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Byron Shire
March 6, 2021

What makes a man a man?

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What a Man’s Gotta Do, Lismore City Hall, Saturday

Andrew Horabin faced his own identity struggle as a bloke. He decided it was a story that deserve to be told. In his new one-man show he wrestles with masculinity in the modern age.

Why do you think men struggle with their identity? Well, not all men do, but obviously gender roles have changed so much as society has ‘evolved’ and the distinctions that used to be essential to survival or that used to be constructs of daily life are, in many places, gone. But modern changes in gender roles have not erased millions of years of conditioning. So it may not be essential for me to procreate as much as possible and treat anything that moves as a potential threat but it can be hard to switch that off! Especially if I’ve had a few brews! And the Audience Survey we do as part of the show in each town shows that, in most towns, it’s really not clear what a man’s gotta do to be considered a man. ‘Open the door for ladies, remove spiders without hurting them, express how he feels, deal with his anger appropriately, believe in himself without taking himself too seriously…’ or ‘drink his own weight in beer, drive fast and shag’. It’s part of the fun of the show that we’re all working this stuff out together!

Are men’s groups, or warrior gatherings, useful to help establish connection and identity? They work superbly for some men. And they’re all different. At some you’ll be half-naked, bangin’ drums, howling at the moon and changing your name to ‘Geoffrey Wombatfish’. At others, you’ll just be sitting with some really ordinary blokes talking about the challenges of marriage, work, parenting and living in a body that isn’t so fresh anymore. I can say that sitting with good men in a safe place and talking honestly about life has saved me – possibly from an early death and certainly from a life potentially lived, as Thoreau said, ‘in quiet desperation’.

Do you think the groups might be enhanced if you went hunting together? (This could be difficult for the vego men!) I guess for some blokes that’s part of the attraction to fishing! What I think many of us do crave is those experiences that bring out deep – often suppressed – masculine drives. To take meaningful risks, to be in a pack, to connect with nature, to set ourselves against a challenge, to find the edge of our mortality – and maybe hunting is something that does all that and then literally feeds both body and soul. My understanding is that the old hunting cultures were, for the most part, deeply respectful of the animals they caught, killed and ate. Which is a bit different from just buying bits of meat in a pack at the supermarket. It’s also been said that many men learn ‘shoulder to shoulder’ rather than ‘face to face’ and hunting could do that for some. Of course, if you’re vego, perhaps farming vegetables and herbs can have some of the same effect. But you might need to get your adrenaline somewhere else. Unless the carrots could actually attack.

What are the major themes that you address in your show? Initiation, rites of passage, how boys become men in Australia – or don’t – and Eldership. There are other things that connect into all of those things – grog, violence, sex and masturbation, relationships with women, car craziness and so on – but they all wrap around those core themes.

Why do you think men have such a hard time articulating their feelings…? Well, not all men do. There are many who can’t shut up about how they feel! And there are some who know how they feel and how and when to express it. But of course, there are so many who struggle. Of those, some don’t even know how they feel in the first place, let alone have any capacity to articulate – or express responsibly with something other than words – what those feelings are or might mean. And for those men, the reasons are varied – some had dads who were not present or loving; some have always been surrounded by blokes who have been told that emotion (other than anger, maybe) is weakness; some are afraid that if they start talking about how they feel they may never stop; I think a lot of us are scared that if we start to experience and express emotion, we’ll lose control – as if we were ever completely in control in the first place! But probably the most basic reason is that it’s considered ‘unmasculine’ to even experience things like fear, deep love, softness or grief – and to express them is to admit that terrible flaw. Of course it’s insane but that’s how it is for many Australian men today.

Who are the men who have most influenced you? Men who’ve committed to owning their stuff – who look into their shadow and make it possible for others to do the same. Great husbands and dads. Men who take on the big fights – sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on. Men who’ve had crap lives with no good role models and yet continually renew their determination to be good men themselves. Older men who are exploring Eldership and trying to set aside their egos. And ordinary men in small, sacred conversations who’ve opened, spoken their truth and risked everything that comes with that.

What are the most valuable lessons you have learnt on your path to manhood? That if you didn’t have great parents, great mentors, enlightened mates, a series of loving partners and a skillfully facilitated rite of passage into manhood, it’s bloody hard work becoming a good man – but still worth a shot. That there are loads of other men, who feel something similar to me, who are facing similar demons or difficulties and who will share the journey with me. That while you can’t generalise about relationships because they’re all different – and when you factor in varied cultures, sexualities and stages of life, the permutations are endless – there are plenty of heterosexual women who still want men to be ‘men’ – decisive, strong, courageous, handy on the tools, a great kisser, willing to take out the bins and spiders without making a fuss and occasionally a bit mysterious or daring. They would just like to add to that he’s also a good cook, can express how he feels, takes responsibility, shares the housework, loves his partner and kids, has a dance without needing to be drunk and believes in himself without taking himself too seriously. Sounds easy enough, hey?

What is the relevance of rites of passage or initiation – how could these be introduced to fit with our cultural patterns? This is something I’m really still working on. I’ve seen some interesting stuff being done around the country – rites of passage retreats for boys and girls – but it will be some time before we know how successful they are. My current thinking is just that it needs to be locally-driven – it has to be something that works for each child, not something that can be prescribed and applied nationally. I’m wondering if it actually has to be something that just happens in small groups so that the women and men involved can design something personal and meaningful for each child. I’m hoping to learn more about it over the years.

What do you think are the major challenges facing most blokes in the modern world? I’m going to assume ‘most blokes’ means your average guy and say that our challenge is to find balance. Balance of the best elements of ourselves. To keep everything good that is identified by some as the ‘masculine’ while courageously looking at the shadow of the masculine and how it plays out for us individually and across the whole culture. It’s really time we stood up and took responsibility for the carnage we cause through our unconsciousness.

Tell me about your show; how much do you reveal of the journey in it? Well having said all this really heavy stuff, the show is actually a comedy! It’s standup comedy wrapped around a story – about Adam, who has 24 hours to prove he’s a man or lose his bride – and peppered with songs and a few contributions from the audience. It’s a lot of fun and a great night out. I share a little of my own story and also reveal some of the things lads are facing through the characters Adam, Muzza, Gazza, Stuey and Joe – and Adam’s granddad Jack. It’s a lot of fun but it also has a lot of layers.

What should we expect? Laughter, great stories, spontaneity – a one-off show. Every show is different because the town and the audience become part of it through their contributions. Here is a comment from a punter who came to the Brisbane show last night, posted on our FB page: ‘Andrew, your show tonight in Brisbane was amazing – I laughed, I cried, and I came away feeling like the world was a better place!’

Saturday at Lismore City Hall. Bookings 1300 066 772.

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