Ramblins’ from the Hills & Hollers: Toxic masculinity that protected and enriched a nation

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Let me tell you about toxic masculinity and the Gillette Company.

When I was a child, my family’s television set was a black-and-white Zenith model in a huge wooden cabinet, packed with tubes and analog electronics and connected to an outside antenna that had to be twisted to pick up certain stations.

The screen was tiny by comparison, but what it contained was magical to a kid growing up in the 1950s. It brought into our home westerns, cartoons, baseball games, detective stories—and the Friday Night Fights from Madison Square Garden on NBC, sponsored by the Gillette Company.

My father, a former fleet boxer in the Pacific during World War II, never missed the broadcast. He let me stay up late to watch famous champion pugilists and those who wanted to dethrone them.

This was a special time of bonding. Everyone else in the house was abed. Only flickering silvery light from the TV screen illuminated the room. We snacked on Vienna sausages and saltine crackers, doused in hot sauce. He drank buttermilk, sometimes a Carling Black Label beer, and I sipped from a glass of RC Cola.

After much twisting of the antenna outside, with me hollering “right” or “left,” Dad finally achieved the best image possible in those low-tech times. He rushed inside for the start of the theme song: “Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp—and listen mister! How are you fixed for blades?” It was wonderful.

Then, we watched men knock the tar out of each other, cheering for our favorites and singing the theme song with “Sharpie,” the Gillette cartoon parrot spokesman, on commercial breaks.

The next morning, I’d rise to help see my father off to work. He relied on me to check his shaving paraphernalia: a can of Barbasol shaving cream, adequately shaken; bottle of Old Spice aftershave, tested for strength by applying a dribble to my arm and rubbing it in; and the shiny steel Gillette safety razor, with its twist handle that opened hinged lids for insertion of the ultra-sharp, blue-tinted Gillette razor blades.

I wasn’t allowed to touch the blade dispenser, could only check the old blade in the razor to ensure it was not rusted or dull-looking. When I had laid his toiletry items on the sink, Dad came in to perform the daily ritual (except on Saturdays) of shaving, with me seated on the toilet seat watching carefully.

Sometimes, we’d sing the Friday Night Fights theme song: “How are you fixed for blades?” We’d shout, “We’ve got ‘em right here, Mr. Sharpie!”

This is how I grew up, how I aspired to be like my father. A combat veteran with a scar on his lower belly, a hard worker, a loving husband, a terrific father (later a widower taking care of two children), a man of character, conscience and conviction.

I fail to measure up to him in many areas. This I can admit without guilt because Dad set a high bar when it came to manhood and fatherhood. But he was my role model. Whenever I think of him, the memories circle around to the Friday Night Fights and morning shaving ritual. I wonder how many other little boys, sons of WWII veterans, did the same things with their fathers. Millions of them, I am certain.

So, when Gillette launched its ad campaign against something called “toxic masculinity,” I was astounded, offended and angry at this apogee of political correctness. I guess someone in their ad agency either didn’t know or didn’t care that toxic masculinity administered by soldiers, sailors, and airmen (and women) in a world war, Vietnam, the Iraq War and now Afghanistan is what kept them safe and secure—and, by the way, able to purchase Gillette products.

That the Gillette folks didn’t remember the Friday Night Fights, part of the Cavalcade of Sports that ran on radio and TV for almost 20 years, is unimaginable. That a large percentage of their sales is dependent on female purchasers makes this ad approach no more than a sop to position Gillette in the most favorable political light.

Go ahead and purchase Gillette products and believe this somehow helps make masculinity kinder and gentler. Your mistake is in assuming that a man can’t be a role model when he has hard edges and the willingness to fight to protect those he loves and what he honors. That’s not toxic. It’s heroic.

This was what my father and millions of others taught through words and action. They were men of kindness and character who produced a generation of sons and daughters who believe and act the same. Don’t besmirch them or us, Gillette. Not for the sake of poll results and special interest approval.

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