My father Eric Williams, arrived in the UK in the late fifties, a skilled carpenter, seaman and tradesman. He was never able to get a job commensurate with his talents and passed away with so many of his dreams for his family and himself deferred.
As we move through this November Mental Health Awareness Month, I think of him, how he was regarded then, as a ‘man’s man’. He took his whiskey neat and smoked a pack a day of unfiltered full strength cigarettes. He had his cohort of friends, other talented Caribbean transplants who arrived in this country with big dreams and boundless optimism, one who could have passed as his ‘brother from another mother’ and the other who we heard referred to as ‘he a anti-man’.
They socialised together, spending their time at the pub across the street, or at the dogs, occasionally at church. Their laughter rang out rich and velvety, especially on Sundays when he would cook the dinner and the sweet aroma of whiskey (much sweeter than the actual taste), would rise above that of the juices from the beef he was overworking in the oven, or the pungent rice and peas that always seem to hang mid-level, robust and insistent on the tip of the nose. They would play music, Jim Reeves, and Milly were always in rotation, the foundations of the Sunday Dinner. Monday morning, they went to work in sharp suits and ties, Trilby hats and my father always had his pocket handkerchief, a gleaming shaft of white cotton peeking out from the upper quadrant of his jacket.
But they were labourers, and the work was dangerous and definitely contributed to his early demise.
We now have a language for explaining how we feel that I often wonder, how would that have been for them? How does a man develop a sense of himself as a man in a society where he isn’t seen, validated or acknowledged unless it is because of his skin colour, class or sexual orientation and when these recognitions are usually negative, pejorative and potentially destructive. For my father, he responded to his circumstance by being the most Man as he could be. Almost trying to be a refutation of white England’s views of him. Possibly, his allegiance to traditional masculinity gave him something to hold onto about himself in the face of his deferred dreams. But more likely, it created an unwinnable war against the self.
I wonder if he had been able to see himself in a different way, outside of the whiskey and the Trilbies, if he would have recognised that he and his friends were enough?
Over the years I have had the honour to publish writers who take on these questions fearlessly, ferociously and write their understandings and conclusions as if their lives depended upon them doing so. It’s an understatement to say that I am proud of these works, and I encourage you to take the time to engage with their worlds, their world views and to celebrate with them their outcomes and conclusions, whether triumphant or less so.
For the month of November, we celebrate the memoirs Little Big Man by Stanley J., Browne and Stick to My Roots by Tippa Irie, the essay collection MANDEM, edited by Iggy London and the stories The Street Hawker's Apprentice by Kabir Kareem-Bello and Ugly Dogs Don't Cry by DD Armstrong.
Each of these stories explore the multifaceted experience of masculinity and the difficulties that men experience with the hope that things can get better