In 2001 the mans man spokesman of the ‘90’s, Tony Parsons, master hack of the men’s mag GQ and famous for lines like “it is incredibly difficult to get shot of a woman once you have knobbed her”, performed a 180 exorcist twist and unleashed a wave of sentimentality with the release of his compassionate and sensitive novel ‘Man and Boy’ which sold 1.8 million copies worldwide. Impact’s Sam Hunt questioned Parsons on all things male and found him as erudite and cutting as ever.
Father figures always shaped the lives of their sons but perhaps that is changing. My father was a big influence on how I carried myself – he still is, although he has been dead for 20 years – but they don’t really make them like my old man any more. He was a former Commando, a big war hero, a very tough man but also incredibly loving and gentle and kind with his family. Men these days are weaker, softer creatures and less worthy of admiration and emulation. Also, with the soaring divorce figures, fathers are often less of a meaningful presence in a child’s life. I didn’t see that much of my dad because he worked 6 days a week, but his presence still counted. I doubt if the absent dads of today could say the same thing. So I try to be like my dad, and walk in his shoes, even though I know it is impossible. But I would love to be the kind of man and father that he was – tough but gentle, a provider and a protector – but he was a hero in every sense of the word, and I am not.
I don’t think you can look to footballers to provide decent role models. There are exceptions, but they are mostly thickos on £60,000 a week – it is bound to get ugly, isn’t it? My father was my role model, and even in a time of peace and prosperity, I think young men should be looking towards their own flesh and blood to provide the way forward. My father never made any money, he left school at 14, and all the remarkable things he did were in the war, and he was wounded and out of that before he was out of his teens; but I feel that his memory sustains me in a way that no celebrity I ever met ever could.
I think men are capable of completely detaching sexual intimacy from emotional intimacy – totally. Women seem less able to do that, which is a good thing, because otherwise we would all be shagging in the bushes with strangers all day long. I think the reason for the mass breakdown in relationships is because we all have more options than we had in the past. We all get to travel more, we all get to realize that there are a lot of fabulous people in the world- we all get placed in the way of temptation. I don’t think there’s anything too tragic about most relationships that end – most relationships go on to long rather than end too soon. But it is the children of failed relationships that suffer; always, always, always. For the man and woman involved, it is usually like being let out of a high-security prison.
Of course you are emotionally naïve in your early 20s – that’s your job. You should have seen me in my early 20s – I was a dribbling, raving lunatic. At your age you should be sleeping with as many women as possible. You need to break hearts and to have your heart broken and to experience a huge variety of partners. That’s how you find the right one, and make it work, and give your children happy roles models that they can love and emulate. When I was in my early 20s I had an older girlfriend – she was in her late 20s, and married, and she taught me more about life and love and sex than I ever learned in school. It is great to be in your early 20s and the only drawback is you don’t know how young you are and how far you have to go. But now I am starting to sound like someone’s bloody father.