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And you may find yourself...in Melbourne

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 15 December 2015


Paul Dalgarno has published a book about a Scotsman who moved to Melbourne with his family. It's called And You May Find Yourself.

It's been called a novel, although it seems in many ways to be an autobiographical memoir about a Scotsman who comes to Melbourne with a partner to take up a journalist's job and have a family. All these things are true of the author.

There are clearly autobiographical issues in many books, although I would have thought that a novel meant making up a story rather than telling a story of what happened to a real person. I'll call the story teller Paul - which retains the ambiguity of the man who tells the story in the book. Some of the complexities in picking the subtle differences between these genres are explored elsewhere.

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The book talks of the birth of a son in great detail. Most of us who have had kids have mercifully forgotten most of these details. It all seems painful and messy; many men have said that if it was up to men to have babies, the world's human population would come to an end. There are many throwbacks and convuluted steps, including a very turbulent trip to Italy and a cast of many dozen people who don't seem to me vitally important.

The issues explored by the author are probably key issues for most men today. And that's why I think the book's important. I will take each in turn.

The first is finding our fathers. For some of us, this isn't an issue. My Dad would be found almost any morning walking up the hall naked and scratching his balls. This would be accompanied by my mother saying "Bert, the neighbours can see you!" and so on. Afterwards, Mum would read the symbolism and explain, for example - "your father's very worried about the whatsisname at the hospital".

Dad would also deliver pronouncements at dinner like "You've got to buy a block of land". So my Dad was found. Other men have far more difficulty locating their fathers in any real sense.

Mum was the translator and head of communication who told us what Dad was thinking. I guess that might be a common occurrence. Some men, like Paul, have a Dad who seems more uncommunicative and vaguely menacing. He's more absent emotionally. He's a Dad who doesn't seem to give much affection or tenderness to his children. Having a satisfying relationship with a father like this is difficult. And yet it's something most men seem to want. There is so much tosh written about role models, but in many ways our fathers are the models for what we become. Especially after we have kids and we are thrust into the role of dad.

The second issue, is being a better dad than our own dad was. Paul talks at one point of "swimming away from his dad". He knows he has two sons and wants to be the best dad he can be. He doesn't quite know what to do with the two growing boys, and I guess many men are the same. Most of us seem to work it out somehow; our kids want our affection and a bond is created. In other cases there's a kind of cold hostility that isn't ever dissolved. Perhaps father-daughter relationships are made easier by the little girls who swirl their skirts and hug their dads and give them affection.

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It seems to me that many young men have heard the discussion out in the media and elsewhere. They are determined to do it better. That's why I see so many guys enthusiastically playing with kids, taking them into the pool, horsing around in a park, playing football. This play is important for many reasons. It lets the kid feel good about themselves. It bonds them to their dad. It helps them make friends and find useful ways of spending time. And it gives them enjoyable ways of being fit.

The next issue is having a satisfying job. Not just a job in which they walk in at 8 and walk out at 5. A job in which they can put their heart. Paul seems to struggle at this, though he does enjoy founding a new kind of online journal and being part of it. Work was a man's life in years past. And I think work is still a huge part of a man's life. A boss who annoys the hell out of you stays with you, sadly, day and night.

Another issue is having real friends. People come and go in our lives. If we're lucky, we can hang on to some real friends. Some articles suggest that women are more likely to make these friendships than men are. But of course, articles like this are usually written by women. Women know more than men do about relationships, sex, children and family, don't they? They do, according to the stuff I scan in the Sunday supplements. Jim Macnamara's book warns us that the media are good at throwing at us women's confident pronouncements, as they are apparently experts on everything from male circumcision to fatherhood.

Next is balancing all this. I sometimes ask men to take a blank page. Then they put on the page all they are doing in their life. I guess most guys would put work down pretty fast. Family might come second, and friendship and sport might follow. But keep a healthy balance among all these is a challenge for Paul, as well as for most men. When a man starts serious study; when his health is threatened; when he loses a relationship or tumbles into the dark pit of divorce - it's hard for a man to keep it all together. That's when he needs a trusted friend to help talk him through it.

And when you move house, family, kit and kaboodle to another country it puts a strain on everything. To top it all off, you may find yourself in a city as dull as Melbourne. Maybe it would have been a happier journey if Paul had landed in a more cheerful city. Many northern Europeans find that a day or two at a Sydney beach makes them feel more positive about the world.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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