Us ladies like to have a bit of a grumble about the men in our lives – whether it’s our Dad, Husband, Boyfriend, Brother – whoever. If they are male, quite usually we’ll have something to say about them. It might be their inability to distinguish the washing machine from the dishwasher or their inability to ask for directions when they get lost (Heaven forbid we even admit we’re lost, right lads?) or maybe their unwillingness to open up on an emotional level – we do like to point out their faults and have a good chat about them.
I see it on social media a lot. And in the press. All the whole world over there’s women with something to say about the men in their life and I get it. There are plenty wrong’uns out there. I’ve been there and got the T-shirt. Over the years I’ve had my fair share to say about certain men too. But that’s why it’s so important to celebrate the men I have in my life now because they have proven to me that not all men are the same and, as much as there may be plenty frogs out there, there are definite Princes too if you look hard enough.
I’ve made no secret of the relationship I had with my birth father (or lack of!). I’m absolutely sure back in the day that my mum met up with her girlfriends, had coffee (or maybe wine. Yes, definitely wine.) and had a good old grumble about my ‘Dad’. And she would have been thoroughly justified. He was a crappy Dad (a totally absent one at that), he was an alcoholic, he never came home when he said he was going to and when he did he could be vile to my mum. He was my first experience of what a man was. So, as you can imagine, I had a bit of an underwhelming start on the ‘men’ front.
When I started dating I went straight in to a long term relationship that was all wrong for me. I ended up in a downward spiral with my mental health, feeling trapped with an older man at the age of 17, who treat me like the brown stuff. I lost my own identity. I lost a sense of who I was. He controlled me. He had all the power. I lived with him so I had no breathing space and, at the time it felt like, I had no way out. I left college, I didn’t have much contact with my family or friends, I was isolated and stuck in the house day in and day out. I remember not even being aware of whether the clothing I was wearing was clean or dirty, or when the last time I showered or washed my hair. I was in deep with depression and the man I was with not only instigated that depression but fuelled it deeper with every single day I was with him. I was told to believe that nobody else would want me. Imagine believing at just 17 or 18 your future was in the hands of this one man because nobody else could ever possibly find you attractive or want to love you. That was me.
So, you could say, a theme was developing here. I’m not sure where all the good guys were at this point in my life but I’m pretty sure I didn’t believe they existed. Maybe there was some Law of Attraction shizzle going down that I wasn’t aware of. Damn. That’s why the universe kept delivering me shit men.
When I finally got out of that relationship a little over three years later (I could cry on the spot at the fact I lost so many years to that man) I found myself desperate to be loved in a bid to prove to myself that ‘he’ was wrong. He told me nobody else would want me or could love me. So I put myself out there. Maybe a little too much. I would go out four, five nights a week with the sole intention of finding a man for attention. I didn’t realise that at the time but looking back, deep down, that’s exactly what I was looking for. I’m actually ashamed of the way I put myself out there at the time. I had zero self respect and I’m sure I don’t need to explain the sort of men that attracted. I was used by every single one of them. Some of them used me for one night. Some hung on longer and used me for a little bit longer. One kept me within his clutches for months; he was a serial womaniser and I was one of a few, I’m sure. Yet there I’d be, waiting for him at the end of the night, because he showed me some sort of attention. I confused sex with love. Now I have a daughter of my own I look back on my behaviour at that time in my life and the risks I took and it knocks my stomach sick. It’s a time in my life I don’t like to talk about, but as much as I hate who I was then and what I did, it is part of the journey I was on to get to where I am now.
My mum remarried and once I got over the initial years of the ‘You can’t tell me what to do’ rebellion, I began to see how that man differed to my birth dad. He was present for a start. Just by simply being there he was winning! He took on two children that weren’t his own, he took me out when I was learning to drive, he gave me my first car, he got in an over protective (but equally lovely) tizz when I invited a boy in to my bedroom. More than anything he treat my mum with respect. This wasn’t something I’d seen before. This man is now who I consider my Dad. My only Dad. The only Dad that matters. His parents became our Grandparents and his father is a true old style traditional Gentleman. Even now at 95 he will ensure doors are held open for me, he will open the car door for me, he’ll hold an umbrella over me in the rain. He is, on every level, a true gent.
These two men were fundamental to my realisation that there were good men out there. I didn’t have to settle for a wrong’un because there was more than that out there for me and I deserved that. I met my husband and knew from the second our eyes locked across a crowded bar on Christmas Eve that I would marry him. I remember going to my Mum’s the following day on Christmas Day and telling her that I’d met the man I was going to marry the night before. I just knew it. It was in his eyes. Our relationship developed at the speed of light. People disapproved. Said it was too quick, we were too young. We probably were a little young but I can’t explain it any better than I just knew he was the one. We got engaged three months after meeting one another, we bought a house together a month later and by month 5 we were expecting our son. Fast forward seventeen years and here we still are, stronger than ever. It’s no fairytale though. I don’t believe those exist outside of Magic Kingdom. No marriage is perfect. My husband is my soul mate but even soul mates have their challenges. We’ve had times in our marriage that have really tested us and I’m not ashamed to admit it. We were still growing up when we met and over the years we have both grown in to people that are very different to those that first met in that bar. There were times when it could have gone either way to be honest. But we chose each other. We chose to work harder and to make it work. And thank God we did because he is everything to me. He’s a beautiful person and he makes me feel like I’m the centre of his world (apart from when Match of the Day is on, then Newcastle United are the centre of his world but, you know, you can’t have everything…). We have our arguments and our disagreements but we have a solid foundation of love and he is a good man. One of the best. He’s stood by me through illness, both physical and mental. He’s sacrificed his own career for me. He’s lost touch with his family because they didn’t support his relationship with me. He is the love of my life and I am beyond grateful for every day I get to spend by his side.
Then there’s my son. He’s sixteen (and still growing…). He suffers with crippling anxiety but I am so proud of how sensitive he is to the feelings of other people. He is thoughtful and kind. He’ll go out with his mates to town and he’ll come back having spent his pocket money on a Peppa Pig soft toy for his little sister. When I’m having a bad day, he gives me love. I swear a cuddle from him and the world is instantly a better place. He still holds my hand sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a teenager and we’re at loggerheads most of the time, but he has all the makings for being a good man. And with the role models he has around him, all the good guys that we have surrounding us, he can’t go wrong.
So, you see, I got off to a bad start. I believed that all men were bastards. But when I started to believe I deserved more and I deserved better, I was shown that good men do exist and I’m so grateful for the men I now have in my life.
So, yeah, we can all have a grumble about men. And some of those grumbles are wholly justified because some of them around are just plain shitty. But they aren’t all like that. They can’t and shouldn’t all be judged by the shitty actions of a few. Good men do exist.
To Gramps, Dad, Michael and Aaron,
Thanks for being one of the good ones.