The big problem with Australian men
THERE'S a big problem with Aussie men. And most of it comes down to us not knowing how to express who we are and what we're about.
We weren't given the words at a young age, which can have a huge impact on us as adults.
Aussie blokes can get frustrated easily. That frustration often turns into anger, and that anger can turn into really poor decisions.
This sort of behaviour is at the heart of author Tim Winton's thoughts on toxic masculinity.
When we talk about "toxic masculinity", we're talking about the stereotype of the Aussie bloke that is impossible to live up to. The stereotype that to be a real man, we have to be strong, stoic and tough. The stereotype of "she'll be right mate, I don't need to tell anyone about my feelings, I can cope with this on my own".
As a parent, you see that stuff every single weekend on the sports field. Mums or dads living their frustrated sporting life through their child or being completely overbearing with the referees or the umpires, whatever sport you're playing.
I've got to be honest with myself, there have been times where I've been like that. And my children have been the ones that slap me back into shape, or my wife, and I realise I get so caught up in the moment, that my child is being wronged in some way, that the instinct to protect them comes out.
But you soon realise that that's not what your kid wants. Not only are they embarrassed by it, they actually think worse of you for it. It is toxic behaviour and it's completely wrong. I need to check myself all the time to make sure I'm in the right frame of mind to support my kids in the best possible way - on and off the sidelines.
Many of us work hard to be healthy in our bodies. We go to the gym and work on our physical muscles but we don't have any emotional muscle. So many men run around thinking it's the manliest thing in the world to have biceps and a sixpack but in their heads, they're a ticking time bomb. When push comes to shove and they need to use their emotional strength, they just haven't got it. They've never worked on it, they've never practised it, so in the end they just implode.
Unfortunately, this stereotype is killing us. We're losing six beautiful young boys and young men every single day to suicide. It's the number one killer of Aussie men between the ages of 15-44. Nearly a third of men has some type of mental health problem.
And, as Winton tells me, the stereotype isn't confined to the sporting field. It's sitting next to him on a surfboard, bobbing up and down "like a tea bag" in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for the next wave.
I'm talking about the conversations Winton tells me he can't help but overhear between young men while surfing in his hometown in WA.
There aren't a lot of solid exchanges. It's just one set of blokes trying to be funnier or cruder than the other mob, or trying to come up with some story that shocks everyone and makes them feel like they're the king of the water.
The thing is, the older blokes out in the water aren't doing anything about it, Winton says. They don't chip in and say, "Hey! This is not the way you should talk about women, this is not the way you should talk about race, this is not the way you should talk about gays." No one is putting a line in the sand to stop these young blokes from toxic behaviour.
If we educate our young boys - even their dads or grandfathers - I truly believe this can change. Years ago, I wouldn't have known half the stuff that I'm now talking to men about. My life is so much richer now that I can use the tools that I've learned through my work with the Be A Man podcast series and my foundation, Gotcha4Life. I'm a better husband, father and son because I've got the information.
We do have more awareness now but we still need more action. We need to have that awkward conversation, to speak up when we see bad behaviour, check in with our mates and give the people we love a hug.
I like the term "toxic masculinity" because it's straight to the point. When it comes to mental health, there are too many flowery words that turn people off. But the more we talk about it with real language and without all the wank that goes with it, the more we'll be able to help people.
Before meeting Winton, I have to admit, although I had heard of him, I had never read any of his work.
But the interview with him was a really important hour of my life.
When you listen to Winton, it's like a sermon. He makes you see things in a different light. And somehow you just know that if you absorb what he says and take his advice, you're going to have a richer life.
On my way home, I went straight down to my local bookstore, bought a couple of his books and I'm working through them now.
Because despite all the years that I've been working in the mental health arena, I know I still have so much to learn.
And you know what? I'm not bothered at all by that. I'm just glad that I can be man enough to admit it.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14