JFK’s Womanizing: Why Americans Just Don’t Care – The Editors – The Atlantic

JFK’s Womanizing: Why Americans Just Don’t Care – The Editors – The Atlantic.

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.

The real deal

Watched an old Hitchcock movie last night. Marnie is not one of his classics, but I was interested in seeing it again pretty much because of Sean Connery.

Sean Connery is one of my favourite ever actors, and not just because he’s the best 007. There’s a lot’s of reasons he became a star, but for me what set him apart from just about everybody else is his style. He was always good looking, and had the build to go with it, but so do plenty. What made him different was a kind of sardonic masculinity. Good looking as he was there was something cruel in his good looks. With the curl of the lip he could express contempt, disdain, arrogance. Often it was backed up with some physical expression of that as he took on the baddies and and knocked them over, no matter the odds. With a great speaking voice he was also a natural at the cool wit that was generally written for him. Often he would deliver his lines with the curl of the lip and a knowing look in the eye as if sharing a joke with the audience. Put him in a tuxedo and he looked born to it; shove him in an action role and he was a natural. He performed with a masculine ease that lifted him off the screen, and the self-possession that intimidates lesser men – on screen and off. Somehow you always figured he wouldn’t be much different off screen, the real deal.

I reckon there’s a lot of men who looked upon him as a kind of model of masculinity. I’m the same to a degree. I watch him, even in lesser roles such as last night, and just enjoy how he goes about it. He has that dominant attribute which you watch as a bloke and think, yep, that’s how it should be. The other month someone threw up Steve McQueen as a paragon of lost male masculinity, and good call it was too. Connery is another I reckon, from another the same era. Fewer around these days like them.

Back in the saddle

I was out the other night for drinks with a mate and he reckoned that lately I’ve been a bit flat. That’s a fair call. Plenty of reasons for it, but still, it’s not the way you want to be.

Last night I was out. I went to the Cheeses for a wine tasting. Afterwards we had a bottle together and laughed about all sorts of things, including the ever hilarious subject of pubic hair. I left feeling in a good mood. It was dark out, just after 11. I drove off, switching the radio on as I did. I drove the near empty roads for a while leaving any other cars behind and feeling that swell sense of ownership when you’ve got the road to yourself and a throbbing motor beneath your right foot. At the same a succession of old, great tunes came on the radio. I’m a station switcher. If I don’t like a song I switch stations. Last night I surfed the radio bands each time happening across a great song I would pump the volume up for. It’s a grand feeling when you’re on the road like that.

Eventually I hit traffic, but even then it moved briskly. At first I was part of a road train of about 6 cars moving along at about 5 k’s above the speed limit. I was happy to tail along, very unusual for me who always has the urge to get to the front. Traffic turned off left and right until it was just me and another Audi. Then it was pure. He drove well, in control, a managed aggression like I hope to drive myself. Funny sometimes how you can get on the road and find some kinship with another car on the road. More often it’s on those long trips when you sometimes seem to drive in tandem with the other and unknown driver. Sometimes it happens in the smoke though to. So it was last night. He ripped along at about 70 with me close behind. My music played loud, the suburbs went by, somewhere ahead was home.

There was a feeling in that which I had inherited from earlier in the day, and which has carried forward to this morning. regardless of how fucked things are, I’ve got my swagger back. H without a strut isn’t really H. Together with that I’ve got the very familiar desires. They never really quieten down, just that sometimes they slide up to 9 from 7 or 8. Right now I’m swaggering around much like my mate Prospect would recognise, and feeling as if I’m carrying stick of dynamite set to explode. Life, sometimes, is beautifully vibrant.


The Free Dictionary: left definition: of, relating to, situated on, or being the side of the body in which the heart is mostly located.

Feminine strength

Direct competition of physical skill and stren...

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The other day I found myself in a discussion that in another time, a time when I was younger, would have turned out very differently.

A young dude, no older than early twenties, reasonably smart, articulate and so on, made the statement that it was “amazing to think it was 10 years since 9/11”. No more than a distant acquaintance of mine I could easily have left it alone, but saw no real issue in pointing out that it was actually 10 years and 2 months since that famous day. Failing to understand the point I was making he suggested I “look at the date, mate.” This was a cocky, somewhat disparaging response I guess reasonably typical of someone that age. I wasn’t going to let it go, and not just because he still didn’t get it. That last ‘mate’, often such an innocuous, even affectionate term, was in this case a term of insult.

Calmly I responded with the facts. “The date is in the American format. Mate. It’s actually September 11 – perhaps a date that rings a bell?”

By now of course he knew he’d been in error. If he were sensible he might own up to it, sorry, my bad; or else even drop it altogether. Men aren’t really made that way though, few anyway, and practically none that young. It’s an age when you know better than anyone, the world is all yours and the testosterone still flows freely. In his eyes I’m probably just an old dude who should know better than to pipe up out of turn. I had my chance after all, as did my contemporaries when we were his age, but now it’s his turn. And so all of that informed his responses to me, not apologetic, not even conciliatory, but rather cocky again and disparaging. Better after all to conceal your error than own up to it. “That’s the  the joke” he told us all, as if the error was mine in failing to recognise the ‘humour’.

A lifetime of slapping down characters of all ilk prompted me at first to respond in kind: this time, to give him everything. There was a part of me that saw him as a dumb whelp who deserved a good spray. The lines came to me one after another in the blink of an eye, locked and loaded and ready to be fired. I paused though.

I’m of the age where I’ve been in more verbal battle’s than I can possibly recall. They’re not frequent, but nor are they rare. So often men are like beasts that charge at each other with the ferocious and largely meaningless intent to mark out their territory and prove their supremacy, in our society at least. We tangle, we grapple, we come to grips. Part of that means never accepting an insult, never, god forbid, turning away from a challenge. This is how we are measured, in our own eyes at least, and so often in the eyes of our peers. I admit to having enjoyed these confrontations in the past. Whether it’s true or not I feel myself to be much more robust than most, harder, crueller when it comes to it, more essentially masculine. The sniff of a confrontation used to charge me up, never for a moment doubting that I would prevail. Come at me, come at me, I might be saying, before smacking them aside with a great surge of satisfaction. Not today matey.

As much as there has been that element of masculine affirmation to it, often my motives have been much more prosaic. I really don’t care what these whelps think of me – they’re brief and irrelevant encounters with people I’ll likely never see again and whose opinion means nothing to me. Hackles might rise, but often I might even turn away from the encounter with disinterest, except, mostly, it seems such a waste. Words are my thing. It’s hard to stop when the lines come so easily, so fluently, often so devastatingly. Hell I’d rather fire off a zinger than let it wither on my tongue. It’s strange how automatic it is, almost supernatural, how without really thinking about it the lines come, perch on the tip of my tongue just begging to be shared. Sometimes they feel so rich that I can hardly stop smiling myself: my, that’s good. Sometimes they’re just so good that I can’t let them go unsaid. And so I don’t.

That was my choice on Wednesday. I had a line cocked and ready to go, not a great line, but not bad, something dry and mocking about how he missed his vocation as a comedian. This time I closed my mouth though. Did I really need to say that? What would I prove? (Hardly ever a consideration previously.) I knew the truth. He knew it too, despite his words. And so too did everyone else. And so I said nothing for one of the few times in my life.

Later I thought about that. I felt surprisingly happy, as if I had passed some long delayed test. I know, and I’ve known for years, that masculine rhetoric really amounts to fuck all, but I continued to indulge it because I thought I enjoyed it – and because, often, that stupid male ego demanded it of me. It might be crap, but I had to do it. But not this time. Famous for almost always having the last word I let it go instead. Good for you H.

I’ve got nothing to prove, and even if young punks like him take pieces out of me I don’t lose anything. Let him go, let them play. For him it’s a stage he’s going through, but I should know better, and should be more mature than that: he has excuses, I don’t. I don’t know if I’m mellowing, or even if I’m becoming wiser. I’m pretty sure there’ll be times again when I’ll take great delight in unleashing a wicked tongue, but hopefully less often, and with more grace. This, I think, is the feminine strength I should be embracing more: to go with the flow rather than opposing it; to let go of that dangerous ego and instead use sense and judgement; to conciliate rather than inflame; to be humble, rather than having to be right. Quite rightly women have no time for the crap men indulge in, they know better. Strange as it may seem, I may need to turn to my feminine to be the better man.

Dying breed?

Thursday night last I went to a product launch at Aesop in the city. The product was a new range of shaving products which was being celebrated with a few drinks and a shaving demonstration. I went along expecting to find a room full of some of the better presented suits in town, popping in after work for an interesting diversion. To my surprise suits were very much in the minority – perhaps 4-5 in a crowd of about 50.

I had come from home, and though I was dressed stylishly I was also dressed casually. Most in the crowd seemed similar, or with a bit more glam: oversized scarves, interesting headwear, imported jeans were all the go. Ticking my name off at the door I entered, picked up a glass of wine (a shiraz viognier from Yering Station: excellent), and found myself a spot by the wall in the narrow shop. I sipped my wine and cast my eyes around as I waited for things to begin.

Next to me were a couple of gay guys in black conversing loudly in camp tones. Though it was largely a visual check, I figured that 40% of the crowd were gay, maybe more. Beside the token female, of which there were maybe 3-4, the balance were all metro-sexual, in a variety of configurations from dry (me), to dripping wet (many). There was not one bum or scruffy outfit amongst them. Many of them had hair styles that more closely resembled avant-garde sculptures, which, no matter how artful they were, seemed hardly to belong on a human head. The rest had a variety of carefully groomed, coiffed, or slicked back hair. Perhaps I was the only one with hair approaching the au naturel. Needless to say, just about everyone was dressed in black.

So the demonstration took place, conversation started, red wine and guinness flowed, and olives, nuts and marinated feta did the rounds.

I spoke to the girl next to me initially, a staff member, asking her if she had learned anything from the demonstration. Given she was a girl I thought it unlikely, and she confirmed that she rarely had occasion to shave – her face anyway. Then I spoke to a couple of blokes in my vicinity, one a graphic designer, the other a younger guy who had some role at Melbourne Uni. As it so often seems the case today I led the conversation, prodding and prompting, suggesting conversation and ultimately putting my 2c worth in. I wasn’t sure, but I thought the graphic designer was probably gay; the younger guy I was certain was just a kid still discovering the world. Then there was me. I didn’t stand out, but I was different to them, and within the context of the room, markedly different.

I brought this up with my hairdresser on Saturday. Our conversations often veer into interesting dinner party territory (as opposed to boring dinner party or bland hairdressing territory). I complained, as I often do these days, about the generation after me. On this occasion I took aim at the blokes.

Standing there on Thursday I felt of a different order of masculinity. I was confident that if an investigation had been called for that surely mine would be the biggest balls there. It’s not so much about what I’ve got, but what others seemingly haven’t – which is old fashioned male juice. Growing up I was pretty normal. I played sport, I played up, I got stuck into the girls and booze and life in general and none of it was particularly remarkable (though it was pretty good). I get regularly described as manly, but the truth is that in our prime I was not much different to my peers. I was more aggressive than most maybe, but none of us were shrinking violets, and all of us possessed the traditional masculine traits.

Times have changed since then, and many of the traits I may now seem to be applauding have become unfashionable or have fallen into some disrepute at some stage. That wasn’t a bad thing altogether. Every man needs some feminine in him to be balanced and sensitive. No-one likes the boofhead knob, the drunken yobbo, the insensitive boor – all classic male types. As always though – and as I may be guilty of now – we tend to make judgements based on the extremes rather than on the usual. We were masculine, and though we had yobbo moments (as you should), none of us were ugly or stupid with it, all of us were good natured and reasonable. If we were a model of something then it was a model that didn’t need changing.

It has changed though. Men these days have lost a lot of that manly edge. That’s a big statement, but you’ll find a lot of agreement with it these days. Just on the weekend I read of someone saying how ‘pansified’ society had become. I guess it calls into question how you define masculinity, which is difficult. When I was coming into my own I attached myself to the concept that a man is someone who takes responsibility for his actions. It has a nice ring, but it’s more a philosophy than a way of being, and regardless of sex you’d hope it to be the default. So then, what is masculinity?

It’s a blend of things. There is a certain up and at ’em male vigour, an appetite to try things, to do things, to strive, to explore, a perspective that looks outwards and forwards. It’s a degree of confidence, of boldness, of ambition and belief; which in turn inspires that in others. Certainly there’s a primal element to it which you’re hard put play down at times. I would argue that true masculinity is gentle and sensitive too. The men I’ve admired most in the world are those I’ve respected for their character and strength, and loved them for their gentle affection. It’s often misconstrued, but the truest men are those reconciled to the feminine inside them, and have no fear of showing that. It’s only the softcocks who feel the need to prove how masculine and tough they are, and betray instead the opposite. Let’s face it there are things we associate with masculinity, that whiff of testosterone, that competitive/aggressive edge, an attitude that expresses itself in how a man stands or walks, in the undertone of his voice, the look in the eye. So much is unspoken, which is the classical masculine way.

Now I’m not saying all this is great – there’s a lot to argue about, and certainly to excess you find the ugly characters most of us have come across at some point in our life. But in moderation, sensibly blended, this is who we are – or should be – as men. It’s our cultural birthright as much as it is biological, and there’s absolutely nothing to apologise for. I’m glad I’m a man. And I like the amount of man that I am.

Why would you want to be anything else? It’s hard sometimes not to feel a kind of disdain for these boy-men. They seem so irrelevant and slight, so insipid in nature and thought and opinion. My hairdresser agreed with me, explaining how she and her friends find men these days lacking in ‘force;’ and masculinity. They’re almost too nice, too general, so much so that they have become blurred and indistinct as male figures. I sometimes think that’s why I do so well with the girls, because I still have some of that old school masculinity – and the hairdresser agreed. I have become the exception, rather than the rule.

I may get disdainful, but ultimately there is no pleasure or profit in that. These are our future leaders. We expect and need more. I know that great leaders will still step forward, though perhaps less often; and I know that many will change as they mature and experience more of life, and will become the men I miss. But for now? The loss is as much theirs as it is ours. Being a man is a wonderful thing. It’s like you’ve been born this marvellously powerful toy to play with all your life. You could argue it’s much too powerful, but that’s really the test of it, and you. It roars like a Harley Davidson and has 5 speeds plus overdrive and will go wherever you point it, though no guarantee it won’t crash. What pleasure it is to be in control of such a powerful beast! This is the joy of being male. This is the responsibility we’re forced to take on. We’re born to let ‘er rip; all the fun is in flooring it, going off-road and figuring out what we can make this thing do. And yet, seems to me, too few these days go beyond 3rd gear.

We laughed about it on Saturday, the hairdresser and I. Here I am sounding like one of those crusty old men bitter about how things were different in ‘my day’. How true.

On Thursday we talked affably and drank wine and laughed every so often and everyone was friendly and civilised even if not ‘manly’ and later one sent me a warm email. I spoke to others, and another girl about what was so good about parsley seed, before she went off and returned slipping some sample packs in my pocket with a wink. I left saying my goodbyes, a goody bag thrust in my hand, a pleasant evening behind me. I may have thought these things on the tram home, or else wondered which girl I met I liked most: I don’t remember. End of day we are what we are. Perhaps I can change as much as I say others should. The world is as it is.

I’m certain that things have changed, that a kind of caution and throttled down perspective has become normal. They are the times though, and people become what the times shape them to be. If there is any blame in this then it is mine and my generations for lowering the bar. Maybe thats it. You have to earn these things we now give away. We could go on and on about the reasons, but I don’t have the patience. I think things will change back at some point. I’m sure there will be a reaction and the pendulum will reverse. That’s the story in history. And in truth I don’t want to be tarring a whole generation with the same brush. The crowd on Thursday was hardly representative, and all of them seemed pleasant and considerate and blandly vacuous (notwithstanding the hair stylings) – that’s not the issue. There are many men still who retain that manly edge. It’s just rarer than it used to be.