‘Cry if you need to, it doesn’t make you any less of a man’.
These words my grandad spoke to me in a time of crisis in my life always stuck with me. A truly ‘manly’ man, although perhaps unknowingly, was teaching me to allow myself to accept and engage with the way I was feeling, rather than attempt the traditional British stiff upper lip or repress the pain and sorrow I felt.
This, I think, was probably the reason I also cried whilst watching the recent Netflix drama ‘The Dig’ retelling the discovery of Anglo-Saxon remains at Sutton Hoo. Robert, the young boy in floods of tears, runs into Mr Brown, a man brought onto the estate by Robert’s mother for archaeological excavations. Mr Brown simply says to him ‘Robert, we all fail, every day...I know it’s not what you want to hear right now’, it might not sound much but the simple affirmation of his struggles from someone he respects can have a profound effect on a young man. Perhaps more than Mr Brown would ever know.
I think this is why I saw so much of my grandfather in the character of Mr Brown. Like him, my grandad was not an ‘educated’ man, he passed the 11+ but his family couldn’t afford the grammar school fees. Like Basil Brown he left school at aged 12, but equally always had a hunger to learn. He never went to university, but but he had an incredible love and knowledge of History, particularly of his home county of Herefordshire. Mr Brown was equally rejected by his peers for his lack of academic achievement, but later exclaims that he could identify a handful of soil from anywhere in Suffolk, even down to the the person who’s land it came from.
In Mr Brown, young Robert finds a role model, a man to follow and look up to. It was perhaps not the most profound or intentional father-son, mentor-disciple relationship. But the importance of solid, characterful role models for young men can never be underestimated. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the lack of them is one of the central reasons for the crisis we find in our Church in these times.
Basil Brown, and my grandad, never taught their young protégés anything explicitly, but by their examples gave them a model of masculinity to follow. We may, as St Paul urges us, do well to take him as our example, as he took Christ (1 Cor 11:1). In so doing let us return to a sense of authentic, Catholic masculinity. Let us model to our sons a life of prayer, sacrifice, love and service of others.