Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Man Week: Fighting the Stereotypical Aussie Male

Apparently I've just missed "Man Week" (at least locally), and was an initiative intended to get men to talk about how they feel. After reading some of the other entries from Sydney-siders (see links after this post), I thought I should probably join in and put an aspie spin on things, though I won't be talking directly about aspie traits (you'll have to guess which ones they are).

Fighting the Stereotype
We're still not sure where aspergers comes from (genetically) in our family but I guess the money is probably on my dad. When I was younger, my dad was so different from me that I'd often wonder if perhaps my parents had picked up the wrong baby. Now that I'm older, I'm able to see the resemblance (I'm starting to look like my dad - and he, like his). I'm also acting like him in some ways, some beneficial, some not.

My father was a perfectionist and a workaholic. When he wasn't working, he was doing things (hobbies) which looked like work. I can already see the resemblance.

My dad came from a poor background but was a hard worker and put himself through TAFE at night. He worked Monday to Friday, left before I got up for school and generally returned after I was in bed. Some of his late nights were drinking nights, some were studying, some were sports and training and some were meetings - regardless of the excuses, he wasn't there.

On weekends in Summer, he would be out sailing. In winter, he'd be in the garage building his next boat for the coming sailing season. We still found time to squeeze activities into his busy schedule (he managed our soccer team for years) but it wasn't enough and our relationship in those years barely scratched the surface.

My sister Maree, My father and I at the "Three Sisters", Katoomba

I remember that when I'd learn some new dance routine or song at school, I'd show it to my mother but would fall silent as soon as my dad walked into the room. Pokes and prods would not incite me to continue the performance. He'd always frowned at those "poofter" (gay) type activities and to do one in front of him was to invite negative comments.

My dad was also into sports, he liked to watch them and play them and he always encouraged me to get involved too. The trouble was, I didn't like sports and I was hopeless at them. In any case, my low muscle tone and hyperflexibility didn't lend itself to hard sports like Soccer and Football. I liked reading, watching movies and Star Wars. My obsession with Star Wars figures was almost a breaking point for him and he often used to rant and rave about those ... "dolls".

Then there was beer. I don't like it. I don't really like wine either. That's not to say that I don't like alcohol but I generally prefer cocktails and premixed drinks (Bacardi Breezers etc). Unfortunately, these are "women's drinks" and my father was not impressed. Luckily I developed, with a fair amount of encouragement from him, a taste for Bunderberg Rum and Coke. It's probably still girly but at least it doesn't come in a pastel coloured bottle.

When I left school, I'd originally intended to do an information science degree but my father "encouraged" me towards the more masculine degree of Civil Engineering. I failed - and eventually I did go back and do that Information Science degree, though not without a great deal of heartache.

Then, there were the cars. I didn't care about them. I drove them without water and without oil and with flat tyres. I had no interest in repairing them myself - I'd rather pay someone to do it. I didn't even like the feel of grease on my hands. I copped years of "nagging" over my lack of interest and ability in this area.

My first job, in a public library, really set the cat amongst the pigeons. In fact, I was told by my employers that there were two reasons why I got the job. Firstly because I obviously loved and cared for books but secondly because my father had apparently contacted them and told them that he didn't want his son working in a "poofy" library.

While I was working there, my dad told his friends that I was unemployed. Somehow that was easier for him than the truth.

If all this makes it seem that I have problems with my father, then I've given the wrong impression. I love him - though I could never use that wording to his face. He just had a lot of issues with my failure to fit into the Australian male stereotype.

When I changed jobs into computing my father was overjoyed. Similarly, he was pretty happy when I announced my engagement, mainly I think because it involved a member of the opposite sex. Having male grandchildren and knowing that I did in fact turn out ok, seems to have calmed the whole situation down.

Over the years, he's come to accept that I'm not the normal male stereotype and that men today are quite different from the men of his time. My father wasn't alone in his views and they seem to be shared by many of his peers. He's mellowed over time and I've stopped checking over my shoulder whenever I do something less than masculine. Years of non-acceptance can have an impact on your self-confidence.

In recent times, I've actually seen my father express emotions other than the male ones of anger and amusement but they're still few and far between. He's not "cured" and every now and then I'll catch a disapproving glance, when I cry at a funeral or when I let my wife boss me around but he's certainly more settled and more tolerant.

In his retirement, he frequently says things which shock me and challenge all of my beliefs about him. There's definitely an emotionally repressed person inside him struggling to get out. It makes me wonder if when I get to his age, I'll experience the same feelings of letting go. Perhaps I'm repressing more than I realise. Perhaps we all are.

Anyway, thanks to Reach Out for the idea.

As promised, below are some links to other aussie male postings from "Man Week". (If you've got a posting, feel free to link to in the comments).

Other Man Week Postings

Why some men are so lost - Man Week

Becoming a Man: Dealing with Personal Problems

Balls and Bravado

Trent Collins - Becoming a Dad and More of a Man

Tony Hollingsworth

Manweek: How about Father and Son Day

Damn the 80's

Man Week 1: Having a Dad


Tony Hollingsworth said...

That's a brilliant post - I can really relate to it, and I'm sure others will too. Very well done.

I'm so glad I was able to bring this to your attention - I was putting off writing anything and the little I did write, was hard for me.

I have to say if it wasn't for a service like Twitter, and the wonderful community that inhabit it, I probably wouldn't have been aware of the #Manweek initative at all.

Best regards,

Amy said...

hi there, I enjoyed reading your post and found your blog while searching for other aspergers blogs. My oldest son has aspergers and I think I may too :-)

M said...

sometimes i wonder if they should change the name from asperger syndrome to beta-male syndrome. i find a lot of the male posturing that goes on to be ridiculous...and yet that's kind of a socially acceptable tactic, it works. the pressure is to "man up", so, being crappy at that...feeling quite comfortable expressing emotion, not posturing like an idiot...sort of defaults me into a beta category, it seems like. anyway, it's an interesting topic, gender roles, the impact of asperger's since it can impact how one expresses various traits, social data. pondering ensues.

Gavin Heaton said...

Great post, Gavin. Thanks for being so brave as to share this!

Since ManWeek I have been drawn to describing our life situations as "it is what it is". For me, it is not that there is better or worse, but that we all have things to deal with. Some worse, some easier. But they all lay responsibilities at our feet.

Alan said...

Hi Gavin,

I enjoyed your post and some of the elements really resonate. I sometimes wonder what issues my son will have with me and will I be as seemingly oblivious as my father is.

I also missed the timing of man Week, but have decided to add my voice as well at

Gavin Heaton said...

Hey Gavin ... we are wanting to turn these great ManWeek posts into a book. Interested? See

katie said...

Great info, much appreciated. I'm a girl aspie and although I have all the aspie traits in spades, I seem to have gotten a extra female gene or something because I'm extra feminine, all while being an aspie. My husband is glad for that. My special interests are very curious as a result. They often involve a movie that combines both space science and emotional impact (that is, kindness, love, friendship, tenderness, anything soft and caring). I once watched the same movie every day for two years, studying it out to the innth degree. I watched it from every angle imaginable. My favorite movie of all time is The Dish. It combines NASA stuff, which I love, with kindhearted people who are so nice to each other. I can't even tell you how many times I've watched that movie. And I cry every time. My lifelong special interest, the one that's been with me forever, is maps. I could stare at maps day and night, night and day, but movies come next and usually one at a time, until I've worn it out and my family is begging me to find a new movie. Some favorites along the way: October Sky, Apollo 13, Transformers, and of course, Star Wars (the first Star Wars ever made, not the rest of them). Thank you for letting me share from a girl's perspective, or more specifically, my own personal perspective. I don't presume to speak for all girls.

s3mota said...

Your dad might be an Aspie, too. There are Aspies who've picked up the more basic rules of "normal" behaviour, and they try to force them onto their Aspie children. They actually hate being different, and they want to disguise their "difference" from other people by trying to act "extra-normal". That's why they hate to see their kids being "weird" or "different". They see the reflection of their "dark side" in their kids, and they hate to see that. My mother-in-law acts in a very same way. At first, I didn't like her very much because of this behaviour of hers. But lately I've discovered some clues that made me conclude that she's probably an Aspie as well who is pretending to be normal with all of her strength.

Gavin Bollard said...

Thanks S3mota, I think my dad may be aspie too. He's certainly got the special interests, and no social skills.

These 4 parts of me said...

How many people have ever got it in their brains that the old saying says "Train up a child in the way he should go" and not "Train up a child in the way you think he should go"

But there's the punchline - realizing and accepting who the kid is and what they need and where their talents are meant to go - he or she is very rarely a 'you #2' like a sad number of parents seem to believe.

But, hey, much much less effort and time involved in recreating you, essentially rubber stamping your identity onto the kid, than taking the time to learn who your kid really is.

I was a kid, but have no kids. And probably never will. My brother has three sons to continue the family name and my health leaves me not up to the challenge of parenting.
And that's okay.

Tony Hollingsworth said...

I just noticed this post from Dean Groom, FYI:

I left a comment referring to your post.

Best regards,
Tony Hollingsworth

Anonymous said...

Sounds like my father