Matt Cooper: I hated that you proved yourself as a man by your ability to be violent

How to be a Man: Patrick Freyne talks to the Today FM broadcaster about fighting, housework, crying and his new puppy

Radio and television broadcaster Matt Cooper speaks to Patrick Freyne about masculinity and his own life experiences of it.

 

How to be a Man is a series exploring masculinity and the challenges facing men in Ireland today

What did it mean to be manly when you were growing up?

This is the first time I’ve actually had to consider this. I suppose since my adolescence I’ve never thought [about] what being a man is... Other than when you’re growing up and you’re worried about how other people perceive you and you’re worried particularly about how people perceive you as a man [and] whether you’re sort of macho.

And it did strike me that an awful lot of the time for young people growing up here in Ireland it’s always wrapped up in alcohol. So you prove you’re a man by how much you drink...

And you’d also be a little self conscious about how you’d appear... Are you the appearance of a man rather than being girlie or effeminate? You didn’t want to look like the New Romantics.

... And there probably would have been a certain degree of homophobia around in the 1980s as well. It wasn’t until you went to college [that you] met people who were gay and openly gay. That was a real eye-opener about a whole different world that was out there.

Was masculinity something you felt you had to fit in to?

It wasn’t something necessarily that you had to fit into, but maybe [it was] something that you had to prove – prove that you were the man or whatever... Now looking back that’s all very, very silly and very ridiculous and it’s not something I would feel any need [to do] as an adult but I suppose it’s more of an understanding of the pressures that possibly face young people when they are growing up.

How did feminism influence you?

The first job I got was working in Business and Finance magazine. The editor was Aileen O’Toole and that was great to have my first boss be a woman... And then I went to the Sunday Business Post... and again there were a lot of very strong women in there, people like Susan O’Keefe and subsequently Veronica Guerin, really excellent journalists and really strong people to be working with. So it became sort of an obvious thing to me that there was no difference between men and women when you’re working with good talented people...

Now, as a parent myself, with five children – three girls and two boys – I very much want my girls to have every bit as much success as the boys are going to have in careers in whatever they want to do. And if they decide when they’re adults that they’re going to be homemakers, well that’s fine. If that’s their decision, I’ll respect that. But I’d have every bit as much ambition for them to achieve in life as I’d have for my sons.

How is life different from your father’s generation?

My father was very much a working man. He got on his bike every morning at half past five. He cycled to work at the bakery, where he was a confectioner... Initially he wanted me to get an apprenticeship... And I said I wouldn’t and the reason I wouldn’t was because I was absolutely useless with my hands.

And it used to be this thing of absolute frustration for him. I think he used to feel that if I was going to be a real man you had to be able to do things – like paint and decorate and build [and] to be able to use a hammer and a screwdriver. And I was absolutely hopeless

I’m still useless. I’m actually close to absolutely helpless when it comes to anything to do with screwdrivers, hammers, nails, electrics. I’m cheerful about it at this stage. I don’t need to prove that I’m a man by being able to do any of those things.

How were you with housework and changing nappies?

There was a joke in our house that Aileen never changed a nappy when I was in the house because I did it... Now, that’s a bit of an exaggeration because clearly she did change nappies when I was in the house. But whereas I might be useless when it comes to things like changing bulbs and plugs and changing pictures on the wall and things like that, I will do all the other things. It is something of a standard joke that Aileen might have her book club friends in and they’re all sitting around discussing their book over a glass of wine. Are they really discussing books? So I would walk in with a laundry basket in my hand asking is there anything else that needs to go in the wash, just to make clear to their friends that I do the washing and I put on the dryer and everything else

That’s your job?

I do it all the time. That is one of my main roles in the house, yeah.

Were you ever in a fight?

[He sighs] Loads. I went to a rough school, the North Mon in Cork. [It] would have been a very male environment, a school where there were over 1,000 pupils... There would have been quite a lot of violence – from the teachers to the pupils, severe beating until Leaving Cert when the pupils started beating up the teachers. That would have been such a violent culture…

I hated that idea that you proved yourself as a man by your ability to be violent to other people. Maybe that’s because I could never beat anyone up… [but] I never had the intent. I never actually wanted to be violent… That was just sort of the culture growing up.

Were you ever worried about being ‘unmanly’?

Going back to being an adolescent being a teenager… you wanted to be seen to be tough... If you were playing rugby or Gaelic football, if you got hurt you didn’t want to be seen to cry because that thing would have been very much imbued in you – ‘Boys don’t cry’ … So you let that go as you get older and realise that that’s a little bit ridiculous.

Now, that said, there may be times when I’m tempted to tell my own children ‘You should stop crying, grow up.’ But at the same time you realise that that’s not necessarily the best approach to take.

When was the last time you cried?

Go away! I’m not telling you the last time I cried.

Okay, I’ll tell you a little bit. I would get a little bit emotional sometimes [watching] sad movies and anything involving death, children and animals… But I don’t think you’d get me in floods of tears or anything like that.

Do you think men have been emotionally liberated over the last few decades?

It was very interesting recently when Bruce Springsteen came out and talked about late onset depression and dealing with that and discussions I’ve had with people… where things are bottled up by men for many may years. We seem to be more sympathetic to younger men now, because we’re worried about suicide risk and things like that and [we are] encouraging younger men to actually open up and talk about their emotions…

And we’ve forgotten that there might be older generations who never had the advantages that younger generations have now, who’ve bottled everything up and suffered with depression and who maybe aren’t willing to talk about it. [Springsteen] may have started – and this is a separate thing which certainly isn’t to do with masculinity – but being able to open up and talk about things. Maybe an older generation needs to be able to do that.

When was the last time you felt unmanly?

We got a new dog recently, a little puppy… We all love this little puppy. It’s called a cabochon. [He shows a photo on the phone] It doesn’t always wear the hat like in the photo there. It’s a small dog. It’s what you might call a toy dog. It’s lovely and great fun and runs around the house and jumps on the bed and the sofa and we’re all very happy with it [he sighs]. However, it’s not the type of dog I envisaged having. When we came to the discussion of what kind of dog [to get] that’s where I fell into the masculine stereotypes. I wanted a Labrador or a golden retriever… This is not the big dog I envisaged I would spend my mornings and my evenings walking as I patrolled my neighbourhood... Maybe I’ve fallen down on the dog issue.

How are you with showing affection?

My kids roll their eyes. They say that I’m the most huggy person. I do love hugging my kids and I try to every day. Maybe they run out to school before I can get near them but I do like giving them a hug before they go in the morning because I love them and they’re my family and I just want them to know. I would never want my kids to ever doubt that I love them.

I would have hated to be [a traditional distant father]. And that’s maybe purely selfish on my part. I hope it’s good for them as well. Though they do say ‘go away, go away’... [he laughs] But they do like it… I think.

If you would like to add your voice to this series email howtobeaman@irishtimes.com

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