Ivan Blackstock is a dancer. His work with youth groups has given him great insight on the connection between men, mental health, music and creativity. He was asked if he thought there’d been a shift lately, giving men more of a license to cry.
"I watched a Youtube video recently of a young boy getting a vaccination, he was getting injected with a big needle and started to cry, and his father was saying - come on you’re a man, don’t cry.
For these reasons a lot of young men bottle up the emotion. Only certain types of expression are permitted. There aren't enough shades of male identity. Young boys see a celebration of being angry alpha males in the media.
This hyper-masculinity is celebrated - it’s all about impressing not expressing.
A lot of men are running away from love, self-love especially, and a lot of men feel alone. I’ve learnt from my dancing, to purge, to release certain pressures. Through finding and using art, it’s given me a place where I can tap into my subconscious. I use this energy and I express it, make it real, kinetic.
But being on stage is hard, and 2016 has been a very hard year for me. I haven’t spoken to my father in 20 years and I had to open up to him this year. I realised he’d been through the same thing as me, mentally. That’s why we need to challenge this hierarchy of masculinity. All my work is about challenging ideas of hierarchy."
CALM ambassador, comedian and all round excellent fella Jack Rooke took to the stage to discuss his comedy show – tackling the loss of his father at an early age and, more recently his friend to suicide.
"I don’t think I ever grieved about my Dad with other men, it was always with women. I was brought up by women, working class grafters. They brought money home and put food on the table and they were very emotive and very much about having time with me.
At school, it was really weird to go from Jack: slightly overweight, does drama; to Jack who’s dad died.
Teachers gave me a ‘get out of class card’ to "go to the library and read a book". I'd order dominoes and indulge in all the negative behaviours that we’re advised against. I'd cry in the disabled toilet. Very spacious! All toilets should be disabled size, that’s another thing I campaign for.
I developed coping mechanisms through talking. As my Nan said, “Laughter is a medicine but talking is the cure.”
We could laugh at the grief, so much so that eventually I wanted to create something from it.
“Hey Nan, do you want to write a comedy about Dad dying?” She said yes.
Me and my 85-year-old Nan sat in her council flat in Uxbridge recording hours of us chatting about losing dad as part of my debut comedy-theatre show Good Grief. We spoke about how she felt as an elderly person, an expectation that she should be somewhat desensitised to death and how people comfortably ask her about an elderly friend who has died but not her son - and actually she really wants to remember him. As for my Grandad he wouldn’t talk at all. His silence made it even harder for her to cope.
Britain has a weird culture of grief. The English language has so many euphemisms for death, all these things that try to mask the painful reality.
Good Grief is really a show about a teenager and an elderly person, coming together to celebrate someone who they’ve lost in an untimely circumstance, it shows that different ages and generations can deal with grief together. We sometimes negate elderly people in Britain and the wisdom they might have.
One of my best friends, Olly took his own life. I understand that suicide is not a selfish act, and that we shouldn’t be angry, but I couldn’t help but be angry at Olly dying. I felt a sense of failure, it was such a waste to lose such a beautiful, intelligent person. He couldn’t cope with the ‘man ladder’. You know – you go to University, get a good job, don’t move back to the seaside town. He felt that pressure and it was too much. I'm channeling the anger into something good now. He's the driving force behind my next show.
I read about a study recently that's showed we’re OK with boys crying up to around 14 years old, but as soon as they’re 15 its not OK, something changes. It's silly. But we need to keep encouraging young boys to not feel shame and weakness in showing emotion. "
Surprising fact from a psychologist in the audience: men who bottle their feelings are 16 times more likely to have heart problems than men who express themselves. That’s one reason to cry fellas!
This article is part of CALMzine, Being A Man Issue.