Thursday, March 27, 2008

A man's man

A list came out today with 50 movies that every man should see before he dies. These are manly movies, chest-beating, blood-drenched, ass-whooping, sweat-filled movies where the man knows what he wants, and he takes it.

I like many of the films on the list. But it's got me revisiting some thoughts that have been bugging me since Ian was born. Thoughts about what it means to be a man with Down syndrome. I know, I know. "Jeez, Tom, he's just a little baby and you're already trying to figure out how to turn your six-month-old into a sword-wielding philosopher." (I'm not really teaching him philosophical terms, in case you were worried. I am, however, teaching him how to say "Hey, baby, you got some fries with that shake? No, seriously, where's the fries?")

The hero's/anti-hero's in these films are individualistic, cunning, resourceful, strong, brutal, wise, funny, witty, self-reliant, charming and, most importantly, looked up to by millions of other men. Again, I know, I know, who's to say Ian won't grow up to be the next Bond, Ian Bond. Not that I in any way hope my son will have to compensate for his inadequacies by bedding women in every city around the globe. (My parents are counselors, if you can't tell.)

You get what I'm saying though, don't you? Innocence and vulnerability are not character traits that make for good hero's. But of course we all know there's not a "pinch of poop" of truth in that last sentence. Like Robert Bly says, “By the time a man is 35 he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work in life.”

So if we know that the kinds of hero's portrayed in these films do not provide good maps on how to live our lives, why are they so stinkin' popular? Maybe, partly, it's a resistance to that whole "Blessed are the meek" thing. He might as well have said "Blessed are the pasty-white, paper-thin nerds who keep getting the books knocked out of their hands."

MAN #2: You hear that? Blessed are the Greek.
GREGORY: The Greek?
MAN #2: Mmm. Well, apparently, he's going to inherit the earth.
GREGORY: Did anyone catch his name?
MRS. BIG NOSE: You're not going to thump anybody.
MR. BIG NOSE: I'll thump him if he calls me 'Big Nose' again.
MR. CHEEKY: Oh, shut up, Big Nose.
MR. BIG NOSE: Ah! All right. I warned you. I really will slug you so hard--
MRS. BIG NOSE: Oh, it's the meek! Blessed are the meek! Oh, that's nice, isn't it? I'm glad they're getting something, 'cause they have a hell of a time.
The Life of Brian

I don't want Ian to have "a hell of a time." Of course, I have "a hell of a time" because I try - and fail - to live as one of the meek, which, by the way, is in no way synonymous with weakness, rather, in it's original language, is rooted in the concept of taming a horse. The "meek" horse is not broken and has not lost it's strength, but it's will is no longer primarily its own. Of course, this metaphor only works if the horse has a good trainer, a Robert Redford to whisper sweet nothings into it's ear. "Psst, horse, vote Democrat."

I guess what I'm saying is that it sucks that Ian - the man - will always be compared, judged, measured by the Rambo's, Eastwood's and Clooney's of the world. Sucks that I'm judged by these standards.

I know, I know. Chill. But I'm just a dad, worried about all the guys streaming out of the next showing of Fight Club.


Terri said...

i remember worrying about this with my boys when they were little too. it's not a very forgiving world and it only takes one tear or show of sensitivity...and boys are brutalized by other boys. sucks.

"did he say blessed are the cheesemakers?"

Tom said...

terri: I know it's much all parent's worry... I worry about it for Silvi as well. I'm going to teach Ian some judo moves, meek ones of course.

I thought he said "keymakers" so I took a job in a hardware store...

Anonymous said...

My husband runs a hardware store, so does this mean we're all a shoo-in? ;>

Seriously, as the mother of 3 sons, this post reminds me of many things that I often consider. This is one thought in response:

bella said...

you've touched on something I think parent's of boys in general wonder about, sometimes worry about. Leo is a cautious kid, an astute observer of the world and others. He stands back, watches everything for quite a while, before he'll actually engage. Shy? Introvert? I don't know.
but it does bother me that the assumption is he should be a go-getter, a "leader", aggressive and active like "boys" are supposed to be. When his favorite thing in the world is making art. :)
What I think? These kids are super lucky to have us for parents, so they can be offered a different, a wider view of possibility.

Brett said...

For what it's worth, I was thinking last night about the culture our kids are entering into. One aspect of this is the pervasive message of a quality life is one of ease and free of dispair. It seems to me, this is a significant contributor to the neurotic ethos of our culture. SO, how do I raise up my boys? I suppose that question will help inform me. Further, I am sure Quentin Tarantino's work will not be a part of my list of movies to inform my boys. Now, The Lives of Others is another story.

Kim Ayres said...



Starring Sylvester Stallone, Vin Diesel and the Governer of California as...


When paedophies are on every street corner, terrorist are on every aeroplane, and TV Evangelists are on every station, it is time for...


[Zoom in on Arnold Schwartzenegger holding an ouzi in the face of a vaguely turbaned man]

"You hev breathed your last mudderfugger. It is time for The Meek to inherit the Earth"


Tom said...

Elsie: I didn't know that (about your husband) He's in :) And thanks for the link, I hadn't heard it before and really liked it.

Isabel: It's one of those universal parental worries, I guess. I know Leo's a lucky little boy.

Brett: I thought the Lives of Others was pretty fantastic too. Like you, am not a Tarantino fan...
I'm thinking your sons are learning lots of good life lessons from their old man; I know I did.

Kim: Just for you, and just because I have too much free time on my hands. Coming Soon.

Anonymous said...

I have other thoughts on this list that aren't really formed yet, but I will add that one of my first thoughts was that this list is only half a list. It was made by men, correct? If this was a list of "man" movies made by women, I'll bet we'd see a different list - a different kind of ideal man would emerge. (Because really, is Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice in there?)

Kim Ayres said...

That is superb, Tom!

Anonymous said...

Yes, terri, my favorite lines are those just after the ones Tom quotes. It says more about "the church" than I think those boys even realized:

MAN #1: I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.'
JESUS: ...right prevail.
MRS. GREGORY: Ahh, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
GREGORY: Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

Get it wrong, then re-interpret it. That is FUNNY! But I digress.
My Grandfathers - one was a tool and die maker, a craftsman. The other was an insurance executive. My father is a Minister/Church Administrator. I'm a nut. My son appears to be a computer nerd/gamer/science whiz. Don't know exactly, but I don't think that there's professional baseball or ultimate fighting in his future. So yeah, I get it. I think he's going to be more like Bud Cort in Harold and Maude (without most of the angst), which is alright with me, but I also think he may be in for some rough times as he hits middle school next year.
I don't think that's what you're asking, though. I think the good news is that the expectations for a man with Down Syndrome are more open now than they've ever been. The bad news is that that lack of expectations can be a barrier in itself. So yeah, I wonder right along with you. Guess we have to make something of it.

Tom said...

Kim: thanks; just goofing around.

elbog: I hope you're still doing some additional writing on the side because you're pretty darn witty.

Appreciate the words, man, and I know that this is a universal concern for any parent. So glad that Ian is born in this world as opposed to just 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago.

I've never met any cheesemakers.