Having come up through journalism and editing gossip magazines (for a few bizarre years I was editor of NW and editor-in-chief of Woman's Day) I am immune to the magical allure of celebrity.
The many I have met generally reinforced my low opinion.
However, as an ex-pat Kiwi, and a huge rugby union fan, if I saw All Black Sonny Bill Williams in the street I'd squeal and run in small circles, doing spirit fingers.
I'm increasingly infatuated with the inclusive politics and friendly, relaxed culture of home.
So, for me, SBW is like some kind of demigod in black Adidas with a silver fern, embodying all that it is to be an athlete, an All Black, and a proud Pacific Island man.
A message for men
Of course, I follow my mate (I like to imagine we're mates) SBW on twitter.
Late last week, he tweeted this …
"I'm sorry *sarcasm* if my tweets yesterday were a bit much for some of you. Don't mind me. I'm just doing my bit to break down the barriers of unhealthy thinking men have around masculinity. (love heart)"
Today when my wife left the house I sat on the couch for 10 min with tears rolling down my face.— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) July 24, 2018
Feeling the aroha (love) in the house was such an empowering experience.
What? Why did SBW tweet that? What was a bit much? What's he doing to break down barriers of unhealthy thinking on masculinity? I couldn't scroll fast enough.
It turns out he was tweeting about how moved he was by his love for his wife. First, he wrote:
"I appreciate what my wife does so much. I see you doing the selfless acts every day my love. Respect to all you mothers out there (fist emoji)."
I appreciate what my wife does so much I see you doing the selfless acts everyday my love.— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) July 24, 2018
Respect to all you mothers out there ✊
Then, he let the world see this side of himself:
"Today, when my wife left the house, I sat on the couch for 10 mins with tears rolling down my face. Feeling the aroha (love) in the house was such an empowering experience."
This moved me deeply. Here is a man who has reached the heights of the toughest, hardest, most manly of sports - rugby league, rugby union and boxing - sitting on the couch crying happily because of how much love he felt for his wife.
The importance of speaking
He has more than 800,000 twitter followers and a massive audience of devoted fans as an All Black. He's known and loved everywhere he goes. SBW is a huge, one-man brand.
When he speaks publicly, it has a massive impact, reaching as many engaged eyeballs as a million-dollar ad campaign. And, aware of his influence, he writes things like:
"Real men cry and I'm learning to feel that joy you really have, to sit with that pain or whatever unwanted emotion you have. Always grateful #alhumdulliah"
The flood of support on his feed was extraordinary.
@richardhills777 captures the sentiment: "Cheers mate!! It's actually really, really important you keep speaking up, especially in your position as a masculine role model for so many but especially for young men."
"If a man of your standing and physicality can speak in such a way, it's only a good thing and will hopefully break those unnecessary barriers down. Thanks for all you do. Peace," wrote @Lenny352.
Speaking out, and being an example, are the best things a man can do to help other men be better men. It's not some kind of do-good lefty, social justice warrior business.
Take action, and responsibility
We may not have SBW-type influence, but we all have some. Men can help change the state of men, for themselves and women, simply by starting conversations.
It might be your son, or nephews, or guys at work, friends, mates on a team … it doesn't matter.
Men have a responsibility to help the men around them be better men, especially, ahem, the more mature of us.
Just to bring it home, a few days later he posted this out of the blue,
"We teach our sons to strangle their emotions, to be ashamed of their tears. And ignore their emotions at a young age, then we wonder why so many of them do not know how to control their rage or how to define their feelings, when they have wounds from chldhood that still needs love and healing,"
It's a SBW masterclass in how men can use their influence.
It's a wonderful thing for a man to cry.
SBW says so, Bro.
With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.