Run like a boy

Run like a boy

I tried imagining a world where all the little ways in which women are put down and valued less than men were translated to put downs against men; I had happily been saying "run like a girl" until I thought about it properly. Sexism is so deeply entrenched in our society, we need to take a step back to look at just how far we still have to go. This is an attempt at look at things differently Run-like-a-Boy The evening had finally reached the tipping point where verbal output exceeded alcoholic input. Jonathan sat back down after his third attempt at soothing and resettling his youngest; the unusual smells and echoes of dinner parties always upset the normal order of things. “So Bruno was saying last night that he and Arnold...” “Arnold?” Dave cut in. “Yeah, Bruno’s b.f.f. this week!” Jonathan and the other dads exchanged knowing nods and laughed. “They are so fickle,” Macca chimed in. “So, Bruno and Arnold have decided they’re having a joint party. Yes please,” he nodded at Kim who was doing the rounds with the wine. “Red. And you’ll never guess...” “Football?” asked Dave, nonchalantly. Jonathan looked both annoyed and amazed. “How d’you guess?” “Well, the girls always do a football party.” Another assenting murmur flowed round the dads. “Especially after Flo’s,” Macca added. “Raised the bar, somewhat, you know, with Laura Messinger doing her party last month.” “She was good, wasn’t she?” Dave didn’t try to hide how awestruck he was. “You can see why Chelsea want her.” “I didn’t know you were such an expert,” Jonathan teased, trying to regain conversational control. “They were so lucky to get her. For the party I mean. D’you know,” he had been wanting to find a way to direct the conversation to this point and savoured the anticipated outrage. “It occurred to me the other day, Bruno hasn’t even seen a men’s football game. Like, never...” Having launched his grenade, he let the full force of his words detonate, then watched the debris fall about them. “Well, if you think about it,” Dave interrupted the silence. “All we ever see on telly is the women’s league. That’s all the press are interested in.” “Crikey, imagine what it would be like if it were the other way round.” Macca started then paused for a moment, before adding, “Imagine if we only ever saw men’s football!” “Yeah, the women would be up in arms, wouldn’t they?” Jonathan chuckled, warming to his favourite topic of Masculism. “Before you boys set the world to rights again,” Kim was suddenly there, looming above them. “Is there any dessert we can offer our guests, darling?” Jonathan’s face flickered annoyance, but quickly recovered his host-ly poise. “Of course. It’ll just be a moment,” and he stood up collecting empty vegetable dishes and the gravy jug. “Here, can we help?” Dave and Macca jumped up and were quickly transporting stacks of dishes and cutlery into the kitchen, while Kim returned to Abi and Jennifer and the pros and cons of the new Audi and Lexus models. ♦ In bed that night, Jonathan was still simmering from the pudding slight. “I’m sorry, darling,” crooned Kim, watching Jonathan undress with eyes that bore into him. “It’s just, I know you don’t want me to take over. I wouldn’t want to take credit for the wonderful evening. You excelled yourself.” Kim leaned towards Jonathan and started kissing his lips, then chest. “You’re so good at dessert,” she whispered, and raised an eyebrow, teasing him, daring him to rise to her challenge. “You treat me like an old fashioned house-husband.” “Please, not this again?” Kim’s face hardened. “I’ve had a shit day. I want to relax. You can join me if you like but if not...” Jonathan’s hurt swelled into anger. He fished out a fresh pair of pyjamas from the mirrored closet and furiously forced each limb into its protective shield. “Fine. Please yourself. I can see I’m going to have to,” and Kim reached under her side of the bed for a well-thumbed magazine, and began to pleasure herself indiscreetly. Jonathan grabbed his tablet from his bedside table barely holding back burning tears, and headed for the spare room. ♦ The doorbell scarred the morning silence, cutting through the dark smell of coffee and the delicate tang of marmalade. Jonathan toyed with the idea of ignoring it, but a second scream was too much for his curiosity. “I thought you might like a walk today,” Dave offered by way of explanation neither needed to be convinced by. “You know, it’s just everywhere,” Jonathan spouted as he busied with coffee machine and milk frother. “Sprinkles?” “Yes please,” Dave nodded. “You’re such a Masculist.” Jonathan never knew if this was an endorsement or a criticism. “But then you went and took her surname.” Jonathan grinned sheepishly, remembering the drunken expounding of how wrong it was that the name went through the female line, when really it was the men who predominantly raised the children, who shaped, organised, nurtured and taxied them. Faced with the reality of two surnames, or the thought of Kim’s reaction to the idea of going double barrelled, convention was just simpler to slip into, like gloves you didn’t really want but that fitted anyway. “So what you going to do?” Dave asked when Jonathan revealed the hideousness of the night before. “What can I do?” Jonathan lamented, running his hands through his hair. “How could I survive without her?” “I never had you as such a romantic.” Dave’s eyes widened and his eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “No, not like that.” Jonathan’s elongated smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Not for a long time like that. Financially, I meant. Financially, I’m like a bird in a cage. It’s so long since I practiced, who would want me? I’m so out of date.” “Couldn’t you find something part-time? Like Macca?” “No. You have to work that from the inside.” Jonathan picked up a pen and began doodling on his shopping list. “That’s why there’s such a push to make partner before kids.” He stabbed holes in the top where the pages joined. “It’s so wrong. All that talent just goes to waste. Even without paternity breaks, they pay men 8% less. Returning dads don’t stand a chance.” “Things are changing, aren’t they?” Dave’s words were gentle, as though not wanting to scratch Jonathan with them. “First male priest not so long ago. Male presidential candidate in America on the horizon...” “But it’s so entrenched, so much the way of the world. Saudi’s don’t let men drive without a female relative. I mean, what the...? Muslims not letting men even show their hair; what is it with women’s hair that makes it ok to expose to the world and men’s hair that isn’t?” “I had a friend who always translated it into Black/White.” Dave spoke slowly, as though working it out as he spoke. “He was once told to go and see a client who wouldn’t shake his hand simply because he was a man.” “What?” Jonathan’s mouthful of coffee reappeared spectacularly. “Orthodox Jew. Won’t shake hands with a man, because he’s dirty. Never bleeds the way a woman does, never cleansed or something like that.” Dave shrugged. “Anyway, he asked the partner whether he’d say the same if a client refused to shake hands with a person of colour because of their colour.” “So what happened?” Jonathan asked, indignation prickling up his spine. “Guess. Month later, despite exceeding target, despite clients loving him, he was asked to leave. ‘Face didn’t fit’, they said.” “It’s not right, is it?” Jonathan asked, eyes heavy, shoulders sagging. “Come on, Jono.” Dave jumped up. “I was supposed to be cheering you up, not making it worse. We really should make the most of the sunshine while it lasts.” ♦ Nature was on the cusp of spring. Green bulbous fingers that would become daffodils huddled in vast crowds, pointing upwards as though indicating what they were waiting for. As the two men strode breathlessly to the top of the hill behind their cul-de-sac, Jonathan brooded about the role he was modelling for his children. Earlier that morning, he had had to referee the older two. “Dad”, Bruno had whined. “Dad, Mike says I run like a boy.” Since when did being a boy become a negative thing? Why couldn’t ‘run like a boy’, ‘throw like a boy’, ‘dance like a boy’ be accolades? Distilled through the Black/White lens Dave had mentioned, the world would surely be up in arms if the phrase was ‘run like a person of colour’? Why wasn’t there outrage, a global uprising, against the thousand upon thousand of daily acts of repression that took place the world over? When he got back, Kim appeared briefly, returning from one distant meeting to repack and head off to another. Jonathan had long since lost track of where Kim’s job took her. “Before you go, we need to talk about Bruno’s party,” Jonathan started. “Oh, whatever you think, love,” Kim batted back. “You men are so much better at organising that sort of thing.” Jonathan bit back the myriad retorts; ‘we have to be because you women never bother’, ‘if you can run a company, surely a gathering of 15 eight year olds isn’t that much to think about”. “And after all, why keep a dog and bark yourself?” “I’m sorry?” Jonathan genuinely wasn’t sure he had heard her correctly. “What did you just...?” “Oh, don’t make a thing of it.” Kim leant towards Jonathan to deliver a perfunctory peck. “It’s a phrase. I didn’t mean anything by it. You men overanalyse everything. I’m late. Must fly.” Kim chuckled to herself. “Literally,” and moments later Jonathan heard the front door slam. Feeling as dazed as if Kim had used a saucepan, Jonathan gathered keys and snacks and headed off to lose himself to the chaos of the school gates. ♦ “Dad, Dad,” the younger boys rushed up to him, bursting with pre-teen exuberance. “I’m in the hockey team,” Bruno declared proudly. “Can you come and watch? Pleeeaaase,” he sang the word as though it were elasticated, to be stretched to fit the importance of the request. “It’s so cool you come to everything,” he added as he strapped himself into the front seat of the car. “You’re the best, Dad.” As he unlocked the front door, a car he recognised drew up behind him. Macca’s flustered face leaned out. “Jono?” Macca looked exhausted, Jonathan thought as he waved at the two boys in the back too busy squabbling over whose turn it was on the iPad to notice. “I’m sorry to ask, again. Jennifer’s away tonight and I’m behind on trial prep. Bundles got to be exchanged by tomorrow at the latest.” “Why don’t the boys stay here tonight?” Jonathan watched relief wash across Macca’s grey skin and tinge the corners of his sunken eyes. “Come and stay here, too, when you’re done.” Simultaneously marshalling homework, cajoling piano practice out of his youngest, and preparing chicken, potato and leeks for the seven of them, Jonathan mulled over whether giving up work had really been the right choice. A while later, bath time was done, spellings tested, the middle three had read, and his youngest had been read to; as Jonathan sat down to savour his well-deserved glass of wine, Macca appeared. “Aren’t you glad you kept your hand in, though?” Jonathan asked after discussing the latest twists and turns of Macca’s caseload. “Gives you freedom, surely?” “The thing is,” Macca confided, “I feel like I’m constantly failing. Both as a Dad and a lawyer. Whatever I’m actually doing, I feel guilty I’m not doing the other. Trouble is I’m trapped. Too many mortgages,” he said ruefully. “You’ve got it right, you and Dave. It’s the boys that matter. We’ll never get this time again.” Macca’s words clicked into place in Jonathan’s head like a key in a lock, and he felt his wings stretch. The trap wasn’t work or lack of it. It was important to give his boys the time they needed. What he wanted was this same respect for his choices to be shown to him in his own home. Perhaps, if he showed the boys what to do in the face of the type of disrespect Kim had perfected over recent years, perhaps that would be his job well done. “Well,” he decided. “I’ll just have to show Kim the stubbornness of dogs.” ♦ “How was your day, then?” Kim asked the following evening having done the rounds of night nights and lights out. “Get up to much?” “Oh, you know. The usual,” Jonathan deflected, knowing that Kim didn’t really want an answer. “You?” “Same.” Kim was already lost to him, distracted by the share prices at the back of the paper. “By the way,” Jonathan threw his domestic grenade with the same anticipation as the dinner party variety. “I’ve moved into the spare room.” “Oh?” Kim barely glanced up. “I’m afraid you’ll have to start barking yourself.” “What are you talking about?” Kim’s disdainful frown appeared above the paper. “I can’t change the world.” Kim snorted. “But you treat your employees with more respect than me.” Jonathan’s voice was measured and calm. “And maybe changing our world is enough.” His voice was barely audible. “I’ve always put the boys first, always will.” Jonathan paused. “The rest - ironing, dinner parties, sex. This dog isn’t doing it any more.” He stood up. “Not on the old terms.” Cloaked in the certainty of a new beginning, he turned and walked upstairs.


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