"He was a good provider"

David Shores is a teacher with a special interest in the education of boys. He aims to alert young men to the fact that things are changing and that by broadening our views of what it is to be a "successful male" we can enrich our lives and the lives of those with whom we relate.

My father hated his job. He was a dispatch clerk for 40 years in the industrial suburbs of Melbourne. He was an easy to get on with kind of bloke mostly, fairly solitary though, kept himself to himself. As kids we didn't see much of him. He left early in the morning and arrived home in time for a beer and his tea. He never said it, but on reflection I guess he saw his role in the family as the provider.

He had come through the depression and was lucky enough to survive the weekly sackings and reduced wages that occurred over the worst years. He and his sister had supported their parents while his father, WW1 veteran, sold tea-towel racks door to door.

He was not into giving advice but on the two occasions that I do remember he did, it was, "get a job in the public service or a large bank" and much later, as a new grandfather, "men don't change pooey nappies!"

My mother worked in the home most of her life, ironically getting a job outside only after he took early retirement at 55. In those times a man's self worth was often built on the proud pronouncement that "no wife of mine will work!"

When he died it seemed to me that my mother summed up his life in a short simple statement. "Well, he was a good provider!" That was a pivotal moment in my life. Soon to be divorced after 19 years of marriage, I made a silent vow to myself. That's it! Provider no more!

Ten years later I work 2 days a week as a Support Teacher, a job that I mostly find challenging and interesting.

But that's not the whole story. In the S.A. education system there are many part time teachers. More than 90% are female. Making the change was not without some interesting insights into men and work.

On hearing of my decision to go part time, well-meaning colleagues, distress and compassion showing on their faces, sought me out to enquire: "If it was a stress claim or compo, why didn't you tell us it was getting you down?" What were they saying? It was my masculinity they were questioning! A man without work is only half a man! When confronted with such concern my reply was even more telling. No, no, I'm renovating my house! Ooh! (implication: that's all right then). Masculinity no longer in doubt.

I was not working part time, I was working the amount of time that I needed to stay challenged and to get the money I need to live the rest of my life in a sane and balanced way. Sharing costs with the people with whom I relate.

But on reflection the real reason I changed my paid working hours was that I wanted to be like a number of my women friends, lovers and colleagues who would send me green with envy when they would say, "I'm meeting a friend for coffee tomorrow" while I was preparing for another day at the chalk face.

Well, after 10 years of solid slog at dislodging the 5 days on 2 days off syndrome I have to report that I've made it. I met a male friend for lunch the other week and 4 hours later, after a wonderful catch-up and chat I got home exhausted.

And I finally confessed to the world, and to myself, that I was not renovating my house, I was renovating my life!

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