Men warrant care, support and nurturing too

Today is International Men's Day, prompting Donald Pettitt to observe that men are vulnerable when negative changes happen in their lives.

Who cares about Canterbury men?

It's International Men's Day today and I've got a special interest in men as manager of the Canterbury Men's Centre.

We care about men and act on it by providing free counselling, producing The Blokes Book, setting up men's sheds and poking our nose into things related to men's health and well-being. We've been going for five years and I'm delighted to say that I like men more than I did when we started.

I've realised how ignorant I am of what is happening for guys. I get a selected view of men in my work, but I've been excited to be part of a lot of men's voyages while they grapple with a dark patch in their life. The men that come to us are talking about what is going on, and they are making changes for the better.

I'm a better person for hearing those stories and a fuller man because of it.

I think as a culture we don't know the everyday stories of men. Because of this, guys are vulnerable when negative life changes happen and we don't recover from childhood trauma as well. We haven't heard how other men have coped; we don't know the terrain. Most people feel comfortable blaming men for not telling their story more, but that denies the effect of culture on men's behaviour.

Our systems reflect our culture. Some of those systems have let men down and haven't yet risen to the challenge and support cultural change of and in men. Looking at the ads on television, I'd say we want men to stop being violent, drunk, irresponsible drivers.

"It's not OK", the White Ribbon Campaign and the "Mantrol" ads have an important role. The statistics support the need for this - but saying "don't" is only part of the equation. The other neglected half is the "do".

In recent years there have been some wonderful "do's". The John Kirwan depression work has touched men's lives. The impact of the ads goes way beyond mental health and depression, waking up the more tender aspects of men. Capturing the broad story of a man that would otherwise be two-dimensional to most; the hero.

The ALAC "Ease up on the Drink" campaign was culture-changing as well. It invites and coaches men to step in and in a caring way tell your mate not to be a jerk. Wonderful. Showing men being tender to other men with a positive social aim.

We've yet to do a comprehensive push to support change for men at an educational, social and a health programme level. In these systems there are a range of programmes and doorways that are women-only or hard to access by men. This is despite women already having arguably better outcomes and behaviours. Those programmes sometimes filled special gaps in the care of women, but also brought about important cultural change.

The recent decision by the Canterbury District Health Board to allow men on to the Appetite for Life course was a breakthrough for larger cultural change. The 5000 Cantabrian women who have done the programme over the past seven years have received a cultural boost. I'm glad that a GP or nurse can now tell a man he has this option as well, instead of telling him the other basic options - sort it out, take a pill, or die younger and ill.

On a social level, women have had access to free counselling services for years (good work, women's centres). This has happened throughout New Zealand, for women. And we are finally doing it in Canterbury, for men.

These kinds of comprehensive services (or lack of them) over decades make a big difference and the culture of men has suffered for not having had this or a similar opportunity.

In the area of education, I'd love to see posters at a high school level telling men they can be a nurse/social worker/ counsellor, much like the push we have done and continue to do for women. Special scholarships for men to enter those professions are called for, and a men's cuppa with the dean each term.

Special second-go programmes for men who didn't do well at high school but want a tertiary education are called for. Those all exist for women already.

We've had an awful lot of people supporting my agency. Funders, volunteers, sheddies (Men's Sheds), social workers, health workers, and businesses. They've wanted to take care of men and found a useful partner in us.

Despite that, when I hear health and social professionals say men don't take care of themselves I often feel angry. I didn't use to but now I know about the leg up that men haven't been getting and I rail at the injustice of the lack of reflection by those professionals.

What would the culture of men in Canterbury have been like now if 5000 had done the Appetite for Life course over the last seven years?

If they had 10 free counsellors available for the last 20 years?

If they had been nudged to go into programmes relevant to their aspirations, instead of what they think they should do?

If we want men to care more, we have to care for them.

I care about men, and if you've read this far you probably do, too.

So pamper some man you are fond of today, and tell him what you like about him, in a way he'll appreciate.

You might do it because it's International Men's Day, or you might do it just because you like him.

Or you might just write and say hi to us and see what you can do to improve the lives of Canterbury men.

The Canterbury Men's Centre is at 281 Barbadoes St, Christchurch.

The Press