A Misspent Youth – Manhood in the 21st Century

The giant six-foot three gym-going sarsen with perfectly manicured hair strides down the street, swagger in his step. He is the epitome of the 21st century man – machismo a plenty, well-groomed and well chiselled… or so he thinks.

But surely to be a real man modern living can be shunned in an instant? Say good bye to luxury hair products, bonne chance Domino’s Pizza, farewell to designer clothing. If we stripped back the thin veneer of the macho male, what are we left with if not a shadow of our forebears? As men today we are pampered and preened, too often happy to forget what is important in life – the ability to survive without.

For, in this day and age, the ability to survive is apparently no longer necessary with sixty-two per cent of males claiming they are unable to do that most basic of tasks that helped mankind tame the planet – making fire. An amazing twenty-six per cent of us also claimed we couldn’t live on a desert island without our toiletries.

I was shocked and appalled. From a young age I was brought up learning how to make do. Whether it was starting a fire with sticks, climbing trees and making dens, damming streams or even fixing punchers on bikes without ‘daddy’, I was born into a world which was ready to be explored and enjoyed. The countryside around my childhood home was there to be conquered, an adventure to be had in every wood, at every bridge and river. We didn’t have a television license for years. The first time my parents owned a computer was when I was thirteen. I would go round friends’ houses to play on their consoles, whilst spending my time at home building Airfix kits or model boats which would be ceremoniously sailed in the school pool.

As such I grew up with a love of all things practical – and this has helped me in ways I would never have considered related. In work and in education, having the ability to see things in a completely different light to others has shed light on arguments or problems in a fresh and energising way.

And personally, I see a lack of television, a lack of computer games as a luxury at that tender age. It gave me a grounding I couldn’t have found staring at a screen. It let me learn about the world around me, not shut it out. I wasn’t a child stifled by ‘things’ but rather all too aware of what excitement lay outside my front door. To me that is where practicality is fostered – in your childhood. Everything can go awry, but nothing is ‘wrong’. You learn by doing and making your own mistakes, tackling your own problems. It gives you an independence of mind and the freedom of choice.

I always remember an old school master telling me that no matter how old you are, you will always remember those important achievements of your childhood. No matter how small or insignificant it seems today, it was a spark that was kindled into a flame. Sure, we all have our talents, but if I ever have children I hope to pass on that love of things practical. The things that helped make sense of the world around me and give me the knowledge I take for granted today.

So as you start to day dream and stare, with gaze blurred, out of that commuter train window or when you are sat at a red light, cast your mind back to when clambering about with your friends in the park, or in those woods. You could stand back and say “we climbed that hill, we built that camp, or we shot that police car with a paintball gun”.

We spend far too much time as children trying to be adults and what we don’t know is that by being a child, by loving doing the most childish of things, we learn the skills needed in adulthood. Children don’t need phones, instagram or Facebook. They need an adventure.

And sadly today as adults we’ve suffered from that loss of adventure sought in childhood. But as children, when you sat behind that television, the outdoors seemed deceptively far away. Yet without that contact we only fall further behind in our knowledge of the real world around us – a world where things still need to be built, repaired or even taken to bits. People should never forget – they can do it too, but they need to explore first.

So as I sit staring at this computer screen tap tapping away I feel I should draw a conclusion from this education. When, as a child, I sat perplexed as my rudimentary tree house (presumed indestructible) lay shattered on the ground the morning after the storm, I learnt something to my benefit – we all too often expect others to explain but sometimes you shouldn’t expect to be taught, you should just learn it yourself.

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