Anthony Bourdain - Wearing a Mask of Masculinity

I could never understand the people that mourned for celebrities and public figures they had never met before. Admittedly, with all the famous faces who have passed away over the last couple of years, it has been a bit of an eye opener, a kick up the backside and certainly a reminder that life doesn’t last forever. 

George Micheal, David Bowie and, more recently, Peter Stringfellow. People I had grown up with as a kid. Sad to hear, but I was talking about what’s for dinner in the next breath. 

But, when I heard the news of Anthony Bourdain, it hit me like a hammer; I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I felt numb. Even more so, the way in which he died. It really hit home, a little too close to home, for my liking.  

When I was at my lowest, back in 2015, I’d sit for hours watching No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Reliving the magical moments of delicious foods, travel and lands afar. It was, for the best part, my own little therapy session. It was Bourdain's TV shows that helped me see the light when, at the time, there was nothing but darkness in my life. 

While I’ve never been a chef or had my own TV shows, there are some similarities I shared with him. 

I’ve battled with addictions. Not heroin I might add! I could have been more successful in my career when I was in the City, if I had chosen to. I fucked about, burned the candle from both ends, and didn’t have a problem with walking away from big money; choosing to live a life of travel and adventure instead.

Whilst the similarities end there, I’ll throw my hat into the ring when it comes to rivalling him in the travel and adventure department. Something of which I’m hoping to continue for many many years to come. 

Even as I write this blog post, I feel a big knot in my stomach at the loss of someone who impacted my life in such a positive way. People like Bourdain, are like fine wines, only getting better with age. He was charismatic, humorous and sarcastic all at the same time. He was also adored by so many people. Lovingly referred to as Uncle Tony. 

Even more coincidental, was the title of my last blog post - never judge a book by its cover; where I detailed my battle with depression. I had it all - money, success, a huge penthouse apartment and a beautiful woman in my life. But, I also had a troubled past. An abusive childhood. Very different to Uncle Tony’s admittedly, but one that brought dark times and haunted me in my adult life. 

I’ve always battled with self-identity and been split with just who exactly I am as a person. On one hand, I’m not driven by money or material possessions. Choosing adventure over Aston Martins. But, on the other hand, I’m still inspired by grotesque wealth and power. I feel physically aroused when I watch TV shows like Billions, were characters like Bobby Axelrod rule with financial wealth and power, and the influence that brings. 

But, I’ve had enough therapy to know that, those very words are a clear indication that I seek validation and acceptance. Even as an adult, I still feel the need to prove myself and in doing so, can make me fall victim to my subconscious ego. And, while this can be harnessed to enhance one's life, it can also be an anchor that weighs you down and makes progress extremely difficult. 

This is where I find myself split, stuck between a rock and a hard place. And, it’s not just me; many men are the same and feel the need to don the mask of masculinity. To become what they think they should become. Asking questions of themselves and trying to live up to the Alpha Male stereotype because of societal pressures. 

At times I’m a 15 stone, tattooed skinhead who gets satisfaction from fighting people in the octagon, inflicting pain on others, proving my warriorship (I think I’ve just made up a new word) and demonstrating my physical strength. Yet, intellectual and capable enough to win wars and close deals in the boardroom, demonstrating my mental toughness. All of which, feed my self-obsessed ego and want for acceptance. 

As a man in today’s world, the struggle is real, and even more so are the conflicting messages we’re exposed to about what it takes to be a real man.  

And yet, in another breath, I become a conscious and caring person, who embraces love and can be found masquerading with monks and spiritual gurus, in search of spiritual enlightenment, viewing financial wealth as insignificant and abhorrent endeavours. Jesus fuck man, can you get anymore conflicting?

Swordsmanship Vs Spirituality

I find myself asking, who am I....really, who am I? 

When I was on my last travelling adventure, all I could think about was building another business and creating mass wealth. Upon my return I set up a consultancy, charging a fortune for my services, yet detesting the clients I worked with. Longing to don my backpack and fuck off on another adventure, away from the perils of greed and materialistic mindsets. 

It was Anthony Bourdain who I admired and secretly wanted to be like. Not in the sense of who he was per se, but what he stood for. The ‘fuck you societal norm' attitude, I’ll do it my way. But, once again, life for me became conflicting because being accepted and seeking validation was so important to me. 

You see, part of suffering with depression is the want to be accepted. Always seeking validation that you’re good enough. I’m not sure if it ever goes away, only time will tell. 

I want the world and everything in it. Or do I? 

I love money and the freedom it provides. But, it also has the potential to become a ball and chain around your ankle, that overrides who you are as a person. 

I watched a BBC documentary about Robert Tchenguiz and he had once been worth £4.5billion. He had lost £1.6billion in 2008 and was trying to build it back up. I thought to myself, why don’t you just sell the house you own and buy a mansion in the country, or some tropical destination and retire? Why doesn’t he just live off the rest of his millions? But that wasn’t who he was. 

And, I can appreciate that. He was chasing the thrill of success. But, deep down, I suspect it was more about the validation he was craving. You see, when you’ve lost something that you’ve worked hard for, and you’ve hit rock bottom it leaves a dent; a chink in your amour. Like a small chip in a car windscreen, so small and seemingly insignificant you almost don’t notice it. But the reality is, it only takes the slightest of knocks or pressure and the whole thing can give in and come crashing down. Which is why, when you’ve suffered with mental health issues, it’s imperative that you strip yourself bare and totally rebuild your life from the very core. You have to rebuild your foundation.

It’s all too easy to skim over the cracks with haste, wanting to rush the rebuilding process. Paint the exterior, showing the world you’re OK and everything is fine. Donning, once again, the fake facade many of us men wear in order to seek acceptance and kid ourselves that everything is fine. 

Much like the foundations a house is built upon, if it’s not solid, you’ll find yourself constantly having to make remedial repairs. After time, this becomes extremely tiring, not to mention frustrating, causing no end to the problems you’ll likely encounter. Take this route in life and you’ll never get enough time enjoying the efforts you’ve put in.

The problems will never go away on their own, if not addressed. 

On paper, Bourdain had, what could be argued, the best job in the world. He travelled the world, got hooked up with the best food joints, got to talk to interesting people and had a celebrity status that provided enough to get noticed and enjoy the perks, but not too famous that you can’t pop to the supermarket without a security detail. Fame - not too much, but enough to serve you well. 

So why did he take his life? 

Who knows? But, I suspect it might have something to do with his relationship. It’s purely speculation on my part, but the heartache and loss of a loved one has the potential to evoke a magnitude of feelings of loss, pain and heartache. The one single thing that can cause your whole world to come crashing down. 

Whatever caused it, we might not ever know. But, one thing we do know, is that depression kills. 

As men, we find it hard to talk about such things. Bourdain had friends he could have reached out to, but the reality is it’s really not that simple. In my experience, severe depression can leave you feeling like your mind has been taken over by someone else. It leaves you feeling scared, worthless and, in the worst case scenario, suicidal

Anthony Bourdain inspired me when I had given up on life itself. His words brought a smile to my face when sadness was the only thing I felt. It saddens me to think his life has ended and in such a way that leaves the world without a man of such remarkable character and integrity.

RIP Anthony Bourdain

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