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Secret Men's Business (extract)

by John Marsden


The Big Gig

Becoming a man is the biggest challenge you’ll ever have.

There are 12 things you need to do if you are to reach manhood.

Of course in one way all you have to do to become a man is to stay alive. Physically you will grow into a man.

As you reach different birthdays you’ll be given some of the ‘tickets’ of adulthood, whether you’re ready or not.

So, at 18 you’ll be allowed to drink alcohol, even if you have an emotional age of six. You’ll be able to vote at 18, even if you think Humphrey B. Bear is President of the U.S.A. and Canberra is a brand of salami.

You’ll be allowed to go to R-rated films, although your ideas of sex might be based on what you’ve read on toilet walls, and you think violence is a good way to communicate with other people. After a few tests you’ll be able to drive a car, even if you are vicious and irresponsible.

But to become a man who is mature, independent, responsible and wise you’ll need to do a little more than just stay alive and have birthdays.

It’s worth going for it though. There are a lot of good things about being a man, including.

One of the reasons it’s difficult to become a man is that you are encouraged in so many ways to remain immature. Schools, and some parents, want to keep you as a child. They feel you will be easier to control if you are still a child, that you will be more ‘biddable’ (more likely to do what you’re told). They might not want to acknowledge the fact that you are now sexually potent. Your father may have been the only sexually potent male in the house up until now, and he could feel threatened.

One of the ways this might show is by his teasing you about girls, or about your first dates. It is cruel to tease you about something you probably already feel anxious about, but it shows that he’s got mixed feelings about your maturing.

He may even flirt with your girlfriend or show too much curiosity about your activities with girls. This is not appropriate, nor is it helpful. You will need to show more dignity and maturity than him in this situation, and maybe arrange your life so you have more privacy.

On the other hand your father may feel proud of the new stage you have reached, and pleased that your relationship with him is on a new and more mature level. Many men are more comfortable with their sons when they can talk on a more equal level.

In this situation if he teases you occasionally, you know it’s part of the affectionate relationship you have. You’ll probably give as good as you get.

Your mother could be nervous that there is now another sexually potent male in the house, and she may try to keep you as her ‘little boy’ for a while longer, so she can keep mothering you. In this situation she wants to deny your growth. This is not in your best long-term interests.

On the other hand she could be delighted by your new-found independence and maturity She might be pleased by the fact that she can now have more time to follow her own interests.

Another reason it can be difficult to become a man is that you are yourself nervous of growing up. If you have a loving mother and/or father, leaving their constant care and protection can be hard. Having to take on adult concerns and responsibilities mightn’t appear like too good a gig.

Adults always look so worried. They complain loudly and often of how tough it is to be an adult, with job worries, mortgage repayments, relationship difficulties. They tell you how easy it is for kids. Their eyes mist over as they recall the magical stress-free days of their childhood, the ‘happiest days of their life’.

They have short memories.

I talked to a group of Year 10 students once about these issues. I was surprised at the large number who said they were in no hurry to grow up; that from where they stood, adult life didn’t look good at all.

I wanted to say to them: ‘Well, I’ve done both, and believe me, being an adult leaves being a kid for dead.’

But although that was my experience it might not necessarily be theirs. There was no point forcing my experiences onto them. So instead I talked about the advantages of being an adult: how you can make your own decisions, have greater freedom, have access to a wider range of activities, earn your own money, travel more widely.

Despite that, I’m well aware that there are many adults who never grow up. They cause problems for themselves and others. It is certain that you know a number of adults in this category.

Actor Omar Sharif once said to an interviewer on television: ‘I’ve never met a man who’s really grown up. Have you?’

My first thought was to say to Omar, ‘You need to get out more.’ That’s still what I’d say to him today. But I have to admit that I can’t think of too many men whom I’d call ‘grown up’.

Perhaps this helps explain some of the discontent women have felt about men over the years. Perhaps they have had good reason to feel upset, although of course there are plenty of women who don’t grow up either.