bought their time. I heard the conversations of groups of men and the derogatory words and phrases they used. Then, after a particularly heavy night out, I watched dawn break and proclaimed that all men were pigs.
It was the new millennium and in the moments of life between the sounds of Kelis’ Caught Out There, TLC’s No Scrubs and Destiny’s Child Independent Woman, I saw men as weak, pathetic beings who at the flash of a purposely exposed Wonderbra cleavage turned into idiotic docile dogs.
Over the next few years I phased out men and began an amazing period of my life where I was back to being just me. No boyfriends, no dates, no men, nothing. I went to the cinema on my own a lot and always felt a thrill asking for a ticket for one and particularly enjoyed having the armrest to myself. It was a magical time in my life and one of necessary self discovery. I knew I didn’t want to cut men out of my life indefinitely but I took a step back and promised myself that if a man came along, he really had to knock me off my feet.
As I was living this new and wonderfully uncomplicated existence I was asked out a few times. I would instantly dismiss men on the most superficial level, too cocky, too fat, too short, too tall, too rude, too bald. Too many teeth, not enough teeth, awful jacket, bad shoes, too creepy, too nice. I once turned down a date just because the guy was a doctor, he fell under the category ‘too boring’. My conversations with men were very brief until the day I agreed to meet a man who I hadn’t been able to come up with any negative adjectives for. We had a ten hour non stop conversation. He felt like home. In a few short weeks I was happily sharing the armrest.
In the 4 years we’ve been married I’ve seen this man step up to the role of husband and father. Provide for my every need. Support me through huge transitions, the best times and some of the worst times. He’s never failed to take my calls at his desk when I’ve been in tears because I just can’t handle another toddler tantrum. I’ve seen a man nod sympathetically when I have gone on another pregnancy hormone fueled tirade and pretend to understand why such a trivial matter has turned my world upside down.
I could not have got through the births of our children without the safety and reassurance he provided. I have seen him work harder than ever before to put a warm, safe roof over our heads. I’ve seen a man that leaves at the crack of dawn, deals with the demands of work and comes home to be grunted at by a frazzled wreck that barely resembles the woman he married and on seeing that her day may not have been filled with breezy play dates tells her to put her feet up while he does bathtime. I’ve seen a man who had the exact same expression on his face as his newborn daughter the moment she let out her first cry. I’ve seen the lightening speed at which our daughters race to the front door the second they hear the key in the latch. I’ve witnessed a special kind of love that only exists between a father and his child. I’ve seen a man who just makes everything easy for us.
I was probably one of the toughest nuts to crack, it terrified me and went completely against my independent nature to allow him to take the reigns of both our lives but in doing so and seeing him build us a life and home has allowed me to experience and, much to my surprise, actually enjoy a side of my womanhood that I never knew existed in me. No one could be more surprised than me that I find such joy in spending my days with our children. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to immerse myself wholeheartedly into motherhood during these precious years. Every day feels like he’s taking his jacket off to put on my shoulders.
Now I am 34 and I think sometimes men don’t get the recognition they deserve as husbands and fathers. It’s such an important role and equally as hard as that of wife and mother. So much more focus seems to be on babies and mothers at the beginning of family life. My husband gave me my most treasured piece of parenting advice just before our first baby was born, he highlighted the fact that we would both be new to parenting and neither of us would have all the answers. We would have to work together. This really stayed with me and it made me recognise and tame my inner motherly control freak that wanted to do everything my way. Every decision made in caring for our children, however minor, has been a joint one.
This week he called me over to our 5 month old daughter and said “watch this”. He clapped his hands and to my astonishment she clapped hers! I asked him to do it again. He did. Then she did. I was astonished because at the moment my daily playtime routine with our youngest is tummy time with toys and mostly me making silly faces and talking or singing to her. This baby and I are together all the time and I hadn’t picked up on her readiness for the next stage of development but my husband, through weeks of working late nights, video calls and weekends busy decorating had brought out this incredible moment.
Some weekends I see fathers with newborns doing laps of the park. It makes me smile because I always think, somewhere indoors, there is probably a shattered mum with her feet up enjoying a cup of tea that’s actually hot. These men are marvellous.