Really a fascinating piece on JFK, Jackie, their relationship and his womanising. It takes a stark look at JFK the man, and ultimately finds him wanting – and perhaps that’s fair. Even after all these years JFK has a glow about him, preserved by the fact that he died young, in the middle, it seemed, of the journey he was all taking us on, to Camelot. It’s a romantic view, and chances are had he lived on his administration would have become mired in some controversy or another, promises unfulfiled, and the tawdry details of his private life might well have reached the public ear while he was still alive.
We’re lucky, in a way, to be able to hold onto our idealised notions of what might have been. There’s disappointment that it never came to be, but also hope perhaps, in the knowledge that it can be.
I found this an outstanding piece of journalism, and the very best kind of personal essay. JFK was a public figure who lives on in our collective mythology, and so it’s right that we should read of a personal reaction to the man as he seemed to be, and the truth behind that.
People like JFK create bonds that we all share in. No matter who we are or where we live we feel in some way that we have a personal relationship with characters such as he, much different from the usual round of elected officials we casually vote for and disparage. Each of us have a take on JFK.
In all of us he, and others like he, create expectation. The JFK of popular memory took us on a journey. His words created wonders of hope and belief in us, and we went with him willingly. Exposed as a myth something of that changes in us, but different from one person or another. In this piece we witness hopeful ideals become raw disappointment: he was not the man made out to be.
As I read I found myself transitioning through different stages. The raw facts leave little to the imagination: JFK was not the glamorous figure of pure ideal we all hoped for him to be. It’s been a long while perhaps since he’s been that, but even with the litany of stories in the long years since, of compulsive sex and adultery, of dealings with the mob, of possible corruption and incompetence, most chose to look past that to the hopeful picture he painted for us. We wanted to believe, and so we did, regardless.
Is that wrong? I’m not sure that it is. It’s certainly understandable. And if we are to come down one side or the other in that ledger it should be on the side of hope and belief. He may not have been the man we wanted him to be, but regardless he painted a picture that we could all believe in, and which none of us want to lose. Nor should we. Though he was flawed, the hope remains true.
I’m probably more forgiving than most. I’m a man, and that helps. And I know there is no such thing as a paragon of virtue, that each and every one of us has flaws. We may become disappointed, but who are we to judge? Still, I understand when some choose to judge, like this author, like a woman scorned.
And I understand the sex. I’ve never betrayed a woman I’ve loved, so can’t speak from that – though I feel I understand. I know that powerful and undeniable tug of sexual allure, that frisson that can’t be resisted; and the need, insatiable, to rid that pretty girl of her clothes to reveal what is beneath, and to possess that now, and again and again. Even as I write this I remember, and am drawn close to it. How good it is, how supreme it feels. It’s an immortal sensation. How can one say no to that?
Each time I’ve been in love with a woman I’ve found other women shut off to me. I see them still, I can recognise and admire their beauty – but that thing, that spark is, for the moment, extinguished in me. Just for a moment though.
Many other times, 80% of my adult life, I have been the other, free and available. Me, and many others like me, get that scent in our nostrils, and just like a wolf in the wild we must track it down. There is something innately primitive and masculine about this, something innate which appears beyond our self.
I can’t condone what JFK did, and am disappointed that he was not quite the man we wanted him to be – but I understand implicity why he was not. I know many women, and perhaps most, cannot comprehend the specific mechanics of male sexual desire. I’m sure they can describe it in some way, but the sheer logic of it confounds them.
I’m not seeking to justify or excuse male sexual desire, nor do I claim that all men are in the throes of it – at least 50% of male society are set to a more civilised level. It is a reality though, wired into many men. Though I have not transgressed while I’ve been in love, there are many times when I’ve ‘seen’ more than one woman at a time, and thrilled to it. I’m never apologetic, and generally pretty open about it.
I always think that men much more than women are conditioned to keep their options open, right up to the last possible moment. It’s like playing chicken, both instinctive, and part of our collective male bravado. For many men – and this is something that generally women can’t understand – loving one person (and sharing with them an adoring family) and having sex without someone outside of that is not mutually exclusive. (I was about to write that men compartmentalise these things, with little or no overlap – different parts of their life with no relation one to the other. Then I wondered if that is a rationalisation that men have come up with to excuse these escapades?)
Ultimately there is no excuse, not even biology. Some things are right, and others wrong. I read of JFK and I knew something of why he did it, more so than the author. Some of us are better than that though. Feeling it, understanding it is one thing; giving into it is another.
That’s where we all get judged in the end. Though I’ve been a fan too, I think it’s time that the cult of JFK should be earthed, and the man recognised for what he was: a loving father and a serial philanderer; a man of vision and an occasional incompetent; a decent man with human failings.
We shouldn’t stop hoping – none of this mitigates against the world he all got us believing in. It means really, that any one of us – as flawed as he was – can hope to be more.