Posted on July 16, 2019
by Steve Janowick
He was the 11th of 15 kids spawn from his immigrant parents. Born in 1921 under a baleful cloud of coal dust in the Appalachian badlands, Charlie was doing man’s work by the time he was strong enough to carry a shovel and swing a pick-axe – ten years old! He toiled away day and night, with the rest of his family, for their mere survival and maybe a new toy for Christmas if he was lucky. He learned English in his spare time and when he was finally old enough to join the military and maybe eke out a better life for himself, he eagerly did so, with sandpaper hands and a back as solid and strong as a slab of granite.
I’ve just described the beginnings of a lot of childhoods from a time ago. The farms, the factories and battlefields. The mines, mills and mean city streets: these were the proving grounds that saw many a boy’s innocence subverted by the harsh realities of life. Like a diamond stone that sharpened fortitudes. A glowing hot hearth that forged resolves: life was hard and tough, and it produced men just the same.
Men like Charlie.
He certainly didn’t choose that upbringing—it chose him, like it did for all the kids from that generation (and every other previous generation). But he also didn’t disparage it either. He didn’t blame anyone for his childhood. He wasn’t jealous or resentful. He didn’t point an angry finger or whine or complain about it. What he did was accept it and make the best of his time after it.
Serving his country in the Army during World War 2 was a blessing compared to his civilian station in life. It gave him three squares a day, proper men’s attire and sustained, secure shelter (all things that he often went without before), and as a skilled gunner flying missions over Japan, he was lauded for his bravery and awarded the Purple Heart for injuries received in battle. He was now an American hero!
And that’s how you make chicken salad out of chicken shit.
Charles Bronson would later go on to carve out one of the most iconic acting careers in Hollywood history. He was the epitome of the on-screen tough guy. The standard bearer for the brooding, complicated antihero. But unlike many current “tough guy” actors of today, those labels for him were no act. They weren’t characters from a screenwriter’s imaginings. They were a man’s real personality traits manifested from a boy’s hard life.
And in this metrosexual, marshmallow, hyper-sensitive time we are currently living in, you could do a hell of a lot worse for your son or grandson than to sit him down and watch a marathon of Charles Bronson movies with him. To let him see how a masculine man looked and how a tough man acted. The dirt under his nails and the grit beneath the skin. Let him see the iron fists and the weathered face. The confident smirk and the icy stare. Let him bear witness to the effortless machismo and carefree bravado. Let him see art imitating life-and not the other way around. Help your boy understand and appreciate the men of a time long ago. And just maybe some of it will rub off on him and he’ll one day be…
A man like Charlie.
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