First-class male: How to be a real man
Do you know how to change a tyre? Give a speech? Or shave without leaving a nasty rash? Neither did Gareth May until he started gathering centuries-old male wisdom for the 'metrosexual' generation
About two years ago I was driving home from work when I swerved to avoid a low-flying pigeon, veered into a hedge and punctured a tyre. Having pulled over, I jumped out and opened the boot with purpose, all the time trying to ignore the fact that I didn't have a clue how to change a car tyre.
There I stood, jack pointlessly in hand, sporting a half-ironed shirt, poorly tied tie and shaving rash. To cap things off, a burly man in a 4x4 drove past and shook his head. My manliness wasn't just dented; it was battered with a sledgehammer.
I had no alternative but to call my dad, who came out and rescued me. I was a 24-year-old male damsel in distress. "You're useless," said my dad as he effortlessly manoeuvred my spare tyre into place, and I had to agree.
The experience got me thinking – and I realised that it wasn't just practical, traditionally manly things like how to change a tyre (or tie a tie properly, iron my shirt and shave like a pro) that I didn't know how to do; I was clueless about pretty every skill that I perceived to be key to coming of age as a modern man. Sophisticated stuff, such as how to hold a baby, give a speech, speed- date successfully, end a relationship without being a git, or grapple with the idea of regular visits to the STI clinic.
While girls share magazines with dog-eared problem pages, men are offered the choice of perusing breasts or salivating over gadgetry that even Nasa doesn't need. Don't get me wrong, I love girls and gadgets, but magazines such as Stuff and Zoo don't show you how to put up shelves, let alone help you through a divorce. There's no manual, no instruction leaflet to modern manhood. I wasn't even sure what being a 21st-century man meant. So I decided to make my own manual, in the form of a website called 21st Century Boy.
Watch: How to change a car tyre
But before I could start, I needed to find out what state 21st-century man was in. So I questioned my male friends and sent out emails asking people to send me lists of things they'd felt expected to know how to do, but had never been taught.
Times, I knew, had changed a lot since my dad's generation strode the dance halls with handlebar moustaches – but quite how much was something I'd never really considered.
Dad's role was charted out for him: "Be the main breadwinner and leave the wife to look after the kids. Be strong and silent, with biceps the size of your girlfriend's beehive." Clear-cut. Simple. Then things got confusing. Men started growing their hair long and singing about flowers and San Francisco. Then we had "new men" reasserting their masculinity with phallic-shaped car-phones; ladettes chasing lads; and metrosexuals who moisturised more than their missus. Forty years on from my dad's youth, manhood is more confusing than ever. Despite his dismay at my tyre-changing ineptitude, my dad acknowledged that life was a maze for my generation.
My research began to highlight just some of the advanced life skills that today's young man is expected, but frequently ill-equipped, to navigate. A friend of mine trying to impress a new girl, for example, was doing his best to be neither patronising nor sexist by taking his date to see the horror film Hostel – and was surprised when it failed to work as an aphrodisiac. Then there was the emailer keen to learn some massage skills for the bedroom, but clueless as to where or how to start. Another friend at university actually asked my mum how to fry an egg. Along the way I discovered we're also meant to know how to hold our baby nephews when our sisters nip to the loo; be our mothers' Sky Plus, Dell printer, iTunes, eBay and email advisers (without losing our rags); sort out our dads' diets and training regimes because we're scared that if we don't, his ticker won't tick for much longer; be agony uncles to our female friends when their boyfriends dump them; book a restaurant but split the bill whenever we take our girlfriends out, not to mention cook them a gourmet meal "like that Gordon off the telly" every Saturday night; and last but not least, pop in the pub and down a pint in less than 30 seconds.
To help my fellow man via my website, I then had to get the inside track on how to do all this stuff. So I asked all the men in my family to share their old-fashioned man skills, I talked to my mum for the first time about girlfriends, talked to ex-girlfriends about how I could have been a better boyfriend, Googled late into the night and braved a clinic to find out what a sexual health check-up involved. My uncle told me that shaving with cold water cured razor rash. After studying tie fan sites – yes, tie fan sites – I mastered the vicious "V" of the perfectly tied Windsor knot. I endured speed-dating, swiftly followed by internet dating, swiftly followed by a mini-breakdown after I went on a date with a woman old enough to be my mum. My brother-in-law taught me that the secret of sturdy shelves is to use the right Rawlplugs. I've succeeded in making testicular cancer a non-taboo topic between me and my friends, and now know how to control aggression in a relationship (tell your girlfriend when she's hurt you rather than bottling it up), as well as mundane daily tasks such as successfully ironing a shirt in a hurry (start while it's damp and hang it up while still warm) and how to clean a bathroom properly (it's all about being armed with the right tools).
Watch: How to make a campfire
What I learnt along the way is that, while it's not easy dealing with the things you don't necessarily want to deal with, you become more of a man by doing so. And I'm pleased to say that others have already followed in my wake. My website has been active for nearly two months now and, with more than 70 tried-and-tested life-skill tips posted so far, the response has been brilliant. The "how to check for testicular cancer"video has resulted in at least two men examining themselves, finding a lump, and going to see their GP, and the forum has answered delicate questions on penis (or "man bat") size and chat-up lines.
When I started this journey I set out to prove to myself that I could get to grips with a world that was passing me by. A world that has so much more to offer than I was getting from it, simply because I didn't know how. I took control of my life and I hope my website will encourage other young men to do the same – or at least change a tyre or two.
Some tricks your dad never taught you...
How to split up with your girlfriend
Why do we hum and haw our way around the truth? By explaining yourself you're giving both you, and her, a clean break.
How to hold a baby like a mother of three
You're at a family function, surrounded by women with children. Why not break the mould and offer to hold one while they drink their tea? It's easy. Keep your palms flat and place one under the baby's bum and the other underneath the head, always supporting their weak neck muscles.
How to undo a bra with one hand
In the 21st century, girls want to be wooed by Daniel Craig, so trick them with a move that even James Bond would be proud of. Find the 3cm-5cm of rough fabric; slide your middle finger under the clasp, from the top, with your nail facing her skin. Place your thumb on the other side, over the strap, rub thumb and finger together and 007 is in the house.
How to iron a shirt like your mum
Gone are the days when a crumpled shirt said "I don't give a damn." Now it says, "My mum's gone away for the week." Wet the shirt first and iron with the point pushed to the seams; slowly move towards the centre.
How to stop staring at other women
Whenever we pass a buxom lass our eyes always zero in on their breasts like a sniper-rifle scope. Take control by flicking an elastic band on your wrist every time you take a sneaky peak or channel your energies through another source, such as running in the park; just don't perv at all the other joggers.
How to check for testicular cancer
Turn your daily testicular caressing into a monthly examination by lifting one leg up on to the toilet after a shower and using the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand to check for unfamiliar gristle-like lumps.
Watch: How to check for testicular cancer