Sunday 25 June 2017

Rio shows it's not a failure to need help or ask for it

Rio thinks that “being from a dressing-room culture” made it harder for him to express his feelings, fearing that this would be weakness. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Rio thinks that “being from a dressing-room culture” made it harder for him to express his feelings, fearing that this would be weakness. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Alan Tyers

Rio Ferdinand's wife, Rebecca, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in March 2015. She died 10 weeks later. Rebecca was 34, leaving behind Rio and three young children.

In tomorrow night's documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, the footballer talks about grief, anger, suicide and his desire to create a loving, stable environment where his children can talk about their mum and their loss. It is a painful, profound watch. He is a brave man.

The documentary has attracted significant press coverage, centring on Rio's raw honesty. He says that, previously, "when I read that someone had committed suicide I used to think, 'You selfish so-and-so,' but there's times at the beginning when you know how they feel."

He also talks about drinking heavily, about his anger at the arbitrary, sudden, unfairness of it all.

"My kids are thinking, 'Why haven't I got a mummy?' I haven't got the answers for them," he says.

The bit that broke my own particular heart was the section in which Rio goes to meet some other widowers of his age.

No former England captains or world-record transfers here, just some 'ordinary' men going through something extraordinarily tough: losing a partner, having to keep going for the children.

This informal support group is having some food, a barbecue obviously, because: blokes.

There are some rather sad-looking little burgers and some white bread. And coleslaw, which as every man knows, is definitely a vegetable. Or possibly a fruit.

The spread needs a woman's touch. You just want to hug all of them.

The documentary notes that 75 men under the age of 50 become widowers every day in the UK, and this is explicitly a film about the male of the species and how he reacts to loss.

Rio thinks that "being from a dressing-room culture" made it harder for him to express his feelings, fearing that this would be weakness.

While not every man watching this programme has to take a shower next to Manchester United footballer Phil Jones, and we all count our blessings daily for that at least, do we not as a gender all struggle to some degree with the 'dressing room' idea of being the strong, silent rock?

Rio has had the role-model millstone hung around his neck more than most, a most unfair label in my opinion, as if a young guy who is good at running around and kicking footballs has any obligation to function as a nation's moral compass.

In this film, though, he embodies a leadership quality and wisdom, bitterly and cruelly hard-won though they have been, that might demonstrate to others in pain that it is not a failure to need help or to ask for it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad

(Tomorrow, 9pm, BBC1)

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