• Daniel Ethan Finneran

A Hero's Hiatus

September 2018

Boys of a certain age—of my young nephew’s age, of my teen-aged brother’s age, of any age for that matter—are now more than ever in need of role models. So too, of course, are girls, but I think their need is less desperate and acute than is ours. Before I submit to the pillorying by those around me who are so secure in their bona fides of being “politically correct”, I need to explain myself; I recognize just how sexist the aforementioned sounds. To say that boys more than girls are in need of role models at this moment in time is to make a grating and provocative assertion. It’s to press and drag the fingernail on our sensitive chalkboard’s status quo. In making my claim, I appear to be diminishing the plight of the woman and dancing to the world’s smallest violin.

One would think that the sexes and their respective degrees of yearning for heroes ought to be reversed. Undoubtedly, in their want of them, girls would be expected to far surpass the boys. After all, one need only briefly scan the pages of history or mythology or theology or any other study of any other time to learn that the hero’s predominant form has traditionally been that of man.

Viewed through that lens, every study can be summed up in the following way: history becomes a lesson in the glories and the triumphs of a daring masculinity. Try if you can to identify from each century since Christ more than three female names. I daresay you can’t, or you’ll need more time. Mythology becomes a record of the earthly interventions of a lusting and pagan virility. Zeus was profligate in his capacity to rape and Achilles in his penchant to slaughter. And theology, the most refined of the three, reads as the gospel of a bearded father and a tortured son, between whom a gentlemanly, ghostly spirit floats. And though we haven’t a clue as to the pubic endowment of that numinous intermediary between God and man, one can only assume it reflects that of the first created man. I can’t imagine the Holy Ghost being other than male if ever He’s to be caught flying about town sans a fig leaf in his gossamer nude.

That being said, how can it be claimed that boys are suffering from a crisis of absentee idols? Can it really be that there isn’t a single exemplar among our timeworn ancestors and our cherished, fabled idols and our resurrected saviors whose essence they can’t emulate and at whose feet they can’t pray? All they would need to do, if it’s a remedy to their illness they seek, would be to look back into the great books and at the great men who inhabit their every page. There, they’ll find countless heroes who’ve enlivened their ink and burst their seams.

Dive into the original, classical historians—of whom we count Herodotus, Homer, Tacitus, and Thucydides—and learn through their ancient and yet somehow still unsurpassed wisdom the great triumphs of men. Pick up Gibbon and learn from that hearty and round Englishman what the austere and lithe Romans originally intended by the word virtue. Move next to writers like Carlyle or Durant or Toynbee or Wood and see by their Anglo-American slant the varied and soaring accomplishments of man at his most revolutionary and best. Scamper past these secularists and continue on toward religion—ending where you should begin. Transcend the anti-ecclesiastical and the academic, if only for a moment, and land yourself in the tales of the trinity and the Hebrew prophets, of whom all were admirable and impressive men.

You’ll soon notice hardly a shortage in the availability of male heroes throughout history; the past is rife with inimitable scribes writing of their deeds. The Greeks, Romans, and Anglo-Americans, all wove their stories with an eloquence that still arrests the soul. They excite the literary nerves and strengthen the bones. Their tales of men and gods like Solon, Alexander, Jesus, Moses, Caesar, Shakespeare and Mohammed—the lot of these names barely scratches the surface of the trove of men from which to choose an idol. Read of Newton, Einstein, Copernicus, Democritus, Confucius, or Gautama and you’ve now succeeded in linking science and psychology with the Merchant of Venice and the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s clear to see, the past is well furnished with heroes of whom a great majority were men.

But still, boys of our age feel themselves yearning and lost. Retreating from the horizons by whose exploration they’d benefit, grow, and learn, they’ve become stunted and myopic; the edifying chunks of history and religion are far too distant for their sight. The men who composed their stories are too foreign from their touch. It’s for this reason that the absence of male role models in the present is what concerns me.

Today, it seems as if the once-venerated position of “male role model” has seen its allure and its membership sharply decline. Many of the culture’s more visible idols have entirely lost their appeal to an upcoming generation of young adults and boys. Male actors have become insatiable molesters of vulnerable women on and off their Hollywood sets. Church fathers have lapsed into becoming pedophiliac pursuers of boys from the Vatican on down. Athletes have become politically-conscious though ill-informed acrobats while politicians have taken to the ring. Hands within gloves and mouth guards upon teeth, our leaders of government have begun attacking one another until each renders his adversary into a faceless pulp.

What, then, can be said about fathers? Surely their place of significance remains. Alas, that last bastion of a boy’s ideals has been tossed aside. Fatherhood, now agreed to be a dirty word, has been emasculated by a society whose mantra rings with the admonishment that the patriarchy is dead.

If not in family, nor modernity, nor celebrity, nor history, nor religion, nor politics, where is the male role model to be found? The issue is in the looking. The prevailing opinion in the culture is that the search for the male role model is misguided. Sex, they’ll say, is a fiction. It hasn’t a practical use, aside from oppressing those who’ve doubled their “X’s” and negated a “Y”.

But this can never be so. Boys need role models who are men. Not adults with the ostensible appearances of men, nor ladies playing the parts of guys, but actual, reputable men. The worship of male heroes by boys shouldn’t be a heresy—a thing practiced at the fringes of society and in the dead of night. We should instead make boys feel comfortable in discovering and celebrating the greatest men of our past. They ought to be led, actively and by the hand, to the hero’s victories and the lessons that his travails in their winning will undoubtedly impart. That is the antidote that this generation of desperate boyhood needs. Heroes who are men, in whose image they can shape their own.

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