Male Role Models

This blog was written while listening to Them Crooked Vultures and the Black Crowes “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion”.  Feel free to do the same while reading if you so wish

I looked for most of my male role models from TV.

Having been raised by a single Mum and never having any contact with my father (or sperm donor as we like to refer to him in our house) it is natural that I would look somewhere for male guidance.  Sure Mum gave me a balanced upbringing by introducing me to the wonder of poetry one day and then pitching cricket balls at me as if they were softballs the next but still, a boy is a boy and he will need to look for his own kind to emulate at some point.  By the way, you really learn to master the hook shot when a cricket ball is pitched at you…or at the very least not burst into tears on the seventh body blow.

First up the idea of knowing an unknown father was of no interest.  I remember very early in my life having Mum explain to me what had happened so I would know how to deal with those questions in school.  I was fine, you don’t miss what you don’t have and to top it off Mum had me read a letter he once wrote to her. 

“Now you don’t want that guy around, do you?  Look at all those spelling errors,” said Mum.

“We should give him a mark out of ten and send it back,” I replied.  Oh how we laughed, such a beautiful moment of bonding between a mother and her child.

The men that were in my life weren’t much in the way of people to look up to.  My Grandfather was a fine man to me but a distant parent to his children.  My uncles were broken creatures too.  One was married to a cancerous woman who twisted him into a grotesque shadow of who he could have been.  Late in his life he found himself again and I was lucky to grow close to him for a while before he died.  My other uncle should have had it all but alcohol had eaten away his potential and left behind a man who never realised what his dreams were meant to be let alone how high he should have aimed.

There were a few male friends around but nothing really substantial.  One friend had a Dad who was a mobile DJ on the weekend and while that seemed cool at the time he seemed to make Mum angry with his chauvinistic carry on and besides, a mobile DJ just seems a little silly, doesn’t it?

There was a friend of Mum’s who was a hairdresser who was just tops.  A great guy who was into Woody Allen and David Bowie, he also took me to movies and found records for me, more than happy to introduce me to a world that was closer than I realised.  He was a favourite but he had his demons and when he married a woman when he was quite clearly gay it signalled the end of having him around.  I bumped into him once when I was older and he had come out of the closet.  He told me that he had to tell me something serious and when he said he was gay I couldn’t lie to him and say, “Oh my God!  Really?”  It was more like, “Well yeah.  Of course you are!”  We had a great catch up but I once again lost touch with him which has been a massive shame because not only did I relish his friendship but I would like to have invited him to all my shows etc to show him what that young kid he befriended had grown up to achieve.

I also had a second or third cousin; I can’t remember how we’re related but it is definitely in the “cousins” bracket and he was a good guy and still is.  He’s a good family man with two great kids and a lovely wife and I wish I was a better person that caught up with him on a more regular basis but I am essentially selfish and shun certain relationships because I don’t have the capacity to let people too far into my life.  But that is another story!  This one is about male role models and where I found them so lets get back to that.

I am a voracious consumer of pop culture.  I read books, magazines, plays, comics and lyrics to songs.  I watch TV and movies and listen to music constantly.  I long to create a perfect world and through the power of fiction have managed to hide away quite happy while shit has gone down around me.  In these make believe lands I have created escape hatches to better places and often fantasize about packing my stuff and escaping to a better world.

So it is only natural to have looked to the men who have entered my house through the magic of TV each week for guidance.  And the first man I thought I would like to be when I grew up was Michael Steadman from the groundbreaking series “thirtysomething”.

“thirtysomething” was a run away hit in the 80’s that explored yuppies, the changing face of masculinity and how feminism was now reasserting itself.  It was also the prototype for the style of hour-long show you now see on television where stories revolve around characters relating to each other on a regular basis.  My favourite character was Michael Steadman, a good honest man who loved his wife and their two children.  He wore braces to work with shirts that didn’t match but hey, it was the 80’s and that shit looked cool then.  He was funny, smart, plagued by doubt and wasn’t afraid to show his emotions especially crying.  “A man who dared to cry on television but was still a man in no uncertain terms?”  That was ticking all the boxes for this lad as I listened to Joe Jackson’s “Real Men” playing the background.  I even thought it would be cool to work in advertising because it looked creative and they had a mini basketball ring and ball in their office and they often would shoot hoops while trying to nut out a problem.  What more could a lad want?

Of course that was the 80’s and while I still loved Michael once the show finished I found his influence fading with time.  There were only so many times I could watch the final episodes (on betamax no less) where he does his best to not have a heart attack and keep his family together while dealing with the death of his best friend before I started to wonder if maybe his life would have been just a bit better if he dumped his whiny wife and just gave less of a fuck.

Then the 90’s kicked in and it was all about…I have no idea what it was all about to be honest.  Rebellion being consistently remarketed for the youth and then sold back at them at three times the cost price?  I was just starting my writing career and when I say career I was writing a lot of stories that weren’t published.  Soon I started performing and was still conforming to my Steadman as role model in my relationships.  Then “e.r.” started (I love a show without capitals) and my love affair with George Clooney began. 

I’d first noticed Clooney in Roseanne when he played Booker, Roseanne’s sister Jackie’s boyfriend.  He was funny and cool and turned up to a fancy dress party as a moose.  He was around for a while and was just ace and then out of nowhere he turned into a woman beater and was written out of the show which even then I thought of as a gross misjudgement.  Booker was never the type to hit a woman and I guess that was the point they were trying to make, you never know who might be, but I just didn’t buy it.  (It was interesting many years later to find out that Clooney agreed with me about Booker…another reason we should be best buds.)

So when he turned up in “e.r.” I watched with great interest to see what he’d be like in this.  Immediately I loved the character of Doug Ross.  He was a very romantic type of character for me.  A loner who was at times misunderstood, he looked after children but had none of his own.  He couldn’t be tied down but not because he disliked women but more because of his raging issues with his father and the bad examples he’d lead.  He was a doctor on a small salary who would take medication to those who were in worst situations than him and not ask for any payment in return.  He protected the innocent but he was also a rebel.  He would punch any man he thought was beating their child or partner.  Fuck yeah!  Now that is a man! 

So you try to live to those ideals and after a while you realise that there is one big problem with all of this:  I’m not George Clooney.  In any way.  So if you act like Doug Ross as a person you end up drunk alone pontificating about why you can’t get close to someone while hoping to find out that someone you know is hitting their kid so you can take a heroic swing at them…and keep your fingers crossed that they’ll stay down because you’re full of justice and they’re not.

So while I began to admire Clooney and his films from afar I then met a new type of man.  Nate Fisher from “Six Feet Under” was the guy for me.  Reluctant, full of raw emotions and the best yeller I’ve seen in TV, Nate came into the family business and attempted to do his best whether it was dealing with a crazy Mum, delinquent sister or not ready to embrace being gay brother.  Nate also had a terrible time in relationships and was constantly searching for the truth not just in love but in life as well.  I loved him.  Sometimes he was massively annoying and I hear that criticism of the show; that the characters were hard to love.  I disagree.  I think they are some of the most well written characters to ever hit the small screen and the reason they annoy you at times is because they’re so realistic.  I can’t think of too many people that I have ever met that haven’t annoyed me at some stage and I am sure I have annoyed even my closest of friends at points.  So just as in real life as in “Six Feet Under” I would love Nate and then be totally exasperated with him but never at any stage did he not feel relatable.

So Nate was my blue print and then the final episodes play out and I don’t want to give anything away but (look away now if you have any intention of ever watching this show…which you should because it is totally brilliant and has an ending that will never be topped) when he suddenly dies I was shattered.  To the extent that I figured maybe I better change role models because I have no intention of dying before I am 147.  Maybe if he weren’t so complex he wouldn’t have burnt out so quickly.  Time to “shallow up” a bit and live a lot longer I say.

So who is there left?  I love Jack on “Lost” but unless my plane goes down on a mysterious island where mysterious things happen that can’t be easily explained (I’m looking right at you Tasmania!) then my Jack skills aren’t going to get an opportunity to shine.  Besides, unless they give him the killer ending in the final season that I think he deserves (and that I think they will…I have a lot of faith in Lost which I will tell you about some other time either here or over a drink…don’t be afraid to see me and ask me about it some time) then I’d better be careful with how much I look up to this guy.

So now I’m left to wander about without a male role model.  Perhaps, at 37, this is for the best.  Better to look inward rather than around to be a better man.  Create your own ideals to strive for.  Look at ways you can improve yourself through learning from your mistakes.  Strive to be the best guy you can be and the best way to do that is to reach for the stars under your own steam.

Having said that I just saw a preview of the latest Clooney movie “Up In The Air” and I’m telling ya, there is heaps in that guy he plays that I could really relate to…

Justin Hamilton

Fitzroy North

December 4th, 2009