Chet Hanks, son of “everyman” actor and national treasure Tom Hanks, says a lot of shit. There was that time last year when he unilaterally declared a “White Boy Summer,” a concept he then turned into a song and merch that rendered the phrase in a Nazi-adjacent font. He’s also railed against masking and vaccines, even though his parents were among the first high-profile Western celebrities to be diagnosed with COVID-19. Most recently, though, he’s spoken about his upbringing in a world of fame and wealth, saying he “didn’t have a strong male role model.”
The immediate reaction to this was disbelief. How could Tom Hanks, America’s warm and funny dad, be an inadequate example of healthy masculinity for young Chet? It boggles the mind. But, then, actors aren’t who they play in the movies, and besides, Tom was probably off shooting those movies for a lot of Chet’s childhood. So we’ll take him at his word this once. And, in fact, we’ll take it a step further: Let’s just give up on the idea of the “strong male role model” entirely.
If Tom couldn’t cut it, what’s the point? Could the real irony be that the archetype of a wise male mentor figure is a product of Hollywood screenplays? When I listen to Chet describe the kind of person he wishes had been there in his youth, I’m literally picturing Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And I have a great dad! Who raised me well! Yet I cannot mentally categorize him as a “strong male role model” without laughing at the premise of that phrase. It’s so after-school special, so coach-in-a-kids-sports-movie, that using it earnestly feels like a joke.
Pack it in, fellas. We had our shot at lifting up young men by our example, and we couldn’t. Now we have to show solidarity with Tom Hanks in the revelation of his failure, as it can’t be easy knowing you’re partly responsible for Chet Hanks. Reject the pressure to mold anyone else in your image — it was never a good idea. The very existence of a strong male role model implies that he had a strong male role model, and so on, all the way back to an original, prehistoric, spontaneously occurring strong male role model, and that’s simply too absurd to believe.
No heroes. No idols. Just do your best, okay? We’ll muddle through somehow. And if you happen to model some toxic behavior, well, you can’t be blamed, can you? No one ever taught you any better! Ah, this freedom is wonderful. See you out there, boys — I’m off to be a terrible influence.