Men Like Us: Michael Hardie
Sitting in a high tech studio in Brisbane, Australia, alone with a quiet, 'blokey' technician I find myself beginning to wonder how the conversation ahead will unfold. As we try and sort out technical problems I am re-assured by the accents of the BBC Scotland crew and my old friend Gerry. I have not discussed with the Aussie technician the subject of the conversation that is about to unfold.
I grew up and was educated in Glasgow. The 'normal' expressions of emotion that I came to expect of men included humour, aggressive outbursts, intolerance and heavily coded love. There were welcome exceptions, several neighbours and a primary teacher had a big impact in challenging the norm. A year in northern Spain in my mid 20's opened up the excitement and freedom of living in a different culture. On my return I found myself comparing Spanish and Scottish cultures; macho behaviour dressed up differently? - but was it the language difference or did Spanish men seem much more expressive?
I have a huge fondness for Glasgow and many aspects of Scottish culture. I 'grew up' with the Scottish pride of writers such as William McIlvanney, but was confused about my identity as a Scottish man. Working in Motherwell soon after the closure of Ravenscraig I witnessed the impact on male identity of the loss of traditional work cultures and high unemployment, but it wasn't until I became involved in a men's group that I really faced up to a lot of hard questions about who I really was as a Scottish man.
It was as if I had spent a lot of time observing and reflecting about male identity, but never really had open, challenging conversations with other men about who 'I' or 'we' really were in all this. There was a huge gulf between speaking intimately and openly with women, individual close male friends and a group of men. One of the hardest things was to confront how judgmental of each other we were and how easy it was to recruit other members into a jokey put-down of something that had been said. The group experience brought awkward moments, real pain and hysterical laughter, but the most enduring memories for me include men finding the courage to talk about the hardest parts of relationships, the real fears we had faced and most of all the expression of empathy and compassion in a way that I don't think I have witnessed in a group of men since.
Brisbane has been my home town for the last 9 years. Being a husband and a father (to a boy and a girl), a 'friend's dad', a brother, an uncle and a great uncle has continued my conscious journey of how I express myself in different situations. Australia brings with it macho values and behaviours not dissimilar to Scotland. However there is a confidence and contentment in men here that is less observable in Scotland - maybe something to do with long term economic prosperity and a sense of opportunity and yes maybe the climate. However there is also a predominance of the expressionless male face, monotone speech and a tendency to talk about 'safe' topics.
Which brings me back to the studio. The conversation with Eddie and Gerry unfolds naturally, despite the distance and lack of visual contact. It is always good to speak to these old friends, if at times un-nerving. I am reasonably self-conscious but enjoy how easy it is to pick up threads of conversation from over the years. I am momentarily put off by the expression on the face of the Aussie tech bloke that I am sharing the room with (is that a questioning/ disapproving frown, am I being paranoid? Or is he just bored?). I look at the wall and quickly get back into the flow. On leaving the studio the technician makes it clear that he doesn't want to engage in conversation about the recording that has been made, instead opting to talk about the local bus service and the weather.
Being part of a Scottish men's group in the 90's was a pivotal moment for me.