feel the man-love!
My workplace is ultra-manly. Like, really REALLY manly. Most of the employees spend their days digging big holes in the ground. On the whole, they are large, gruff, uncouth and masculine in that good, old-fashioned, Aussie, blokey way.
This place is so determinedly hetero-masculine that any display of affection between the employees is usually eschewed. My father patermunkey - being one of the more civilised of the bunch - is an exception here, in that he doesn't have an insecure fear of occasionally touching (or even hugging!) his workmates. Of course the others respect him far too much to doubt his sexuality on the basis of his openly bromantic behaviour, and have dubbed him with the affectionate (albeit unsettling) nick-name "Uncle Touchy".
Just before Christmas, Jim - one of the longest-serving and genuinely respected employees at my workplace - retired. There were speeches and the giving of presents at the break-up barbecue. Jim had been digging holes for decades. For the last five-ish years, he had been digging side-by-side with patermunkey. During his speech, he mentioned several guys he had worked closely with over the years. He left my Dad till last. He was brief; patermunkey would be embarrassed by anything too long-winded. Jim described him as the most intelligent and conscientious man he had worked with at the company, and he closed by wishing him the best for the future, saying, "I hope things get better."
Those five short words, delivered in the manliest of tones, spoke volumes. They spoke of a rough few years that my family has been through. They spoke of the reliable routine of working with Jim that, at times I'm sure, was about all that kept patermunkey going. They spoke of five years of friendship - what John Howard would sickeningly dub "mateship", and what most female friends would simply call "love".
I lost it. Tears were streaming down my face, and I suddenly thought, "Shit! Everyone's going to see me crying, and I shall be exposed among these blokiest of blokes for the pathetic homo NancyBoy that I am!" But to my surprise, a quick glance around revealed that everyone was crying. All these hairy burly tradies were struggling to choke back tears. The next few minutes were surreal. After the speeches, everyone started hugging Jim and talking about how much he meant to them.
And it occurred to me - this affection, this softer side, is always there. It just gets buried behind the macho bullshit that so many men feel the need to display, in order to be perceived as men. How did this happen? Has our society managed to turn emotion and affection into something shameful, which must be quashed and hidden, in order for men to be respected by each other? Or has masculine affection become the emotional equivalent of the good silverware - only to be brought out on very special (and/or drunken) occasions?
After the man-love died down, the drinking continued for many hours. Later, one guy oh-so-tactfully suggested his workmate better get a paternity test, to ensure he was really the father of the baby his girlfriend was carrying. Paternity test?! Fatherhood being questioned?! That equates to masculine honour being threatened! Tempers flared, bodies were pushed against walls, punches were thrown. Then - after a long negotiation/placation process that made the Arabs and the Jews seem co-operative by comparison - more tears.
Whether it's their physiological nature, or a result of ideological influences in a society that has never truly evolved beyond valuing them only for their hunting, providing and fighting abilities - one thing is certain: men are very strange beasts.