AA Gill On: The Art Of Becoming A Man

Our resident agony uncle advises a reader struggling to mature

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Dear Uncle Dysfunctional,

I have been successfully masturbating for at least six months (not continuously – that would be excessive, painful and interfere with schoolwork).

I understand that the ability to have sex and potentially father children comes with responsibilities, although I'm not planning on doing the latter imminently, while ardently hoping for some of the former. The weight of inferred adult manliness weighs heavily on my shoulders.

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I worry about how to be a man because I've got a load of penis in my hand but, in my head, I'm fantasising about Violet from The Incredibles (she's been my ideal girl since forever). I'm an only child and I don't have a dad. Well, obviously, I must have a dad, but he's never bothered to introduce himself.

I have a fantastic mum who's been a brilliant parent.

We're not sad or lonely, or terribly under-privileged, but there isn't a male in my life I can talk to about this sort of thing.

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My granddad is a gent's outfitter and votes Ukip. His idea of being manly is polishing your shoes and knowing how to tie a Windsor knot. I have a lot of friends at school, but I obviously can't talk about this sort of thing to them. And teachers are all kidult low-achievers, who've been made emotionally dysfunctional by hanging around children too much.

I really could do with a grown-up answer and, I suspect, so could a lot of your readers, who possibly aren't eloquent or evolved enough to ask the question straight out. Please, don't waste time telling me I'm precocious – I know, I've known for years. That's how precocious I am.

Yours, Jamie

Jamie,

Thank you for the update on your onanism. I know you just want to share with absolutely everyone at the beginning, and you're right.

But then I suspect you're always right.

This is an interesting and important question. Indeed, in many ways, it is the question that everyone writes in asking about. And I'll answer it as straightforwardly as I can.

You will grow up to be a man, whatever you do, whether you think about it or not. It is what you are and most of the things that make you a man are out of your control, like erections, urges and smells, and the need to laugh at things in groups that you wouldn't find remotely funny if you were on your own.

But what you mean is: how do you become a good man? How do you mould and manipulate that small portion of masculinity that isn't genes, hormones, natural selection and hardwiring? The part that makes you unique is the bit people will like or fear, fall in love with, or try to avoid.

Maybe it's best not to ask another man, a failed or compromisedmanly man. Maybe the best person would be a woman. She might tell you what was attractive and most endearing from her point of view.

I suspect women would say you should be sensitive but capable, strong but also flexible, and that you should be able to change a tyre and have an argument without shouting.

You should be dependable but spontaneous, clean and dirty. The ideal man for a woman, in short, might be a handyman butler with benefits. On the other hand, the male exemplar of manliness is Shane, the hero of a 1953 cowboy film you haven't seen – a sort of Arthurian knight – tough, honourable, caring and just.

And that's fine for everyone else, but it's the most uncomfortable and miserable person to actually be in real life. It's lonely, tortured and hard, and is not of any use going round a supermarket. Trying to learn to be a good man is like learning to play tennis against a wall. You are only a good man – a competent, capable, interesting and lovable man – when you're doing it for, or with, other people.

So, being a good man is not an exam or a qualification, it changes, and it incorporates being a good friend, a good father, a good employee, a good boss, a good neighbour and a good citizen.

The end of a rather long answer is: there is no short answer. But I can tell you a few things: learn to apologise, say sorry often and with absolute conviction, and without caveat; for women, there is no such thing as good-natured teasing, it is all mockery and is an irreversible passion-killer; humour isn't as important as people say it is, being made to laugh is nice because it's inclusive, cosy and unthreatening but what you laugh at isn't really that important.

Learning Jimmy Carr riffs off by heart is not the way to anyone's heart, unless you're Jimmy Carr. And remember, the two most attractive things in a man is a sense of danger and being able to make a girl feel really safe. The definition of a good man is perhaps a chap who can do both those things simultaneously, so good luck. 

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MORE AA GILL:
A Girlfriend With A Past 
Being Assertive In Bed
Safari Jackets 
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