I’ve been joking this week about Steven Spencer being my hero. It’s true in so much as I admire his style in the way in which he quit the hateful job. I once impulsively walked out of a job when the combination of ignorant clients and arrogant management hit home one day, but I didn’t do it with Spencer’s panache! I really don’t know enough about him to put him on a pedestal, though. That’s something years of hero-worship has taught me.
My very first heroes were Hopalong Cassidy and the Cisco Kid, closely followed by the Lone Ranger. You can see the connection, can’t you – all American, riding across the vast landscapes of the western US, righting wrongs, and fighting against evil and prejudice wherever they found it. La plus ça change, la plus c’est la même chose. OK. Barack Obama isn’t riding a white horse but he is trying to do the rest of it. He’s today’s hero for me, and he is carrying on in the tradition of the heroes of my childhood.
In between, let’s see, yep, there were more cowboys, including Rowdy Yates, and the entire Cartwright family (oh where are the guys like Ben Cartwright now that I’m that age??). Up to that point, you see, all fictional, I still didn’t know too much about real life, unless you count pop stars like Elvis and Ricky Nelson.
My real-life heroes up to that point shared one characteristic – they were all dead, Abraham Lincoln, Davy Crockett, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses Grant, David Livingstone and, curiously against the trend, Napoleon. It’s a sad reflection on teaching of that era that seven years of studying English history didn’t turn up anyone more worthy than Livingstone. William Wilberforce, who was far more worthy, but less dramatic, was a footnote.
1960 was the year that changed life for many of us. JFK, let’s be honest, amongst other things, was the first politician to be sexy, and so appeal to my subconscious teenage stirrings. I was so naïve that I didn’t know he was sexy. I was simply inspired by his passion for a better world. I suppose had I been a boy I might have looked at life differently, but war heroes weren’t my thing. All those brave and courageous men who’d gone through two world wars? Well, nowadays it’s the stories of the ordinary soldiers which appeal to me, those famous names don’t stir my soul, sorry. What I felt was a world oblivious to the needs of ordinary people, and JFK seemed to want to change that.
For years after November 22nd 1963 I carried bits of paper in my bag, with Kennedy’s quotes, pictures and lines of his favorite poetry. I transferred my hero-worship to his brother, and lost a bit more of my faith in mankind when he was killed too. Around the time of Robert Kennedy’s death, I made some bad lifestyle choices, and my heroes became, mainly, people who sang and talked of dealing with pain – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Leadbelly and other great Blues singers. The exception, I think, was that outstandingly brave and curious bunch of men who left Earth’s safety to explore the possibilities of what lies beyond, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepherd, Buzz Aldrin, really shouldn’t pick out names because I don’t remember them all now.
Becoming a parent is something which makes you look at the world around you with renewed hope. For one thing, you need to teach your kids to respect justice, feel empathy, be kind, fight for what is right, be true to themselves and fair to others, so, of course, you look for examples to support what you are trying to teach. One name from that time stands head and shoulders above the others, and that’s Nelson Mandela. It’s probably unfair to a lot of other good men and women, because, like everyone, he was in a certain place at a certain time, and opportunities for greatness aren’t, actually, offered to everyone. Still, a hero is a hero, and he is an outstanding man amongst outstanding men.
The other name from that time in my life is Bruce Springsteen, as my life changed, I needed to replace the raw pain of Blues with the will to fight injustice. The person I should have admired more, and now do, is Jimmy Carter, of course.
And so, back to Barack Obama, his statement, reported in today’s press, in support of the religious freedom which is at the very core of existence of the US, was brave, and true to his beliefs. My first thought was, “He should have generalized more, waffled, been more ambiguous.” My second thought was to be totally ashamed of thinking that. Here is a man who sticks by his beliefs, and his belief in the US, and what the US really, truly stands for. My hero. If it costs him the next election, then I know that the US no longer stands for those things.