Sometimes it's hard to be a man, especially on golf weekends away
There is a friend of mine who has taken on the role of champion to the downtrodden, oppressed middle-class male. It is a subject he can – and often does – speak about with passion and at length.
Men, he says, work. That's pretty much it. They carry the burden of providing for their families. They stay late at the office. Stress comes to them like iron filings to a magnet.
They get up for red-eye flights and network in anonymous hotel bars until late at night. They answer emails at dawn and take conference calls from China at 2am.
At the weekends, they ferry their kids to soccer and music and drama. And when they've done that, they call over to their mother-in-law's for tea. Then it's the weekly shop, Downton Abbey on TV and the whole thing starts all over again.
He is gracious enough to allow that some women do all this too. But the stay-at-home mums, he says, they have the system licked.
They have their coffee mornings and their tennis, their networks, their charity events. They have what the male, according to my friend at any rate, is missing: "me" time.
"Everything we do is about our jobs, our wives or our kids," he often laments. The fact that he's saying this on a boys' night out in Mulligan's pub does not detract one iota from his vehemence.
He is fond of citing the story of a friend of his who goes to the local pub every Wednesday without fail and drinks four pints. It is an unchanging ritual, the rock around which the tide of family life breaks.
Perhaps he's right. Perhaps some buddy-bonding time is what I need. As a stay-at-home dad, I spend a lot of time in an oestrogen-rich environment. Maybe it's time for some testosterone.
This is one of a raft of arguments I put forward in support of a weekend golf trip to Portugal, and soon I am on a flight to Lisbon with three friends, arguing about handicaps.
All-male company has its own strictures, I find. Everything is about slagging. All attempts at sincerity are swatted away by humour. Woe betide anyone who wishes to confide anything, or seek advice, or get support.
And it is very task-oriented. We are there to play four rounds of golf, and all talk revolves around that. Handicaps endlessly discussed, parsed and analysed. There is even a spreadsheet in operation to record the numbers of pars, scratched holes, birdies and Stapleford points.
The interaction remains at a certain level. Men get very uncomfortable if it threatens to get any deeper. If that happens, someone will bring the conversation back to safer waters.
Golf, I have now learned, is a topic that can keep the talk in a sheltered conversational harbour for days. There is the playing of it, of course, but there is also the clothing, and the equipment.
One's choice of ball is apparently not something to be taken lightly. And one's clubs, well, they say a lot about a man. Oh, I forgot to mention the GPS systems. I hadn't realised so much satellite activity was devoted to calculating one's distance to the green.
It's not all golf. I mean, waitresses and golf course attendants are dutifully flirted with, ladies are paid elaborate compliments ("Your daughter? I thought you were sisters . . .") and the state of the Portuguese economy is discussed.
But sooner or later, someone will pull out a scorecard for that day's play. "I've been looking at the scores again," they will say. "I have you down for a 5 on the 4th, but now that I think of it . . ."
By the time I get back, minus all the golf balls I departed with, I am more than ready for female company.
"What shall I wear to Liadh's party, dad," my daughter asks me, "the flowery dress or the pink?"
"I'd lay up and hit a wedge in," I say.
"Dad! Which dress?"
"Oh, the pink, of course," I say. It's good to be home.