When I was growing up in the 1950s, men didn’t hug each other. They didn’t talk much, either. So you never really knew what men were feeling. Or thinking. For us impressionable boys, the role models provided were the strong, silent heroes we saw at the movies, their heroism implied by their fearless aloneness. In a way, those celluloid strangers were a lot like our fathers — distant and inscrutable. The men we saw on the screen faced life with a cold imperative that dismissed feeling. They were the coolest of cool.
Our role models included James Dean, with hooded eyes that spoke of bottomless loneliness, and the sheriff played by Gary Cooper in High Noon, forced to face his nemesis alone. And who can forget Shane riding off on his horse while little Joey shouted his name to the empty sky? Alone meant strong, free. Instead of hugs, men made do with a handshake. Handshakes were an important part of every son’s introduction to the adult world. Fathers taught their sons a firm grip.