It may seem slightly odd that in writing stories for children, the most innocent in society, that my motivation partly comes from working with men who have spent large periods of their lives in prison.
There is however no more obvious place than the Criminal Justice System to see what harm flawed concepts of what it means to be a “man” or to be “strong” can do.
The idea that men should present as in control, immune of doubt, anxiety and vulnerability, is simple but self-destructing. Often men believe that when they experience these feelings they should bottle them up, not letting those who care about them know that things aren’t ok. The men who make the choice to hurt others, let these feelings out as aggression, causing harm and suffering to those around them.
The majority of men around us; our sons, fathers, brothers, grandfathers, boyfriends and husbands, treat others with respect and care, but many of them (and I put myself in this group) still keep feelings locked up far too often. They can often then behave in ways that may not physically hurt those around them, but can still cause harm to themselves and those they care about in other ways.
I’ve worked with men in the Probation Service, teenagers in Youth Offending Teams and primary age children as a respite foster carer. Many of the problems that adults face, stem from lessons and beliefs they learned as young children on how men or women should behave in order to be valued.
Although compared to previous generations, men are now getting better at talking about their emotions, it’s still a damaging aspect of what boys learn about being a man today; that they should keep vulnerability bottled up.
In all it’s happy fluffiness, “The Bear Who Wanted To Be Strong” was written as a reaction to all Ive seen In the criminal justice system and my own personal struggles with my mental health. Its aim is be part of the positive message, to support parents and carers to raise their children with the understanding that no matter what their gender, it’s a good healthy quality to show vulnerability and seek support when they need it.
No child should grow up thinking that it makes them any more of a man or woman to hide those difficult feelings away, when they need the support of those who care about them.
“The Strength Of A Bear, We Know What It Takes, Talk To Someone who Cares, If Happiness Breaks.”