The guys in my family are all decent men. Both blood and -in-law. I can’t think of anyone who would make me hang my head in shame. I wondered this weekend if Maurice Saatchi felt the same way about his brother Charles. Maurice knows that grabbing a woman around the throat is not a demonstration of a ‘playful tiff’. Did he call his brother and ask: “What the fuck, Charles?” Or did he let it go. I know that if one of my brothers had been caught doing something like that, they would have expected my call.
My uncle Gary – who is a good sort and much-loved by me is fighting leukemia. He has been enduring a monthly soak in poisonous drugs that have left him tired, weak, thin as a rail and anxious. My father, Roy, who is also a good sort and very much-loved by me has been confronting his own sadness: he feels displaced and lost in his new retirement village situation. And has been dealing with that in a way that doesn’t really help matters. These two men grew up together – they are each other’s only brother – and they share parents and siblings. Their lives just now couldn’t be more different. The one similarity being – both are battling.
Gipps got some bad news the other day – in addition to the “blerry cancer” as he calls it – a new threat has invaded his bone marrow. And the chemo-treatment for that would be fatal. The doctor was about to go off on holiday and saw this as being the perfect opportunity for my uncle to get in shape for the next round of treatment. Whatever that may be – an experimental, ferocious but successful import from America, apparently. My uncle could gather his reserves, put on a bit of weight and gird his spirits for the next round. And, yes, visitors would be good in this regard. So my dad flew off to Port Elizabeth to see him.
I was a bit nervous – what if each sadness fed the other? To see a sibling sick is to see yourself. How would my dad deal with it? How would Gary deal with Dad’s palpable air of unhappiness?
Men are often portrayed as being less emotional than women. I don’t think this is necessarily true. It’s a question of immersion – men don’t need to watch rom-coms to prove their feelings are valid. I have two most excellent brothers. Both are pretty sanguine about life – taking it as it lays. When they do want to ‘talk about their feelings’, they will. But only for as long as they want to.
Mark is very much an “am I bovvered tho?” kind of guy – unless it really matters – then he will be very ‘bovvered’. He will take what is said and think it over … returning with a new mind-set but with no further conversation. Chris will mull over things until he is ready to talk or seek an opinion. Then he will discuss – and ask for comment or criticism which he usually takes very well. We are very frank with each other – and I know that I would want them near me if I was sick. Not least to make me laugh. I hoped the same would apply with the two older Wildish men.
Gary and Roy did just fine. They yukked it up – remembering all the nonsense they got up to in the past. Dad drew on all he has ever learned as a motivator of men and got his brother off the sofa and out of pajamas. One morning he reported that Gary was in the car drinking his first (beloved) cappuccino in months; while my father shopped the mall for a track-suit to replace those PJs. I loved this image of them – thoroughly modern men, both in their seventies. Gary reported doing laps around the living room as part of his new ‘brother-imposed’ fitness regime. Roy said he loved their chats – memories retold with bullshit and brio by both. Gary belly-laughed – for the first time in a long time.
Both reported that they had made a plan together: and they were going to get ‘fighting fit’. The visit gave them joy. It confirmed their connection to each other – but also reminded them of who they are as men, of their provenance in the wider world.
My dad came back from seeing his brother a changed man – he was energised and happy. He had a lilt in his voice and knew he had made a difference. Gary loved having his brother close – they didn’t dig down into the awfulness of the cancer – instead they looked up and out and worked together as they had as boys. My uncle loved that my father took charge and my father loved that he could. They thoroughly enjoyed their week together.
I can’t put my finger on why I wanted to write this. Perhaps it is because I love both of these men and have had them in my life for all of my life. Perhaps it is because I needed to know that they are still connected. Which means the family is still connected. Perhaps it is that I hope that my nephew Jasper has enough great male role-models to teach him the things women can’t. Like that he should never harm a woman. Like my grandpa taught those two brothers. And they taught their sons.
I hope that if Jasper passes that information on to even one more boy, and that boy passes it on to another and so it goes … we may stop this epidemic of violence against women. That someone would step forward and stop a Charles Saatchi from strangling his wife in public.
Because as much as we may tell boys how to behave – a boy needs a man he respects, to show him.