A good friend of mine, now 75, was once a proud member of John F. Kennedy’s Army Airborne; a band of brothers and paratroopers in one of the elite divisions of what was known as “Charlie Company.” They had recently paraded in front of the President in a review of military precision, with starched, shined, and uniform patriotic and aggressive marching bordering on a goose step. And JFK had saluted and waved back, with a smile and a tanned face still embedded in my friend’s fading memory.
He returned to the U.S. from the carnage of Viet Nam with images of brothers killed in action and a haunting concern and loyalty for those still over there.
He was trying to re-enter life and find the person he was who’d been left stateside. He started looking for himself and figured he’d try every bar and dive along the Hudson River until that guy turned up.
It was in a bar such as this one night when he and some fellow Vets came across some scruffy protester types, tie-dyed and shaggy and equally three sheets to the wind. Words were overheard, and not liking what he heard, my friend steamed across the bar and with a firm right-cross sent a stool-perched peace-nut to the peanut-shell-covered bar floor below.
Someone then ran over to my friend, who was still swaggering tall above the thin, crumpled figure, and said breathlessly,
“Don’t you know who you just punched??!”
“Man, that’s Bob Dylan.”
And so it was.
My friend, who’d been off bivouacking in the cool and inviting breezes that were the jungles of Viet Nam in the summer, and not privy or particularly interested in the latest musical trends, replied:
“Who’s Bob Dylan?”
Now, I don’t approve of violence, nor do I bear any malice toward the legendary folk singer (I’m a fan), but I must guiltily admit I think it’s a little cool to have a friend who sucker-punched Bob Dylan. It’s just that, well, it is a singular event to hear of firsthand. Besides, it was a long, long time ago. And Bob has done alright by himself. He might even tell my friend if they ever meet and my friend should apologize, “Don’t think twice. It’s alright.”
But you couldn’t take a real-life event and find a more perfect metaphor for the ever-evolving American male image: John Wayne mano a mano with the Prince of Protest.
After hearing Hillary Clinton say recently, “America now has to decide what kind of country we want to be” (or words to that effect) and after the braying, macho Trumpery of The Donald, it might be a good time for men to ask themselves, “What kind of men do we want to be?”
Which has some of my male-type friends taking a long look in the mirror and wondering what they see. Or want to see. Or should see.
What does it mean to be a man? I thought this was cleared up long ago in the unlikely person of the actor, Alan Alda.
In the book Men & Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historial Encyclopedia, Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson write:
Alda symbolized a charming, certainly milder alternative to the “Raging Bull” and “Rockys” of the world – a romantic lead whose masculinity was predicated on sensitivity, intelligence, and roguish wit as opposed to testosterone-fueled aggression, machismo, and intimidating physical prowess.”
“…testosterone-fueled aggression, machismo, and intimidating physical prowess.” Sounds a little like a rally I’ve seen on TV lately.
Is that what a man does? What a man is?
Or is it strength with gentleness? Power with compassion? Conviction with an open mind? Confidence with humility?
What does it even mean : Being a good man? Being a strong man?
That’s what a few of us would like to know.
Maybe, just maybe, this post could be helpful for all of us.
What do you think? We’d like to know.
And yes, I will read and reply to your comments.
And maybe learn something.
If I’m man enough to try.
Closing à la Claudia: