#RoleModelReading: An interview with Andrew Levins

The #RoleModelReading series is designed to showcase people whose lives and work deserve to be considered “role model” worthy, but who for whatever reason fall outside what mainstream media tends to promote as a role model for men. Here we hope to offer a more complicated, compelling idea of what a man might aspire to be.

Andrew Levins’s public profile could create the perception that he is simply predisposed to happiness. Like it’s in his bones. He’s an adoring father, a devoted husband, a successful writer and DJ. He co-founded Heaps Decent, a charity aimed at bringing cutting edge sound tech to kids in disadvantaged areas. His online presence is cheeky yet genuine and he always seems to be in the presence of good friends; he seems sure of himself and humble.

It is tempting to ask how he does it. In fact, I’m always tempted to ask this question when I see men whose lives seem idyllic, the implication being that they have innate qualities I might be able to mimic into existence in myself. Based on the fantasies we construct out of people’s online presences, through limited social contact, through hearsay or through nothing at all save our imaginations, we can imagine that others never encounter professional or emotional difficulty. Or if they do, that they don’t need people to help them get through it. This is especially true of men, which makes it all the more important to ask those people what their lives are really like, because the perception that other people are plain better-adjusted than us benefits no one and is most often misplaced.

So here we talk to Levins – a husband, DJ, chef, father, geek, podcaster, writer and more, seen above with his wife Bianca and son Archie – about upbringing, professions, relationships, fatherhood, the benefits of being raised a Catholic, and the people who help.

Who was your first role model?

Oh, yeah, I’m really bad with direct questions like that. I don’t know if I ever had one. I mean, maybe that speaks to how much I look up to my dad? I know that’s the obvious answer but my entire life I’ve looked up to my dad. And even though we didn’t see eye to eye on everything, especially when I was younger, he was always an extremely good father. For me at the moment, even though I do a million different jobs, the thing that I want to be is just a great dad. I look no further than my own father for inspiration, for being there.

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When you say he’s a good father, what does that mean?

He was always there to listen when I needed to be listened to. He was just there a lot, as was my mum. I was extremely equally parented. My family, we would go on a holiday every year, we would spend heaps of time together on weekends, we would go out to dinner all the time. Spending time together is so much more important for values growing up than having everything you want.

Did your siblings have similar experiences, do you think?

Yeah. I’ve got two younger sisters and I’m extremely close to them. And my two sisters are my wife’s best friends as well. People look at the relationship I have with my family now and it’s—it’s pretty rare. You forget that those people are family sometimes because you have such great friendships with them.

Were you or your sisters taught anything different about being a man or woman as you were brought up?

So I was a pretty wussy kid growing up. I used to come home from school crying a lot, and it didn’t take much to set me off. But my parents just taught me that that was okay. I have no memories of them being like, ‘Stop crying all the time! Stop being a wuss.’ It was always very okay to show emotion in our house. I was never told to ‘be a man’. I feel like you hear that spouted by some parents, they’ll even say it to a four-year-old, y’know? Toughen up, be a man. And my parents never told me that. I think that definitely shapes you.

In fact, I remember when I was a teenager, I was sick. I had what I thought was a throat infection. So I went to see the doctor and he gave me antibiotics and after three days I could tell I was getting significantly worse. The doctor said, ‘Sometimes you’ve just gotta wait out the bad, you’ve gotta be a man about it and you’ll get better.’ The next day I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics he’d given me and now I’m allergic to penicillin, and it turns out I had glandular fever. I distinctly remember him telling me to be a man about it. I think that was the first time anyone had ever told me to be man, and in doing that I became extremely sick.

Once you reach your teens, social pressure becomes pretty intense. Did it become more difficult to hang on to that ‘sameness’ with your sisters?

I think going to a co-ed school was really helpful. Being someone who was really into music and art, and I did drama—y’know, I got called a faggot constantly when I was a kid, but you never got called that by girls. I remember all of the guys who went to all-boys schools were just crazy, awkward and so kind of dick-driven around girls.

Those guys who called you ‘faggot’ back in high school – I think there are a lot of men who, while they might not use the word faggot any more, are afraid of emotional intimacy with men, or even just displays of expressiveness. Have you been more reluctant to put yourself out there with men, or found men more reluctant to do the same?

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There’s always that fear of being thought of as gay for some dudes. Sometimes it takes a couple of pingers for some men to tell their mates they love them. Eventually that stigma of being called gay will go away because everyone will realise that being gay is awesome so who gives a shit if someone thinks you’re gay? As a rap DJ I see that hesitancy on the dancefloor all the time. Even here the hip-hop world is terrified of male affection. If you are a male friend of mine and come to my party, I will hug the shit out of you, no matter how macho the song playing at the time is.

How did you start forming long-lasting, meaningful friendships with men?

Actually, I’m still really good friends with the jocks who called me faggot in high school. Everyone grows out of that and they realise, shit, that was a fucking dumb thing to do. But my best man at my wedding, I’ve known him since I was ten. One of my best mates is someone I met in kindergarten. Maybe it goes back to my parents always insisting I have friends, always being okay with me having friends around. I think that’s another great part of parenting, making sure your children’s friendships really flourish.

What defines your friendships? What are they like?

Shitloads of texting and Whatsapp messaging and Facebook messaging and way too many in-jokes. For me, friendship is almost constant communication. I feel like there’s fifty people in my life that I would text or call or speak to or see every single day, and that’s just normal. Social media, I know a lot of people look at it like social media kills friendships, but for me it a hundred per cent strengthens them. Your ability to stay in touch with someone and share your thoughts with them as often as possible is really, really great.

That sounds very rich.

Sure. Yeah. Is that not normal?

Well, based on the statistics around social isolation, depression, anxiety in young people and especially young men, I mean, yeah. You’re bucking a trend there.

That’s a naivety of mine. I’m like an eternal optimist. My biggest problem is I’ll be happy about something and I’ll just assume that everyone else is as well, not realising that people approach things differently to the way I do. That naivety sometimes gets the better of me.

Why was founding Heaps Decent important to you and how did that come about?

I was a pretty rubbish dude when we started Heaps Decent. I worked two nights a week, three tops, just DJing, and make enough money to live off, and then I would just kind of do nothing for the rest of the week. You can have about half a year of being like, fuck, it’s so cool to make a small amount of money, I’m happy just living in this crappy share house, not doing anything five days a week. But you start to realise, like, this is such a crap way to live, I could be contributing so much more.

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Everyone in my scene, it was very easy for them to get their hands on DJ equipment or download music editing software. So the idea was to go to different areas where kids fall in this rut of being told you can either do this or this, and be like well, this is what we do for money, you could too if you wanted this in your life. And Nina [Las Vegas, Heaps Decent co-founder] has always been such an inspiring, busy person, forever working on ten projects at once, and any downtime she has she’ll busy herself. I definitely have Nina to thank for realising the importance of staying busy and working towards a goal all the time.

She really pushed me to actually do all the work involved in setting up an organisation, from registering it as a business and then registering it as a charity and then getting benefactors. All that admin side of things—I had accepted ten years ago that I don’t like doing that so I will never do that in my life, and you can’t live your life like that. I’m only able to think like this because I had the privilege of growing up in a great family in a pretty great area, and other people don’t have that.

Do you remember when you realised that inequality and disadvantage is rife?

That’s one of the few good things about being raised a Catholic: you’re forever aware of how bad other people have got it. Charity was always a big part of my life growing up. I was always that kid that shaved his head and raised a few hundred bucks for the Cancer Council, or I was the kid that would get everyone in the class to sign a card whenever someone in school went to hospital, or if you heard that someone’s parent had died I’d always get everyone together and write a card. My parents always encouraged that and they’re very charitable people as well.

Your passions – chef, DJ, comic books, video games – those are pretty male-saturated areas. What’s that like?

They really are. When we started Hey Fam..!, the podcast I do with my friend Angus, the idea was to get away from that stereotype of that horrible, mouth-breathing, feminist-shunning kind of dude that thinks these things are the be all and end all. And I know there is an irony in trying to remedy that by starting a podcast with two white dudes, but we try and have a diverse range of guests. I try and do the same thing with The Mitchen, which is the food podcast, but if you want to talk about a crazy, male-dominated part of our society, the chef’s society is insane. I really wanted to make it equal as far as the guest ratio, but we were having six guests including myself and it was actually difficult to maintain one female guest per episode. I think that’s definitely something I need improve on. It’s something I think about constantly, the importance of making these realms less male-dominated.

Where does your concern for gender equality originate?

Both my parents raised me equally. I never grew up thinking a woman has her place, a man has his place, and I’ve always had as many female friends as I have male friends, and even when I was younger I didn’t differentiate between the two or say this person gives me this and the other person gives me that. I’ve never seen a need to make things separate.

PastedGraphic-1 copyDo you notice any gendering of roles in your home, perhaps particularly since your son was born?

My wife and I are just very understanding of what we both want, and super accommodating of each other when we need it. At the moment my wife studies full time, and for the last year and a half she’s been studying five days a week. All of the getting the kid ready and feeding the kid, doing all those kind of jobs, for the most part I’ve been doing that the last year. It’s looking like, as I get older and in the professions that we’ve chosen, my wife is probably going to be working more standard days as our children grow older, and so I probably will take on more of that role of stay-at-home dad guy, purely because of the kind of work that I’m good at.

What does your relationship with your wife mean to you?

Everything. I have the perfect relationship with her. I count myself lucky that we even met each other, let alone formed the relationship we did. Every night, it’s—it’s perfect. I managed to find someone that has a hundred per cent the same ideals as me, someone that completely supports every ridiculous decision I make regarding my career. Because I do change my career path every thirty seconds, and once I’ve proved to her that I have a good idea, she supports me all the way.

Look, we started a restaurant together. Y’know, we moved in after only dating for four months. Everyone was like, it’s a bad idea, but then it ended up being the best thing we ever did. It strengthened our relationship so much. Then when we moved, just the two of us, everyone was like, you’re gonna do that and open a restaurant? You do realise you guys are gonna be seeing each other twenty-four hours a day? I was like, yeah, that sounds great, and it was great. I mean, I would highly recommend that anyone who’s thinking about marrying their partner, start a business with them first. You become the neediest you ever become and so do they and you just have to be there for them and you have to work out problems together.

My favourite thing in the world is just sitting on the couch next to my wife. That’s paradise. With my son on my lap, watching some inane cartoon, holding each other’s hands—that’s all I want to do now. For me, being in a nightclub now is about as boring as life could get, whereas sitting down still, staying warm, is riveting.

What’s it like, being a father? I’d love to hear a man my age talk about that, about having a child, what that relationship’s like, how it changes your relationship with your wife, what’s easy or difficult.

I love being a dad so much. It’s the most important thing that I am. The hard parts are mundane – balancing work, not sleeping enough, dealing with everyone getting sick. I’m lucky to be able to dedicate most of my week to being at home, being a dad, being a husband. There are times when I have extra work going on, extra events, more articles, and I’m at home less, or focused on my laptop screen instead of doing whatever the kids want to do or whatever needs to be done for them. My son’s at an age now where he can tell when he’s not getting my attention and he acts up because of it, then I get angry, he gets sad, the day’s fucked. That’s the shit part. You can get angry at the dumbest things – like food, that’s important to me, I cook almost all the meals and on Monday my son will love pasta, on Wednesday he’ll hate it. Why? Because he’s two. You’ve gotta be patient. Communication gets easier as they get older.

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My wife and I both have different strengths when it comes to parenting. There’s a dumb stereotype of Mum being serious and Dad being the goofy fun one and of course that fucking happened to us, just because of our personalities, but I’ve gotta be the serious dad sometimes too. I hated seeing complacent dads that forced their wives to lay the discipline down when I grew up. Hopefully that dies out soon too. There are little things like that that are a huge part of gender inequality. So much of it stems from the idea of what a mother should be versus what a father should be. It’s one thing to be a good dad but being a good husband is just as important – the first example of how women are treated in the world that your kids see is the relationship between their parents.

Do you find aspects of manliness or being a man useful to you now or useful to your sense of self-identity?

Masculinity is so different to me than what it is to other people around the world, and other people throughout time. I feel like just be a person. I definitely have gotten opportunities others didn’t because of my gender, and that’s a shitty part of the world that will hopefully change, but in my own head when I do something, I never do something with the preconception that I’m doing something manly. I don’t think that’s important.

You can find out more about Levins at yolevins.com and follow him on Twitter @levdawg.

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