Younger Mike (on the left) and me

In the near future MensCraft will be producing a short film where, among other things, we will be asking our members to speak about the positive male role models in their lives. I have been reflecting about this and, although there are a number of contenders, I would choose to talk about one of my best friends, Mike.

I was sixteen when I met Mike. I had just left school and, having hidden behind my fists for most of my ‘childhood’, I knew instinctively that I couldn’t go on playing the ‘tough guy’ all my life. The first things that brought me and Mike together were a shared surreal sense of humour and a love of writing and wordplay. I also felt that I could tell Mike anything and that he would treat my ‘confessions’ with respect – and I was right about that.

He soon realised that I was a bit ‘broken’, my dad having died when I was eight; my second dad, Ken, died when I was eleven and I had a third dad, Tony, from the age of fourteen (by which time, I assumed he’d die soon too – he lived to be eighty!). Mike had also been ‘through the wringer’. He had endured many years of bullying at school and his parents were also going through a divorce that meant Mike’s siblings had left home to be with his mum. Although Mike adores his mum, he showed immense character and stayed with his dad (a difficult man!), because he knew he needed someone to be by his side at that point.

Looking back over our long friendship, I can see now that having this strong and gentle friend made an enormous positive difference to me. He showed me that there are lots of ways to be strong. In a quiet way, he has encouraged me to find my gentler sides, my quirky ‘corners’. He has told me straight when I’ve stepped out of line, but never judged or dismissed me. We share an enormous mutual respect. Like me, coming from a working-class background, he has built a life for himself that he could never have dreamed of (teaching in an Italian university; becoming an internationally respected author; being a wonderful son, father and husband). I am so proud of him!

When, a few years ago, I experienced a mental health crisis and contemplated taking my own life, it was Mike I reached out to. As I walked in the rain, crying, I messaged him and, instantly, he got back to me and calmly advised me to seek help, which I did. Subsequently, his patience, belief and support has helped me recover and heal. Thanks Mike!