The Best A Man Can Get
A Romance Story of Everyday Heroism
There’s a man I know. I won’t name him because he’d be embarrassed.
He struggles at school, an academic life is certainly not for him. He leaves at the earliest opportunity.
His father is a hard man by today’s standards, a product of his generation. This young man knows his father won’t stand for him not being in work, so he looks for work and finds a job.
He hates it. He doesn’t suit the work, or the work doesn’t suit him. He drifts from employment to employment – always looking because his father won’t stand for anything less: ‘having a job you hate is better than having no job at all’.
He has to agree, the money does provide some compensation, he can now buy a second hand vehicle cheaply. It doesn’t run well, but seeing his initiative, his father offers to help him fix the car up.
Together, they work out the differences that caused them to butt heads often when he was a teenager.
A few years later, this young man finds a job that suits him. He’s beginning to master the profession. Sure, it’s not the world’s most glamorous occupation – it’s not going to attract supermodels as dates – but it pays well.
He starts chatting to the girl who works in the cafe where he buys his lunch. After a few weeks he plucks up the courage and asks if she’d like to go to the movies with him.
He can’t remember the name of the movie and he’d be hard pressed the remember when it was, but that doesn’t matter. He’s found the girl he’s going to marry.
After a few years he does and soon after she tells them they’re going to have a baby.
He’s nervous. Life’s been pretty good when it is just the two of them and they’ve both been working. He’s been thinking that they really ought to start saving for a house deposit because, as his dad has drummed into him, ‘rent money is dead money’, now with a baby on the way, his wife will have to give up work and they’ll be down to one income.
He breathes deep. His father made it happen. He and mum had four kids between them. And despite the head-to-head fights he and his old man had from time to time, he didn’t have a bad childhood.
Sure, he didn’t have the latest toys some of his friends have, but he didn’t want for much.
It’s only now with the benefit of hindsight and the perspective of adulthood that he realises how tight money was in his family.
And yet, his mum and dad made it work.
He’s not going to lie, the next ten years were pretty tough, but now he has two children (a girl and a boy) in primary school and he wouldn’t change that for the world.
He loves his wife who has kept him grounded when he thought he was going to lose everything. She encouraged him when he told her he was thinking of going into business for himself. She reminded him of everything he was working hard for – a better life for them, for us.
Being a responsible family man is a little limiting, he’ll admit that. Sometimes he wants a bit of time on his own, so he’s spend an evening or two fishing but as the children have got older, he likes the fact that they want to go fishing with him too. His son especially loves it and he’s grateful.
But he wants to do more. He’s joined the local volunteer emergency service organisation. He’s now part of a crew who gets called out in the middle of the night after a storm to remove trees that have fallen on people houses and spreads out tarps to cover the holes in their roofs.
He battles bushfires that threaten the community. He and his team provides support to the police and the firefighters during the floods.
His children are growing up. His daughter, the eldest, is the real brainbox in the family, she’s achieving at school and she’s on the school team for her favourite sport, netball.
The national league is playing a game in the capital city nearly 70km away. Will he take her?, she asks.
Of course he will. He knows a little about the game now she’s started playing, and he’s likes it as much as his favourite sport, rugby league.
It’s late, near 11pm, the game is over. He is tired, but his daughter wants to linger. She has a netball and wants her favourite team to sign it.
He’s been working ten hour days because there’s a lot of work on, but not nearly enough to employ another man, and in the past week he’s been called out twice with the volunteer emergency services.
They stay. Of course they stay.
The stadium empties of the hundreds who came to see the match and now it is quiet, only a few people remain.
“There she is dad! That’s the captain!”
His daughter rushes forward with the netball and the Sharpie pen he hadn’t known she’d brought with her.
The player looks tired too, but she stops and smiles at his daughter, exchanges a few words and signs the ball.
“Daddy! Daddy! Take a picture of us!”
He looks for the expression on the captain’s face. He doesn’t want his daughter to become a pest but the player smiles at him and he pulls out his phone.
“Thank you for this,” he says, “my daughter is a big fan. She’s representing her school in the under-13s.”
This makes the captain smile.
“You must be very proud.”
“I am,” he said.
And that makes his daughter grin.
The smile is so much like her mother’s.
Suddenly the tiredness is gone.
Tomorrow; correction, today, his son, who is like him in so many ways is going to little athletics.
And he’ll be there too, cheering him on.
They make the long trek back home.
“Did you get every player’s autograph?” he asked. He glances sideways to see his daughter shake her head.
“I’m just missing…” he can’t remember the name of the player, “who plays goal defence,” she says.
“Daddy, the team has another match here next month. Can we go?”
“Yeah, kiddo, of course we can.”
His daughter is asleep when he pulls into the drive.
There’s a light on in the living room. His wife is waiting up.
He unbuckles his daughter, who slumbers, still clutching the netball. He picks her up into his arms and carries her into the house.
“A cup of tea?” his wife asks.
He nods gratefully. His daughter awakes and he lets her gain her feet. They stop at her bedroom door.
He ignores the mess he can see in the room – there’s time enough to chip her on that tomorrow.
“Thank you Daddy, I really enjoyed the game.”
He ruffles her hair and she give him a hug.
He closes his eyes. She’s growing up, so he’ll savour the time he has now to be her ‘daddy’.
In the kitchen, his wife waits with the cup of tea. He kisses her cheek in tired thanks and they sit down together in companionable silence.
He doesn’t need a mansion, a flash car, or millions in the bank.
Here, under this roof with his wife and their children, he’s the richest man in the world.
All around the world there are everyday tales of romantic heroism like this and we fail to recognise it.
Billions of good men who do the very best they can to love and provide for their families.
They are honourable men, noble men without title or wealth.
And yet the world would be poorer if they did not do the millions upon millions of unnoticed things that make our lives better.
The miners, the bricklayers, the garbage collectors, the pest controllers, the firemen.
The linesmen, the ambulance drivers, the storemen, the electricians, the plumbers.
The street sweepers, the trawlermen, the police, the long-haul drivers.
Romance fiction, written by women for women, identifies the qualities of a hero.
He is brave. He will put his life on the line to protect. He will stand firm on principles. He provides. He loves and is a lover.
Often these heroes are represented as ‘billionaires’, ‘tycoons’, ‘sheiks’, ‘Dukes’, ‘Lords’ and ‘Viscounts’ – a distillation and artificial heightening of those fine ennobling qualities.
We’re told by some women that such men in every day life, ordinary men who are heroic, are fantasies, and don’t exist in real life, which is why that have to be invented.
If we open our eyes in the real world, we will see these heroes everywhere we go.
In fact, every larger-than-life romantic hero I write is based on characteristics of all real life men I know. Real people, real men, really good men I am honoured to know.
These everyday heroes might be rough around the edges, far from urbane, not pretty-boy handsome, but nonetheless they embody the qualities of every big-gunned, six-pack sporting, chisel-jawed, smouldering-gaze romance cover model if only we would choose to see it and honour it.
Surely little acknowledgement and appreciation of the heroic embodiment that exists in our everyday heroes, is the best a man can get.
Surely as a society, we can recognise that innate heroism which exists as potential in every male and appeal to his natural spirit of competition, drive, and stoicism.
Encourage, don’t nag, finger wag or hector, him to master himself. Acknowledge when he does and he will be the best a man can be.