About six months ago, I was driving to a friend’s house when I felt my car starting to pull me to one side. So I stopped. And I realised that my tyre was in need of some air.

Because that is the kind of mechanically-minded guy I am.

I drove to the nearest petrol station and asked the attendant there to pump it up don’t-you-know-pump-it-up, but instead of appreciating my amazing musical humour, he just pointed to the nearest pump, and muttered that I should do it myself.

And it was here that I floundered. Because I didn’t know what to do.

I have only ever pumped up a tyre once in my life. I was 19 at the time, and because nobody had ever showed me what to do, I didn’t know at what point to stop (story of my life). Some of my friends still call me “il-boom” to this day.

So, I told the attendant that I didn’t know how to do it.

“How is that possible?” He said. “Ragel balek!” (I’d been working out.) “Just do it” he continued, obviously under the impression that quoting a famous sports slogan would somehow give me the knowledge of air-pressure that I was so sorely lacking.

‘‘What bit of I-don’t-know-how-to do you not understand?’’ I asked, (although to be honest I was not genuinely interested).

At which point the petrol attendant burst out laughing. And then called his mates over so they could laugh too. Laugh at me.

So I decided to take the high road. And when I say high road, I mean I decided to leave the car where it was and take a bus. To the horror of the attendant who now had an abandoned vehicle in the middle of his petrol station.

It was whilst waiting (and waiting) for the bus, that I had an epiphany.

Unfortunately it was not an epiphany that opened my mind to the many intricacies of footpumps and tyre gauges, it was an epiphany about being man. Because Maltese men are constantly being judged. By what we should know.

We should know how to fix things. Put up a shelf. Sort out the gas cylinder. Change a tyre. Be a ‘real’ man. 

That is what our dads and grandads used to do after all. In fact it seems to me that the further you go back, the more ‘manly’ men used to be. Our great-grandads built houses with their bare hands. Our great-great-grandads probably wrestled lions or something.

Yet I can’t figure out how to put air – something that is literally everywhere – into a tyre. 

The thing is, the world has changed. Men nowadays (rightly) do things that my grandad would have had a stroke just thinking about. Cooking, cleaning, looking after the kids whilst their partner is at work.

Men who have not accepted that this is what they should be are (rightly) considered to be –  neanderthals. But the idea of manliness – the Mediterranean construct of a ‘ragel’ – lives on. Male friends of mine who cook, clean and read bedtime stories to their kids find it amusing that my wife earns more than me. Because, for a lot of us, the old fashioned male image is still as important as the new one.

Our society suggests that men should be strong and silent. But also in touch with their emotions. Men need to able to handle their drink, but also keep themsleves in shape. Men have to be perfect drivers, but perfect lovers too.

It is a clash of two worlds, and unlike in my tyre, there is a lot of pressure building up there.

And sometimes, for some men, it all gets a bit much. Now I know it is extremely hard to be a woman too, I am not negating that in any way. It is still very much a man’s world.

But the statistics show that a lot of men want to leave it. All over the world, more men take their own lives than women. And it happens in Malta too.

Why? Why? Why should anyone feel that there is no way out? I don’t know.

To be honest I am not even sure how this article ended up like this. I wanted it to be funny, but it ended up being a bit sad. Which is, I suppose, a good metaphor for what a man’s life is sometimes like. And that brings us to the point.

Every November, men all around the world ‘do movember’ – growing moustaches in order to highlight health issues that men are facing. This includes mental health issues.

But moustache or not, we can all do our bit. And not only in November.

I ended up going back to the petrol station later that day with my friend. He pumped up the tyre for me, whilst explaining how I should do it. Although, to be honest, I was so busy looking defiantly at the petrol attendant that nothing really sank in.

But at least I could drive myself home again.

So if you know anyone who might be struggling with the pressure of life, and what it means to be a bloke – a “ragel” – help him out. Give him a call. Be a friend. If you know a woman who is feeling down, do the same thing.

And if you see someone struggling to blow up a tyre, maybe, just give them a hand.


© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Steve Hili