Lately there’s been a number of articles online that I’ve read that discuss a hero type that isn’t defined, and isn’t often present in romance novels, though it’s one of my favorites. Maybe it’s because it’s not as dramatic a persona, or maybe because it’s a heroism that’s sometimes quiet, often subtle, and perhaps difficult to render in text, but the hero who defies the archetype. He’s not outsized and XXXL (as Jane wrote recently), superpowered and megaendowed financially or physically. This hero… shows up when it counts. I’m still working on a name for this one: it’s not quite beta, and it’s not rogue, and it’s not alpha, either.
There are a number of different ways to define him, both what he is, and what he’s not. In this recent article that went around Twitter, the hero is the one who holds your purse:
It’s one of the biggest take-home lessons from my years as an oncologist: When you’re a single woman picturing the guy of your dreams, what matters a heck of lot more than how he handles a kayak is how he handles things when you’re sick. And one shining example of this is how a guy deals with your purse.
I became acquainted with what I’ve come to call great “purse partners” at a cancer clinic in Waltham. Every day these husbands drove their wives in for their radiation treatments, and every day these couples sat side by side in the waiting room, without much fuss and without much chitchat. Each wife, when her name was called, would stand, take a breath, and hand her purse over to her husband. Then she’d disappear into the recesses of the radiation room, leaving behind a stony-faced man holding what was typically a white vinyl pocketbook. On his lap. The guy—usually retired from the trades, a grandfather a dozen times over, a Sox fan since date of conception—sat there silently with that purse. He didn’t read, he didn’t talk, he just sat there with the knowledge that 20 feet away technologists were preparing to program an unimaginably complicated X-ray machine and aim it at the mother of his kids.
I’d walk by and catch him staring into space, holding hard onto the pocketbook, his big gnarled knuckles clamped around the clasp, and think, “What a prince.”
When Jane and I wrote about this type of hero in romance at the Borders True Romance Blog, we received a number of truly amazing stories from women who are fortunate to have this type of hero in their lives. Some told of men who treated them as women, not as patients, even while they undergo continual care for difficult and onerous physical conditions. Others talked about men who listened, who were equal partners in marriage and responsibility.
Foreign Exchange Student
Indie Rock Girl
I’ll stop there, I’m getting nauseated. And of course the app comes with a “brag list” so if you “get lucky” you can remember her name and any pertinent details- and given the tone and lame humor of the app and its description, I’m willing to bet that “Had two tits, a hole, and a heartbeat” is an option.
Hortense has it right when she writes in conclusion to her rant about this spectacular piece of programming poo:
There’s a reason why I go after bro culture as often as I do: things like this, which are completely unacceptable and ridiculously offensive. This is a program sponsored by a major corporation that encourages men to look at women as objects to be won, used, and tossed away after a “victory” is obtained….
I have said it before, and I will say it again: I am just really tired of bros, man. It would be nice to turn on the television one day and not see some dude completely dehumanizing women as a part of some asinine “game” in order to promote deodorant or soda pop or body wash, but I guess there isn’t an app for that yet.
Whether it’s a joke that edged too far into reality (I’ve so met guys who think like that – have you?) or a genuine piece of utter asshattery, the blowhard clueless hero type is much more common in mass media portrayals of men than the real men we know who are actually heroic.
I wish I read more of these heroes in romance.
I’d pick men like LaConnie Taylor Jones’ late husband, who changed her life and left a wonderful legacy of being a true romance hero:
As a romance author, readers often tell me the only place a woman can meet a beautiful, strong Black man is between the cover of a romance novel….
He didn’t drive a luxury vehicle or go head off to work all suited and booted in the latest Dolce and Gabbana collection. He was the father of our four children and the one who occasionally headed out the door sick, but somehow managed to work all day to earn an honest day’s pay in order to support his family. He was the man my children were and still are proud to call “Dad.” He was the one who spoiled me rotten, in spite of my shortcomings. He was the man who honored and respected me with his whole heart and demanded the same from others on my behalf. He was the man who cried with me and for me. He was the man who celebrated my joys and shared my pain. He was the man I entrusted with my darkest secrets and deepest fears, which he safely tucked them away inside his heart and carried to his grave.
Or Elise Logan’s brother, who, as she told me on Twitter, went to high school his sophomore year on National Coming Out Day in a dress in “solidarity.” Or her dad, who, when the principal called to report her brother’s apparel, said “Is it a violation of dress code?” Ms. Logan’s brother and Ms. Jones’ husband are no longer with us – and we’re missing some genuine heroes in these two dudes.
Jessica Scott’s blog entry for today came to me via Laura Kinsale’s Twitter feed as I was writing this entry: Something Neat from a Year in Iraq: “I got my husband back.”
We have a few minutes at lunch and dinner and maybe an hour or two before we go to bed. It’s more than most couples have and less than others, but it works for us. I’ve learned a lot about him this year, both as a husband and as a soldier. I think he’s learned a lot about me and how we’ve both changed over the last half decade. But the best thing is discovering that there’s still a whole lot of love, mixing in with a lot of like and it’s not just the kids holding us together….
It’s been a long known fact in the Army, since the war started, that deployments can make good marriages stronger but it destroys weak ones. This is my husband’s third and my first. I look to him as the voice of experience and he’s talked me through some of my fears. I’m glad I’ve gotten this time with my husband the man, not the daddy and I still love it when he plays with the kids on the webcam.
So getting to be husband’s wife this year, even with everything else that’s gone one, is at least one good thing that’s come out of being in Iraq.
Media, and to a lesser extent, romance, has a very limited set of roles for heroes, particularly those who are husbands or fathers – secret baby notwithstanding. In pop culture portrayals, they can be uber-studs or bumbling dads or quiet geeks or angry rebels – and every now and again you meet a deft mix of one or more, with a touch of something new and realistic.
In romance, the hero isn’t just the Wang of Mighty Lovin but all too often, he is reduced to that stereotype 3/4ths of the way through the book.
It’s not always compelling romance to read of a hero who listens and shows up and steps in and stands up and does all those nameless, subtle things that compile this type of hero. But surely there’s more room for this type of man in romance (and watch – the comments will be full of “Sarah, duh, did you not read…?” Get your bookstore shopping lists ready – there’s no group better at proving me wrong than the Bitchery).
Meanwhile, I’m still trying to think of a name for this real-life hero. Maybe it’s the 99% hero: 99% of life is just showing up, as a fridge magnet tells it, and I bet 99% of women would pick this type of hero over all the others in real life, if not in romantic fantasy. Regardless of what you call him, the “99% hero” is 100% awesome. I love encountering him in different places, even if it’s with the painful knowledge that the gentleman I’m reading about isn’t alive today.
Who’s your favorite 99% hero? Do you disagree that this guy who holds your purse, listens, and does those million little subtle things is absent in romance?
ETA: Polly, in the comments below, nailed it: “Maybe omega? Since he’s the guy you’ll wish you ended up with?” Yes. This is the Omega Hero: the one you end up with, or wish you had. Well said, Polly!