Sunday, August 27, 2006

A real man is hard to find

Hondo is on TCM and I immediately thought of Al Bundy. In one show Peggy forced Al to take her to the store on the one day Hondo was on television. In Al's world, Hondo only came on television once every ten years.

Al was a down trodden man married to a harridan whose children did not respect him. Al probably saw something in John Wayne's character, Hondo Lane, he wished for himself, a strong, independent man for whom women would cook and clean and invite into their homes. I'm sure lots of men feel the same way.

John Wayne, despite his politics in later years, is the mold from which women wish most men were made. A strong man who knows how to be gentle and romantic at times in his own rough and silent way and on whom a woman can depend no matter what. Wayne was a real man who knew how to step back and allow a woman the space to be independent and self reliant.

One of my cousins emailed me a couple weeks ago because she saw a John Wayne movie. She reminded me of when we had gone to the drive-in movies and sat outside in beach chairs to watch John Wayne. I remember the evening, clear and warm and dark and full of the fantasy that the world was populated with men like the Duke and they were just over the future's horizon. Watching Hondo now and, indeed, all of John Wayne's movies reminds me of those days and the dreams of a strong, intelligent man just like him.

In many ways, my father is just like him and one more reason why I still believe such men exist, men who haven't been cowed by rampant feminism or softened by reading too many books about how to be sensitive. Sensitivity and caring have nothing to do with being able to cry but about gentleness and gentlemanly behavior. A sensitive man knows when to be strong and take command and when to handle a situation or a woman with care. I have seen my father cry twice, both times when he lost a family member, and he was the most sensitive man I know.

When my grandfather was bed ridden and had soiled himself, my father stripped himself and my grandfather and carried my grandfather into the shower, Grandpa's arms draped over his shoulders, and bathed him. When he was done, my father dressed Grandpa and put him back into bed after he changed the sheets and cleaned the bed. He even washed the sheets. I went with him that night.

Grandpa was 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighed about 240. My father was 5 foot 10 inches tall and about 155 pounds, but in my eyes he is a colossus.

My father has taken care of many of Mom's relatives, even Great Aunt Anne who was 6 foot 2 inches tall in her stocking feet and weighed about 180 or thereabouts before she got Alzheimer's and could no longer take care of herself. Mom and Dad moved Anne into their own home, got a hospital bed for her and every day my father fed and dressed and bathed her, even coming home from work at noon during the week to change and feed her. Anne smiled at my father the way a baby smiles at the scent and sound of a loving parent, her smile all innocent happiness whenever Dad was around. Anne was only one of the relatives he inherited when he married my mother. Dad took care of my grandmother and his sister-in-law, Joan, when they needed help. Gram had had several strokes that left her partially paralyzed and unable to take care of herself and Joan had epilepsy and terminal emphysema. Even though Dad was cranky and short tempered with us sometimes, he had a vast reservoir of patience, compassion and generosity for his in-laws.

He is the one who curled my hair when I was little and danced with me whenever there was music. He and John Wayne share that quiet strength that makes real men like them hard to find. It doesn't take tears and sensitivity learned from a book to be a real man; it just takes being like John Wayne or my father. I still hope to find a man just like him. Now that I live in the West maybe he'll walk in from the desert coated head to foot in dust and sand with a feral dog at his side to sharpen the axe, shoe the horses and take me in his arms for a no-nonsense kiss that lets me know he could find me in the dark from the scent of baking, soap and woman.

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