Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!
Five Things I’ve Learnt from Other Men
1. The Way of the Grill
I’de never really bothered much with barbecuing until I met my father in law. It seemed like an awful lot of faff for some charred sausages. When I first met my wife I’d ride my motorcycle down to my in laws on a Saturday and on the Saturday evening we’d sit in the garden whiling away the July evening sunshine while we slowly grilled food and drank wine.
I don’t drink these days but I still hold on to the idea of food as a great social event. Rather than sitting down, eating and then leaving, the notion of relaxing together, eating slowly and chatting has stayed with me and remained a pleasure throughout my life. Score one to Peter for that one.
2. The Way of the Bicycle
I was 26 when I joined a new employer on a small site without a gym. I realised I should probably do some exercise or I’d go to seed before I was 30. I was a bit stuck until this chap called Tony turned up. Tony was mad keen on bikes, so keen he’d go for a short ride at lunchtime every day. I started joining him and I’ve loved the bike ever since. We weren’t lycra louts, we didn’t bomb down mountain sides, we just found some nice quiet back roads and a way to enjoy them in our lunch break. It was cycling as people know it in the Netherlands and the love for it has never left me. I’m just hanging out for the time when I can take the kids out with me as well.
3. The Last 10%
To this day, the most intelligent man I have ever known was a man called Mark Chapman. I knew Mark at university and he was extreme in every way, he was also someone I considered a best friend at the time. One of my most enduring memories of Mark is from a revision evening in our first year. We’d all spent the night in the kitchen trying to get our heads around the Mechanics of Solids, we knew this would be the toughest exam. We worked together until late but by the end of the session we knew it pretty well.
I couldn’t sleep that night and stayed up reading. On leaving my room I saw a light coming from Mark’s doorway. I went in and saw him hunched over his books. ‘Mark, why are you still at it? You know you’re going to pass I asked, his response was ‘I know, but I want to get a first’. I learned two things in that moment, first, to get that extra 10% and excel you have to be prepared to go all the way, second, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, to be successful you have to work hard. Mark isn’t with us any more, but I remember that moment with crystal clarity and he lives on in it.
4. How to be Kind
Most people who know me would say I’m direct, blunt even. In some circumstances this can be an asset, in other circumstances a positive hinderance. I never really knew how to be kind, it wasn’t that I didn’t see the need for it, just that I wasn’t good at understanding how my actions could make others feel. My son changed that. Logan is a very kind young man. Whether it be looking after his younger sister or helping his mum, the quality in him that shines the most is his capacity for kindness. In seeing him I saw how admirable it is to be kind to people and I have sought to do the same in my own life. I’m not great at it if I’m honest but I get better the more time I spend with Logan.
5. Those Darn Feelings
I had a mentor some years back who really helped me make some big changes in my life. I was in a very unhappy place and that was, at least in part, due to the fact that I refused to acknowledge that I had feelings and that these needed to be dealt with. The net result was that the feelings came out but in an uncontrolled and inappropriate way, which made me unpleasant to live with and be around. My mentor taught me that feelings are inevitable and that the notion they could be ignored was incorrect. I learned that by acknowledging what I felt and dealing with it in an appropriate manner I could avoid outbursts of unwanted emotion and, in effect, be less of a pain in the neck to those around me.
We hear a lot today about toxic masculinity, not least that the most common cause of death for men under 40 is suicide, I wonder if things could be different if all men had a mentor like I did and could learn that emotion is inevitable and must be managed.