As a kid, I used to think my Dad was the wisest person in the world. I won't have been alone. Most people will look up to their parents, guardians or their older siblings and see nothing but wonder gazing down on them. The wealth of knowledge they can bestow upon us seems limitless. They share their insights just to bring this big, scary ol' world down a peg or two. It's a wonderful feeling, but eventually, that bubble bursts. The veil is lifted and we see them for what they are. Human.
My dad was human after all and I loved him even more for showing me that
Nothing causes it, we just grow up. We absorb what they have taught us and we try to apply it. It sinks in by osmosis sometimes. We learn that the world isn't a place of childish wonder and ice-cream. It happened for me when I was about 17. I went with my Dad to the local men's 'club' (not THAT kind of club!), but a working man's club to play snooker. A mythical place that smells of cigarettes and stale beer, where facts and opinions are easily interchangeable. I was at college at the time and my Dad was enjoying a day off. I can't remember how this spontaneous afternoon of father/son bonding came about, but I was enjoying the surreptitious nature of being in a working man's club. I was neither working, nor a man. What a rebel.
As the match dragged on, there were no high breaks or clever positional play. Just a father and son, hitting shiny spheres with wooden sticks. As the came dragged to a conclusion and after an impressive (which is a completely relative term) break of 12, I potted the yellow. As the ball sank slowly into the top-left pocket, I realised I'd won the game. More than that, I realised, probably for the first time, I'd beaten my Dad. I'd actually beaten him at 'something'. I, the youngest of 3 children, had emerged victorious from this battle of sporting lightweights. He was human after all and I loved him even more for showing me that.
Moments - large or small - spent together can make a huge difference
Don’t get me wrong, I love my Dad, but we've never had a particularly close relationship. He’s always loved me, looked after me, lent me money when I needed it, but we’ve never had that ’you-can-talk-to-me-about-anything-son’ kind of relationship. None of us did. We're a family, but we don't share real problems with each other. Not really. Better to pretend everything’s hunky-dory. Despite this, the times we’ve spent together, as father and son, however large or small, will always form part of who I was, who I am and who I will become. Small words, but huge meaning.
At times I’ve been well and truly snookered, not in the game, but in life
As my mental health was deteriorating years later, I didn't talk to anyone about it, especially him, but I should have done. I should’ve talked to someone. The pot shots at my brain were coming thick and fast, until I broke. Everyone could see it. I’m sure he could too. At times I’ve been well and truly snookered, not in the game, but in life. I’ve bounced off cushions, careered down black holes and made my own share of foul shots, but I knew that he was always there for me. Even if he never said it.
My Dad taught me that being a man isn't about potting balls, but having them
Opening up eventually was hard. Undoing 40 years of 'bottling up' was tough, but I did it. I do it all the time. My Dad’s in his 80s now and I love him more than ever. We never played again, but he taught me things in life that I’ve never forgotten. In that small moment, he taught me that being a man isn't about potting balls, but having them. To stand up for who you are, despite pride or embarrassment, to be the best man you can be, even in the face of stigma. I try to become that man every day, and I try and teach my own son the same important lessons. I might have won the game that day, but he’s my champion.
Gary talks about mental health through his project, Men Tell Health - on Twitter at @MenTellHealth, on Facebook at Men Tell Health, on YouTube at MentellhealthOrg, and on the Men Tell Health website.