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Men of the moment: Ahead of International Men’s Day, nine famous faces give their take on what being a man means in 2021

Linnea Dunne talks to nine inspiring personalities about what they have learned along the way that has helped them become the men they are today

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Diarmuid Lyng

Diarmuid Lyng

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Bulelani Mfaco

Bulelani Mfaco

Mark Logan

Mark Logan

Colm O'Gorman

Colm O'Gorman

Fr Peter McVerry

Fr Peter McVerry

Paul Ryder

Paul Ryder

Munyaradzi ‘GodKnows’ Jonas

Munyaradzi ‘GodKnows’ Jonas

Philly McMahon

Philly McMahon

James Whelton

James Whelton

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Diarmuid Lyng

Former inter-county hurler and co-founder of Wild Irish

I can see now that hurling was a way in which I connected with my father. A lot of men say our fathers didn’t have the emotional awareness to tell us they were proud of us, but I feel that that judgment is fundamentally flawed. We tend to do a full 180-degrees on what we perceive was done to us; often, this is the limitation of our fathers’ emotional development. So I’m more than capable of telling my boy how much I love him. But telling him is easy. What about sitting with it, exploring it; what about my actions in what I do and how I carry myself in the world?

In some ways, not much has changed. There’s still that same pursuit of control, which is very clear in the whole ‘being your brand’ thing. People are very quick to put up a rainbow flag and pronouns to show how progressive they are, but they’re still acting out of fear.

There’s no room for dialogue, no room for other people’s points of view. When it comes to understanding masculinity, a lot of men are holding back from those conversations because terminology seems to matter more than anything else, which leaves us feeling that there’s not much room to explore these things.

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Diarmuid Lyng

Diarmuid Lyng

Diarmuid Lyng

I’m trying, as a man and father, to come to terms with the subtle undertones in society that being a man is fundamentally problematic and we’re almost automatically considered part of a culture of toxic masculinity. I see how that can slide into #notallmen, and it’s not that — there are aspects of toxic masculinity in me. I’m certainly not absolving my role in it. But the culture I want to cultivate for my boy is one where he can conjure that power within, embrace that wildness and the full sense of himself, and for that not to be something he’s afraid of.

Munyaradzi ‘GodKnows’ Jonas

Zimbabwean-Irish rapper and producer 

Society’s ideas of masculinity are vastly different now from when I grew up. I see it in my two younger brothers. One embodies everything that growing up in the 1990s was, and the other is everything that being Gen Z is. I see that clash between them, where one is very conservative in the way he performs his masculinity and the other very progressive in the way he is in himself.

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There are so many shades of grey, and the way I go about it is I’m OK with knowing that some things can change, but I can imagine how hard it must be for other men right now, trying to figure it all out. It’s not as simple as A and B — right now is the best time if you’re OK with seeing people who are fluid in their masculinity, and the hardest time if you’re stuck in your views.

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Munyaradzi ‘GodKnows’ Jonas

Munyaradzi ‘GodKnows’ Jonas

Munyaradzi ‘GodKnows’ Jonas

I think one of the main challenges is, and probably always has been, expression. Men expressing themselves is a very hard thing. There are a lot of expectations on men to be one way or another. But somewhere in the middle, you can lose yourself, and when that happens, you can lose your identity and will to live, which is why suicide is still very high in Ireland among men. When there’s something we don’t understand, it’s very hard to come back from that in a healthy way.

I always tell my siblings, it’s OK to change your mind. I look at my brother — he had a really hard time because of who he was, and being from a small town he thought he had to be like everyone else.

I see him now, growing into the best person he can be. That’s the thing about moving away: wherever you go, there you are.

Peter McVerry

Priest and founder of the Peter McVerry Trust

What it means to be a man has changed a lot. When I grew up it was very predictable — there were strong social boundaries that you didn’t cross, and a strong religious dimension that most people bought into. That’s all changed, and life today for many people is much more confusing.

People are very confused about whether there will be a place for them in society when they grow older,
and I think that’s very problematic. From the housing crisis to precarious employment, low-paid wages and zero-hour contracts, there’s a lot of uncertainty for young people across society.

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Fr Peter McVerry

Fr Peter McVerry

Fr Peter McVerry

And, of course, social media has been good and bad. The explosion of opportunities to relate to people through social media has diminished the option of relating to people face to face. I also think that the explosion of pornography on the internet has left many feeling confused about what’s normal.

Young people today also have a great sense of social justice and fairness, and if you ask them to do something for others or to help someone in need, a lot of them will rush to help. But I think maybe there’s been a loss of meaning in their lives.

When I was growing up, that meaning was provided by the Church and the cultural norms that existed. Both of those have now been reduced significantly, and not a whole lot has replaced them.

My advice for young men growing up today is that happiness is based more on a concern for others than a concern for ourselves.

If you grow up learning to reach out to others, learning to care for others rather than focussing on yourself, I think you’ll find life more meaningful and be much happier.

Mark Logan

Artist and co-founder and director of CLTV Film

I never had a male archetype in my life. I grew up in a working-class estate in north Dublin and was born into my granny’s house with my ma. My dad and grandad both were alcoholics, and it took my mother to break that cycle; to help me break that cycle so that I could begin to heal myself.

I played football at quite a high level into my 20s but left it to pursue a creative career. There were so many tropes of masculinity around the dressing room I didn’t want to be a part of.

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Mark Logan

Mark Logan

Mark Logan

I’ve gone on a massive journey in the last 10 years, travelled and lived in different places, and I recently went back to playing football. It’s been hard. I had nail varnish on one hand when I went in to train for the first time, and I started to get really anxious and question whether I should bite the nail varnish off…

There’s a lot of phenomenal work being done with men’s circles and men’s retreats, but if I’m honest, I don’t know how far we’ve come. There’s a politically-correct weight of toxicity that’s causing a lot of problems, and certain guys feel absolutely muted; they won’t say anything in front of anyone in case they get cancelled, but that festers and it generates more anger.

There’s an underlying anger towards men that’s very justified, but I don’t know how helpful it is because it’s isolating people and creating an othering instead of bringing us together.

It’s very complex; in some ways things are improving and roles are becoming more diverse, but in some ways men don’t know how to fit into this world because they’ve been coded in a certain way, and to break that, they need to make mistakes — and we live in a world where we aren’t allowed to make mistakes.

In order to create a new generation of men who are kind and soft, strong when they need to be and self-aware, we need to give children the love, support and safety they need and deserve.

Bulelani Mfaco

South African asylum seeker, activist and Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi) spokesperson

I was born in Mpondoland [a region in South Africa], a very patriarchal and heteronormative society. In the first instance, a boy’s transition to manhood comes through rituals that earn him a number of privileges that will be with him for life. The rituals are controversial in Libode, my home town, because there are always young boys who die during the initiation season.

I did not perform any of the rituals — a defiance that makes me [still] a boy in Mpondoland, as I have not been ‘properly’ inducted into manhood. With rampant violence against women in South Africa, including an extraordinarily high rate of sexual violence, questions must be asked about the relevance of the knowledge boys get through the rituals.

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Bulelani Mfaco

Bulelani Mfaco

Bulelani Mfaco

So, the construction of manhood is very different for Black men where I come from. And that would be the same for many Black men in Ireland today. A lot of them are negotiating their identity as they lose some of their traditions in Ireland and their sense of belonging is constantly questioned with the ‘where are you from?’ and ‘where are you really from?’ questions Irish people like to ask.

If any part of your values or beliefs teach you to treat others as less than you’d demand for yourself, ask yourself if there’s any place in today’s world for such beliefs.

A man today grows up in a world where there are many people who were, and in some parts of the world still are, stripped of their human dignity. Often, the reason for that denial of basic humanity is because they are not heterosexual cis men and have had to reclaim their humanity today — a process that is often met with violent resistance.

Recognising the unearned privileges that heterosexual cis men enjoy today at the expense of many marginalised people might serve as a first step in moving towards a socially enlightened man.

James Whelton

Coder and founder of CoderDojo

I went to a rugby school and there were a lot of notions around going to college, getting a good job, owning a nice home — very much the nuclear life of material success and maybe family success. That’s a big contrast to the reality of the housing shortage and the cost of living today, leaving a lot of people questioning how many children they can have, whether they can afford a home — especially if they’re in a renting trap.

I find Ireland to be similar to Japan in how they say the stuck-out nail gets hammered down — there’s always a fear around putting yourself out there, and an increasing vulnerability around wanting to do something different but being afraid of that. I definitely find there’s been better visibility around mental health in recent years, and more of my friends are open to being vulnerable and showing when they’re going through a difficult time.

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James Whelton

James Whelton

James Whelton

At the same time, a friend of mine took his own life some years ago, and another confessed to me he had been having severe suicidal ideation only once he was out the other side. Some are still very guarded on the topic. I guess, historically, men think they should be stoic and have good control over their emotional state, but in reality that’s extremely difficult to do.

As somebody who went down the path less travelled, I want to say, be aware of the values of the society and the people around you, and check if they resonate with you. I see a lot of people feel under pressure to do a lot of things at a certain age, but the jury is still out on whether that’s conducive to happiness.

Philly McMahon
GAA footballer, entrepreneur and social activist

What it means to be a man depends on your environment, what’s passed down through the generations, your social class and so on. I grew up in what you could say was a slightly feminine household with three sisters, my mam, my brother and my father, but my dad would’ve been quite traditional. He’s from West Belfast and experienced a lot of trauma because of the Troubles. Growing up in Ballymun, the trauma of that area rubbed off on me.

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Philly McMahon

Philly McMahon

Philly McMahon

Traditionally, you could say men hold a lot of our pain inside and wouldn’t be able to express that. Maybe there’s a lack of education because everyone is going through psychological pain, and expressing that will help.

I think things are changing slightly. The obvious example for me would be sport — I’m seeing huge respect across the genders in sport, even though we’ve still got some way to go. In impoverished areas, though, I think many of the issues are still there. Consumer culture has grown as well from a male perspective — that’s all about branded clothes, cars and all that. That’s causing problems in the community because if parents don’t have the money to buy the expensive things, young people go out and maybe do things that are against the law.

Psychological pain and suffering are inevitable, so when we realise there’s a problem, we need to find a way to fix it or we need to ask for help. Most people who go through that conflict to a place of understanding come out the other side so positive.

The most important piece of advice I can give is that we don’t know how much time we have on this planet, and when you’re gone, you’re gone, and all you’re going to leave behind is memories. Ask yourself: what can you do now to live the best life you possibly can?

Colm O’Gorman

Executive director of Amnesty International Ireland and founder of One in Four

When I was a boy, the sense of what I was meant be was limited — married, a husband, a father who provided — but what I was not meant to be was clearer: not emotional or expressive or creative or anything that departed from those very narrow ideas of what it meant to be a man, which was mostly to play GAA and be tough and emotionally detached. We have crippled generations of men by telling them they couldn’t be vulnerable and couldn’t celebrate their love and compassion.

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Colm O'Gorman

Colm O'Gorman

Colm O'Gorman

I think that’s changed a lot — I think it’s generally accepted now that men are indeed emotional beings, not just in terms of the traditionally prescribed emotions like anger, but also in terms of love, vulnerability, fear and concern. But change brings all of its own complications, particularly when you’ve grown up in a society where anything that challenged the very narrowly defined norm was met with sometimes fairly violent responses, both physically and socially.

There are people out there trying to re-inforce a notion of toxic masculinity as a positive thing, and that worries me. When people feel uncertain and insecure about their role in the world, if they’re offered a view of themselves that makes them feel powerful or shows a way out of having to work through their insecurities, that can become attractive. My advice is: try to listen to your own heart, don’t be limited by other people’s fears or demands that you be someone who you’re not. Love, and love powerfully.

Paul Ryder

Drag star, performer and broadcaster

As a young boy who loved to dance and perform and be flamboyant, this was always celebrated by my friends and family. Even when relatives commented that I was a camp kid, my parents always said, ‘once he’s happy...’

I tried football, rugby and all the things young boys are programmed to think should be a part of their masculine journey, but it never was the right fit for me. When I found performance, I felt I belonged.

That changed as I went into the later years of secondary school. My masculinity was tested for not conforming to the norm, going to a rugby-based school and experiencing horrid bullying for being more feminine than either teachers and students were used to. That made me doubt my masculine energy, and even to this day I struggle with what I ‘should’ be doing as a man and as the persona I use drag to portray. That strong character has no gender. That person is just that — strong.

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Paul Ryder

Paul Ryder

Paul Ryder

From what I see — boys wearing nail varnish, girls cutting their hair short, people not having to conform to a gender role — that’s changing. I teach dance to young boys who are so free in their ways of campery and femininity, and who own themselves. It’s beautiful to watch Ireland progress. But it’s still such a struggle for men to discuss how we feel because of generational guilt of not losing face; bottling; not talking.

My advice is to surround yourself with people who allow you to be unapologetically you, for all your flaws and positives in life. Spend time alone, enjoying your own company. Never be afraid to open up about anything and everything. Ask questions to learn, grow and always make sure you get the answers you need to educate those coming behind you to make the world a bloody good place. 


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