You told me, Miss Teacher, that I needed to be a man. But what kind of man did you want me to be? You mocked and humiliated me at six years old, because men play rugby, and I refused. Did you want me to be a humiliated man?
Maybe you wanted a man compliant, who would cram himself into your narrow ideal: A rugby playing man. Not the moffie* you named me in front of the kindergarten class.
Stop crying, you said. You can’t be a man if you cry. What kind of man would that be? A man who denies his sadness and his fears? A man ashamed of his own tears? A small man, emotionally stunted like the rest. Incapable of expressing anything but gruff stoicism, the unacknowledged suffering – even to himself – poisoning his life in so many unconscious ways.
Mr Teacher, you caned me when I did something you thought was wrong. Did you want me to grow up like you, with the view that beating a child is a good way to impress your views on him? I would check the welts and bruises to see how long they would stay. Up to three weeks I discovered. If a parent beat a child like that today, they would in court charged with child abuse, for assault. What would that teach me about being a man? That if we disagree on how things are done then physical violence is a good way to solve the dispute. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now, that your definition of manhood was narrow in the extreme. Physical power trumps all: in the classroom, on the rugby field. On the battlefield. Institutionalised violence started early back in the 1970’s.
And what of you Miss Teacher? You were very young and still a Miss. I wonder now what kind of man you chose to share your life with. I hope a man who is caring, a man who holds you when you cry, a man who can share his sadness and his fears; his tears. A man, I hope, who was strong enough to rise above the narrow band of being you tried to instil into the young boys in your care. A man who solves his disputes by listening and sharing, not shouting and beating. For if the latter is the case, you might be as miserable as I was when you and your kind tried to beat me into your constricted mould.
There was some value to all of this. I was able to take the bullying of army life: by suppressing who I was and what I felt and by keeping my thoughts in check. I’d learned to tough it out and take the pain, all the way to the battlefields and back again. Then I spent the rest of my life learning that I am much more than all that. That the beating, fighting, killing and pretending to be ok with it all kind of man is not the only way. There is a fuller, more whole kind of masculinity, I discovered, which requires me to be stronger, but in a different more compassionate way.
Replanted in the fertile soil of the freedom I created for myself, I grew beyond what Miss and Mr Teacher had in mind. In spite of you I grew into a man.
*Moffie – derogatory word similar to “queer”