Watching THE IRISHMAN, Robert DeNiro’s new film is disturbing for guys who take their job seriously. To be good at a profession and receive recognition is what all guys want. 

“But wait, there’s more”.

 We guys also want a good family life, get along well with our spouse and be at peace with our spiritual side. That’s the heart of hit-man DeNero’s story. Robert’s character Frank, has become a career success beyond his wildest dreams, rising up the ladder, making money and attracting admirers. He is tough, masculine and does his job to perfection. Frank accomplishes all that a guy could wish for. But this story doesn’t begin with successes.

 Growing up with John Wayne

 The film begins at the end of Frank’s life, in the nursing home. It’s Christmas and he’s alone, no wife, unable to reconcile with his kids or priest. It is a downbeat beginning and I’m left with a question, what’s the value of masculinity in a #MeToo world?

My childhood began with cowboy westerns, John Wayne, and strong silent macho types. The male role was simple, understandable and uncontested. Nobody even discussed gender roles as I recall. My Dad didn’t swagger or carry a pistol, but he was a 1950’s guy and a role model of taking business very seriously and did exceptionally well. At home he wasn’t a hugger and would have nothing good to say about today’s weepy, bed-wetting, androgynous men.

Dad might not understand today’s feminist with their groundbreaking roles, defying stereotypes, and “won’t be held down any longer” stories. They’re better for it, but they don’t say anything to my father’s generation and say little that a young man can relate to today. 

What are exclusively male values? 

With John Wayne gone, do all chest-thumping male roles lead to patriarchy, violence, and misogyny? Is that masculinity? Is there a healthier message we leave for our sons? What are the 2020 uniquely male role models for guys? If feminists say they can have it all and do it all, as they often can, where do guys fit in? It is fine to be able to do it all but is that what feminists or anyone else want?

photo by John Belmont, Merriam, KS.

As a guy reflecting on gender roles, I wonder, “Without John Wayne, where do young guys go today? Of course they should be polite, considerate, kind, smart and diligent. That’s good advice, but hardly gender specific. Are there any exclusively male characteristics we value?

For my sons and grandsons, I hope they lean towards:

* Less talking and more focus on action. Know the importance of getting something done.

* Having the vision to lead, to take initiative, and be willing to assume risk. 

* Rate friends and family first? 

The last point addresses The Irishman’s problem. However well women perform the parental role, they don’t do the father thing as well. Kids and particularly sons benefit from a father’s role models. 

*Lastly, most women like to have guys to listen to them, respect and affirm their thoughts and actions. And maybe, offer alternative views.

Hollywood films are not a place to look for child guidance or family values today, nor were they in the cowboy era. Nevertheless, THE IRISHMAN is a provocative contribution to that search.

Categories: Ruminations

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