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Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?*

03 Jul

During this week of the Fourth of July, I’m focused on the idea I grew up with of what is the classic American Hero. 

I was born during World War II, infused with an ideal of a certain post-war, iconic, American male. In the movies, he was best exemplified by Gary Cooper in High Noon and Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird - both won Oscars for Best Actor, by the way.

This hero figure was gallant, brave and principled, protecting the weak and doing what was right, even at great personal cost.

He was also inhumanly stoic. You wouldn’t find him whining or complaining, even if he was treated unfairly, misperceived, or wrongly blamed for something he didn’t do. Superman (who, come to think of it, wasn’t human) had no problem being mistaken for the feckless, weakling, Clark Kent. And how we all loved being in on the joke.

This iconic American hero type was loath to call attention to himself or take credit for his accomplishments. Often he was fine doing a good deed anonymously. Take the ending of every Lone Ranger episode, when he and Tonto had saved the day and were riding off into the sunset. Some grateful, just-rescued admirer would always turn to a companion and ask, “Who was that masked man? I wanted to thank him…”

These all-American guys owned their mistakes and never played the blame game, even when they were wrongly being handed the blame; and they would not stoop to return an insult with an insult, even from a preposterous, insufferable idiot. Oh, the self-control these heroes had!

Now, I acknowledge there were problems created by these idealistic, romantic character traits. For one thing, they represented an impossible and unrealistic ideal, against which little boys and grown men judged themselves and always came up short. It bred harsh self-judgment, for sure.

Another problem: this hero figure encouraged too many of those little boys to stuff their feelings, producing generations of men who had trouble recognizing their feelings or even knowing they were having them. That’s a serious disadvantage if you want to make fully informed choices, enjoy good relationships or take decent care of yourself.

Further, this brand of hero comes from a time when there was intense gender bias and rigid role definition.

Still, I miss Gary Cooper’s sheriff, Metropolis’ Superman, the noble Atticus Finch, the Lone Ranger and all the virtues they stood for. 

And I worry and wonder what our little boys are learning these uncivil days. They see and hear so much bad behavior, from their leaders on down to bullying peers. How much can parents do to counteract all this ugly input? How far will the nastiness go?

Maybe it’s time to dust off a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird or see if Netflix offers High Noon….

Take good care,

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*Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you… woo woo woo..” from Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award