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Owen Booth on What We’re Teaching Our Sons

Men. Lads. It’s not exactly going so well at the moment, is it?

From the Most Powerful Man in the world downwards, via the worlds of politics, entertainment, sport, business and everyday life, you don’t have to search very hard – or at all – to see example after example after example of terrible male behaviour.

Masculinity has gone beyond being in crisis and is starting to look like a write-off. And I say that as a man.

Even when men aren’t not being horrible to everyone else, they’re being horrible to themselves. Depression. Addiction. Suicide. It’s generally agreed that men need to talk about their feelings more – although not necessarily with women, as they’ve got enough to worry about dealing with men as it is – and I generally agree that this is a great idea, with only one flaw.

We’re men, for God’s sake! Why would we want to be honest about our feelings? How would we even know what our feelings are in the first place?

(And why would we want to talk about our feelings with other men? Have you seen what men are like?)

But what if you’re a father of sons – which I am – and you want them to grow up to be decent, stable, honourable, fulfilled, respectful-of-others, capable, happy men? And not like those useless dads in adverts who are always accidentally putting the washing up/ the cat/ one of the children in the tumble dryer…

What do you do?

Well, what I did was I accidentally wrote a book.

It started with a list of the things of all the things that I thought every man should teach his sons about, in order to make them capable and functioning and better men.

 Things like relationships, and work, and money, and sex. And women.

And drugs, and crime, and sport, and friendship.

Plus, the important stuff that sons actually want and need to know about, like volcanoes, and Vikings, and drinking, and pirates, and the abominable snowman, and ghosts, and the world’s most dangerous spiders, and what happens when you get struck by lightning, and the difference between zombies, vampires and werewolves, and women, again, and war, and death, and Martians, and The Fifteen Foolproof Approaches to Making Someone Fall in Love with You.

Not to mention the big bang, and philosophy, and video games, and art, and emotional literacy, and gambling, and the extinction of the dinosaurs.

And The Ultimate Fate of the Universe, just so we’ve got everything covered.

But a funny thing happened as I started writing about all these things. I found myself writing about how I felt.

How I felt about being a father, and a man, and a son, and a friend to other men, and a common-law-husband to a woman, and so on.

And about the fear and insanity and wonder and horror of parenthood.

In other words, I accidentally fooled myself into talking about my feelings after all (feelings that, in a lot of cases, I didn’t even know I had, on account of being a man…)

What I ended up with is ‘What We’re Teaching Our Sons’ – which is a collection of life lessons, taught by a group of Dads to their children, some of which are more successful than others, but all of which are short enough, and hopefully funny enough too, that they don’t outstay their welcome.

In a way it’s a memoir of my experience of fatherhood – except that it’s not always true. The bits about taking my sons to the amazon jungle in search of drug-assisted enlightenment in particular may well have been completely invented, although it’s emotionally honest, at least. The fist-fight on the miniature steam railway may not have happened exactly as I describe it either. And the encounter with pirates on the Regent’s canal is almost definitely invented.

The bit about the horror of visiting soft-play centres, however, is entirely genuine.

So it’s sort of a novel, and sort of a collection of sixty-five very short stories, and sort of a self-help book about Being A Man, even if it’s one that probably won’t really help much at all – other than to maybe share the pain and confusion of being a Dad a bit. I don’t really have any answers. I have no idea what I’m doing, just like everyone else.

But I’m trying to make a start.

Owen Booth
owen-booth.com | Twitter

‘What We're Teaching Our Sons’ by Owen Booth is available from harpercollins.co.uk.

Owen Booth will be reading from ‘What We’re Teaching Our Sons’, signing books and chatting to folk afterwards at Craftworks, 38 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, E17 4PH on Wednesday 5 June, 7.30pm.

Bar will be open all evening. FREE but limited entry.

Craftworks is a café, craft beer and wine bar that offers regular ceramic and arts workshops. This will be the first of a series of intimate literature events at Craftworks celebrating authors and poets that live in the borough of Walthams Forest and sometimes beyond.
For more events, check out their Instagram | Twitter

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