This is my family.
By birth and by the sheer luck of the universe I have had all of these amazing humans in my life for at least the last 26 of my 30 years. Some of them were born into my family, and some of them fell into my life as family in a seemingly random way.
My own father was not a good one, but there are far worse stories than mine and the point of this is not to talk about the varying degrees in which fathers can be bad, or bad examples to their sons. The point is, there are bad fathers, and men of all ages have been through subjectively bad times on many levels.
Navigating the role of being a man can be a tough one, in a conversation I had last week I had a thought that it is often the case that men seem to base their definition of manliness collectively. If you spend time with a group of men that believe certain behaviour is acceptable, you tend to adopt those same views. It’s one of the reasons ‘culture’ at a football club, or in a workplace is so important. When a football club has a toxic culture, everyone tends to adopt it, when bigotry is the norm at a workplace it can be difficult to go against it. On the contrary, being brought into a great culture, like the All Blacks, or Melbourne Storm can help men thrive and excel.
This is Greg and Nina. Greg is the dad of my best mate Nick, who I met on day one of prep as a 4 year old. Greg is married to Nina, and they are my bonus family parents. Really, Greg is everything that my own father was not. He is a kind and generous man, with a big heart. He is strong, intelligent and full of respect and empathy. You would struggle to find a better example of a grown man who has led a life full of integrity. He is a fantastic dad and a wonderful husband and I respect and love him immensely.
I write this because I believe that we can still raise good men, even if we are missing good fathers.... But we do still need good men.
This is my Mum! She is one of the great ones :) but of course, I am very biased. Like many in the same situation, as a teenager, it wasn’t easy for us.
From an understanding point of view, Mum went to an all girls school from prep to Year 12, and has two sisters. Her own father wasn’t around all that much as a fantastic role model, so dealing with a growing, hormonal teenage boy was uncharted territory. Juggling being a single parent, economic difficulty and trying to prevent your oldest son from turning out like his Dad is a rough road to navigate and we butted heads often and I spent a lot of my high school years grounded.
I was convinced that I was a misunderstood, slightly angry teenage boy, who would never turn out like my father, but Mum had never really been around that situation and disciplined me hard. In the end, it is funny to look back, but playing the role of support, disciplinarian, mum, cook, taxi, breadwinner and everything else under the sun makes it hard, and in the end, even though I eventually ended up getting asked to leave the family home, we have the most amazing relationship and I could have done nothing without Mum’s love and support right to this day. Mum ran herself into the ground for us and remains my biggest support.
Because the absence of a good dad more often than not means a single mother, it can be difficult to provide the same kind of back patting, ‘You’re doing well mate’ moments to a young man. For some reason, managing being the supporting mother, the ‘I’m proud of you’ moments from mum are more often than not met with a smile, an eye roll and a little ‘of course you are’. On the contrary, the same moments from the men in your life that you respect, can really give you a big chest pump moment.
At the same time, being told you are acting like an idiot by mum can be brushed off easier than the same thing being said to you by a man, or group of men you respect. Some of my most embarrassing moments are from being called out by men I respected for rubbish behaviour.
When I was 14 I did my first deb, it was a bit of a big deal and I was young in my year level bu almost two years, so everyone was a bit older than I was. I did it, and went in with my date, and you guessed it, Nick…. And weren’t we quite the lady killers back then!
Mum wasn’t rapt about the idea of me going to an after party with everyone, and staying out for the night, but Greg did me a solid and vouched that we were sensible young men and we’ll be ok… I got the pass, and we went to the after party for a couple of Carlton Colds. Now I wasn’t supposed to be drinking, Mum didn’t care for it, but boys will be boys, and we didn't do anything too crazy. We had a great night, were well behaved and got picked up the next day by Greg.
I doubt that Greg remembers this part of the trip at all. But in the back of the old Ford Fairlane that day as we were being driven home, perhaps experiencing my first ever hangover, Greg simply said that we did a great job the night before (At the Deb) and that he was ‘Proud of me’.
I nearly cried in the back seat right then…. But I didn’t. I don't remember another time in my life that someone being proud of me has made me feel so emotional.
Perhaps it was because at the time I was an angry, fatherless teenager, who was constantly arguing with Mum at home. I have never doubted Mums love for me, ever, but her concern about me turning out like my own father had become my concern too… After all why would it be an issue if it wasn’t possible
Hearing from a man of few emotive words, who I respect more than I could ever say, tell me he was proud of me made such a big difference. I’ve never really talked about it since, but it was a moment of someone I respected believing that I was the good person that I had always tried to be, even as an angry teenager.
Years later, around the dinner table, when I was at University and completing a trade, Greg gave me another piece of sage advice that made a bigger difference than he will perhaps ever know. He told me that no matter what I was doing, if I was very busy and getting things done, the people that matter and really love you will always understand if you don’t have heaps of spare time. That little piece of advice has enabled me to go on to do the variety things that I have been able to do in my short time here on earth.
In a conversation with a friend this week, speaking about her husband, we discussed the importance of male-peer approval and guidance. As a kid, the best thing that could happen would be when the older boys who wanted to kick the footy with me, even if it was only three kicks. The friendly banter with the older kids in High School while on the tours to decide where to go, the games with the older boys, where I would play a few age groups up and get to hang with the older guys. These things matter over and above just proving that you are pretty good at footy, and they help shape who you become.
It is the reason I started working with at-risk kids many years ago. Just to be one of the older guys that would go out and play basketball with the younger guys and have a bit of a laugh. I had initially thought I might wait until I made my millions to engage with programs to change the world, before realising, the most important thing was just to be around and to want to involve these kids.
People would love to go out and inspire people in a moment of clarity, however It is rare to be able to drop into someone’s’ life and say something like “you’re proud of them” and change their lives on the spot.
If you are around for a long time, days and months and years, through good times and bad. If you are a man of integrity, worthy of respect and with a big heart. You earn the opportunity to have those moments, and in a couple of words, you can help shape the life of another young man for the better.
The great news is it doesn’t end for boys when they become men. We can spend time building better men by encouraging and looking after one another even after we are all 'grown up'. Be someone worthy of respect and don’t be afraid to let your mates know that you love them and you are proud of them when they are out there being great men. If we are better to each other as men, then we will be better to everyone as people. Be a gentleman, and encourage others to be as well. If we can change the culture of a football club for the better, we can change our culture generally to be one of respect and support.
If you are a man who knows a single Mum with young boys, be an example and don't be afraid to put your hand up to be there for them. You don’t have to be there every day, but be positive, be available and encourage them to grow up to be good men. Who knows, one day something you say might change their lives, and the lives of others down the chain. Greg believing in me allowed me to be a better man to my younger brother, who grew into being an outstanding example of a man himself, and Izzy then going on to positively mentor dozens of young men from there.
I’ve since had many great moments with my large and amazing family, but in the end it is the enduring love and support that makes all the difference. I hope that over time I can be the Greg for someone else, because if the world had more Gregs in it, it would undoubtedly be a better place.
We can raise good men without good fathers, we shouldn't have to raise them without good men.
Just Be Nice.
*A small tear or two may have been shed in the writing of this post.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports