I began learning and understanding what it meant to be a man at a very young age.
One of my first recollections was going to Grandpa’s house, where we’d wrestle and adventure with the old man, and when night came, you watched John Wayne movies.
I say ‘you watched’, because there was no choice in the matter: you watched John Wayne. Of course there were alternatives, other movies on the shelf, but in my grandfather’s (and therefore my) eyes, movies weren’t worth watching unless The Man was on the cover.
Besides being a cowboy with a deep voice, it was readily apparent that John Wayne, and consequently…any good man, was if nothing else, a protector.
Any number or assortment of bad guys would come his way, threatening those he loved and their way of life, and sure enough, he was the one that would stand between the two. He was powerful, impenetrable, and infallible.
Not only that, he was a provider. Those under his care were taken care of, no matter what. Food was on the table, a roof was over your head, and a bed close to the warm fireplace was yours.
Never was that, or anything else he owned or was responsible for, ever in doubt. If John was there, so was solidarity and security.
That imagery is explained in such depth to paint a picture in the mind as to what men are trained to be. Regardless of either how explicit, or under-the-surface these may be, it’s a pervasive image.
I now paint an equally clear picture: a gravesite on an overcast, sullen day. Large numbers of darkly-dressed family encircling a grave of someone they truly loved. Someone they cared about, who cared for them.
When my grandfather died, this was the image an outsider would have seen. Somewhere in that group, they would have seen a very young boy, very sad but also very confused. They would have seen me, wondering where my John Wayne had gone.
They also would have seen a boy deeply embarrassed; feeling the urge to cry, but never having seen The Man cry. Was that okay? I suppose so, because other people are, but not sure if I would have done the same if it had just been me.
Now before going further, I don’t tell this personal story to regurgitate the long-winded complaint that men don’t cry, or aren’t in touch with their feelings. Such a rote comment would be disrespectful to my grandpa and his story.
Rather, I write the stories together to try my best to explain how polar opposite true masculinity and true grieving can seem, particularly in the midst of heartache.
I stress the word ‘seem’, because in reality, masculinity is strength embodied. And it takes strength and courage to emote and to grieve after devastating loss.
In a cultural where independence reigns supreme, it’s easy to see the toughness and grit a John Wayne-esque character has that makes him strong, but maybe not so easy to imagine a crying John Wayne.
But I promise you, at some point in his life, when he lost someone he loved, perhaps the man that taught him to be a man, he felt the need to cry. Whether he allowed himself to or not, I can’t say, but he felt it…of that I’m certain.
Clif is a freelance rriter for SereniCare AZ. I hope this writing did something for you.