Could it be possible that our lust for the bad boys—a hunger which begets dreams that bear nightmares—begins the night we aim our reading flashlights on Rhett Butler and his ilk? Face it—who took away our breath? Who were we trained to want? Namby-pamby Ashley or the dashing Rhett?
How about the other side? The sexy good men (and aren’t the truly good and responsible ones men, not boys?) who step up for justice, or catch a killer, or save the town, without trampling on women’s hearts or bending the rules with a smirk on their faces—how many of them do we worship?
Okay, I too am (less so each day) susceptible to these mythical men who are capable of saving towns and a damsel or two, but fall apart faced with love and fatherhood (I’m talking to you, Woodrow Call of Lonesome Dove.) But the older I get the more I appreciate, am fascinated by, and want to turn the pages to read about, complicated sexy responsible heroes:
Kunte Kinte from Roots by Alex Haley: Kunte Kinte, ripped from his home in Gambia by slave traders, imbues heroism, demonstrating courage under the most dire circumstances. I read this book before and after giving birth to my second daughter—thus, marking me with this man, who, after fighting for his freedom and suffering greatly, goes on to fight for his daughter—and thus begets generations of great men and women. Were that most of us had a thimble of his courage.
Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: For many, Atticus sits on the mountaintop of this particular category. He takes care of his motherless children. He fights injustice. He takes on an entire town to face down racism. He’s wise, he’s caring, and we all want to marry him.
Amir from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Amir grows from privileged child who both loves and uses his childhood friend—the child of a family servant—to a man who risks his life for this man and the man’s child. He loves and respects his wife. He is brave through his fright; he is a responsible man to admire.
Reuben from The Book of Reuben by Tabitha King: Reuben struggles—he is an imperfect man, but he is a character who grows and moves outside his comfort zone in his journey to find happiness, authenticity, and moral grounding.
Ben from Before and After by Rosellen Brown: Not all would admire Ben’s decisions when faced with the most ghastly of family problems, (his teenage son is accused of murder) but this complicated character manages to love and stay with his wife and children, even as their individual choices strain the family beyond reason.
Robert from An Execution in The Family by Robert Meeropol: Robert was six years old when his parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were executed. His memoir reveals a man so strong at the broken places that reading it left me breathless for his courage in facing down the demons. This good man honors his biological and adoptive parents in both this book and in the work he does for children of imprisoned political activists.
Howard from A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton must choose between his dreams and stepping up to the family plate when his wife is sent to prison. There is no glamour here—we see the unremitting weariness of the entire family, and the incredible durability of a good man.
A re-run originally published March 2010.