A band of brothers

Suicide is the second most common cause of death among men under 35. This must change.

When you look at the data about the lives of men in comparision with women, the statistics paint a clear picture. Starting at the most extreme end, of the 6,045 people in the UK that took their own life in 2011, 4,552 of them were men. This works out at over 12 men per day. More men under 35 died from suicide in the UK than road accidents, murder and HIV/Aids combined.

In education, there is a well-documented gap between boys and girls; both in performance and aspiration. In 2011 the gap between the proportion of girls gaining A* or A grades at GCSE and that of boys hit a record 6.7 per cent, up from just 1.5 per cent in 1989. Just 30 per cent of male school-leavers applied to university in 2012, compared with 40 per cent of their female counterparts. Boys are "permanently excluded" from school at a rate four times higher than for girls.

As for crime, men are perpetrators of over 90 per cent of violent crime in the UK. If you believe, as abandofbrothers do, that "hurt people, hurt people" and that violence is a manifestation of prior psychological woundings on the part of the perpetrator rather than the expression of an inherent evil, then this too points to the disadvantage of men and boys.

As a society, can we ignore these statistics? We face huge challenges in the world on almost every level – economic, ecological and social. If male and female are indeed the two wings of humanity, can we afford to keep flying round in circles? Can we continue to ignore the cost of damaged men? This cost is felt in economic terms (if men were to commit crime at the same levels as women we would save £42bn a year based on Home Office figures) and also in a unmeasured and immensurable social cost.

"If the young men are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn down the village just to feel a little heat." – Ancient African Proverb.

Arguably, where masculinity is most in crisis is amongst young men at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. Abandofbrothers would argue that this is a failing on the part of society. The "job" of giving young men a sense of purpose and meaning, so that they feel connected to (rather than resentful of) those around them is crucial, and one that cannot be done solely by employees of the state.

At abandofbrothers, our mission is to offer young men a rites of passage experience and mentoring to help them make the difficult transition into healthy adulthood. We give them a place to heal, to explore and be encouraged not just to "become a man" but to become their own man. We do this by creating empathic communities of older men who will give themselves in service to mentoring and supporting young men who need it.

To create these communities, we connect potential mentors to their hearts, enable them to find a resolution to their own emotional traumas so that they can better attend to the needs of their communities, and especially, the young.  It is time consuming and emotionally difficult. It’s also the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

My own first son is due to make an appearance in the world in the next few weeks. When he asks me what I was doing in the early part of the 21st century, when it became apparent that we faced huge challenges in creating a sustainable future, I will be proud to say I was one of the few, the lucky few, who were engaged in trying to create connected, resilient and joyful communities that were better equipped to weather the storms ahead.

For more information on abandofbrothers, please see www.abandofbrothers.org.uk

A man alone on a backstreet in Liverpool. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nathan Roberts is the Chief Executive of abandofbrothers.

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Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain