Who are your heroes? Who are your role models? If you could be anybody else, who would you want to be?
A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that I have no heroes. Oh there are plenty of people who I like, I respect, or who have talents or skills that I’d like to possess myself, but there is no one who I would say is my hero; no one I wish I could be instead of me. This struck me as odd, because I thought everyone had heroes.
Certainly when I was a lad, I loved reading books about the lone hero, specifically Conan the Barbarian and Batman, and I loved the James Bond movies too. It was something about having the ability to be completely self-reliant: drop any of these guys into any situation and they would cope. But these were all fictional characters. Where were the real life heroes?
When I started to reflect on this, I realised that my first real hero was my brother, who is 4 years and 2 days older than me (I was a late birthday present for him, apparently) - he was the one who I would become. To the mind of a 3-year-old, it seemed perfectly obvious that when I turned 7 I would be doing exactly the same as my older brother had done before me. I also knew, at that age, that when I grew up I would be my Dad. But Dad was an adult and occupied a different place in my head; my older brother, however, was closer, more tangible. I wanted his affection, I wanted to follow him: I wanted to be him.
When I was 7, however, my brother, now aged 11, disappeared off to boarding school, and for the next 5 years we saw him only every 3rd weekend during term time, and at the holidays. My parents believed that by sending him away to a private school they were doing the best for his education. Whether they were right or not has been a matter of family debate since, but it had a profound impact on my life at the time.
We’d moved to South Wales when I was five years old, and being English I was an ideal target for bullies. However, having an older brother in the same primary school meant I was afforded a certain level of protection that I might otherwise not have had. But when my brother not only changed school, but moved out of the area, that protection was gone. The bullies turned their attention to me and the next few years were pretty miserable.
Eventually I found strategies to deal with them, and by the time my brother had left school and returned to live with us I no longer needed his protection. I would still have followed him anywhere, but what 17-year-old wants a 13-year-old hanging about, cramping his style? As testosterone levels rose I began to see my brother in terms of competition, and when we moved away from Wales to South West England a couple of years later, he was no longer someone I looked up to.
So what has this to do with my lack of heroes today? Well, the fact is that I never had another hero after my brother; it’s like the disillusionment I experienced meant that I could never really believe in anyone else again. At the point where I needed my hero to come and protect me, and he wasn’t there, the mind and emotions of the child weren’t able to separate out the distinction between “couldn’t” and “wouldn’t” protect me.
In one of those rare moments of self discovery, this idea about my lack of heroes made me realise that I have spent almost my entire life expecting someone to be looking out for me; and have been in a state of almost constant disappointment that no one has been. For years I have wondered why the world isn’t a fairer place, why people don’t help each other more, why those in power are so happy to abuse those who are not. Despite the fact that intellectually I have known that the world is not a fair place, emotionally it has felt so wrong. I have continually expected someone to come along and sort it out, and then been crushingly disappointed that no one has.
Those in positions of power and authority who could make a real difference, but don’t (and that is just about all of them), have nothing but my contempt and disdain. And as for the long line of hideously overpaid pop stars, supermodels, film stars and sports stars that are paraded before us as heroes and role models, well don’t make me laugh. I guess what I would call heroic are the people who, against adversity, retake control of their lives.
The conclusion I had to come to was that I couldn’t rely on anyone else to sort out my life; I would have to do it myself. But whereas I have resented this up until now, this flash of insight means that I can now accept it. I am not 7-years-old any more, and I don’t have an older brother or anyone else who is going to bail me out of trouble.
And finally, I’m ok with that.