An Adult’s Disappointment in the Disgrace of a Hero


Kent Clecker (left) and Larry Downes (author) late summer 1980

Football Captains, Kent Clecker (left) and Larry Downes (author) late summer 1980

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a hero of mine since I was a freshman at Wilcox High School (Go Cowboys!), in 1977.  That was the summer that a pudgy 14 year-old read “Pumping Iron” quickly followed by “Arnold:Education of a Bodybuilder”. You can’t tell by photos of me now, but I have always enjoyed lifting weights and it started with those books and Arnold’s story.  Here’s a quick synopsis of his bio and why I’ve always admired him, even when I didn’t agree with his politics.

Arnold grew up in a small town in Austria, son of  the local police chief. He played a lot of sports, but discovered his love of  lifting and bodybuilding in his mid teens, 14 if memory serves.  For those of you that don’t “get” powerlifting or bodybuilding, I can’t really explain the appeal other than to say there is just a feeling you get from being strong and large.  Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter that you understand that particular drive to get the appeal of Arnold’s story.  Think of it in terms of overcoming your weaknesses through sheer will and determination.

At 18 Arnold entered the Austrian Army.  Why?  Because it was mandatory to serve at least 1 year.  Arnold’s story was the first time I realized that some countries FORCED their citizens into the armed forces.    I was a kid, too young to understand Vietnam, so it was  later that I realized America did that to their own once upon a time.   During his Army days Arnold snuck away to compete in his first bodybuilding competition, the junior division of Mr. Europe.  He won and was summarily punished by the Army.  The next year he competed in Mr. Universe and came in 2nd.  The next year he became the youngest Mr. Universe at age 20.

All of that is inspiring to a 14-year-old, but what inspired me past puberty was what he did next.  in 1968 Arnold came to America with little money and a poor grasp of English.  He landed in Santa Monica, CA and continued his bodybuilding.  He earned a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where he graduated with degrees in international marketing of fitness and business administration in 1979 and became a citizen in 1983.  Arnold created a career in movies by knowing himself and his limitations.  He knew he could never deliver a lot of dialog so he took roles like Conan the Barbarian, where he could use his physical assets and play off his thick accent.  He knew who he was.  He knew his limits. He made them work FOR him, both in the movies and in business.  Then he turned a successful movie career into a political career as Governor of California when Grey Davis was recalled.  While many, at first didn’t take him seriously, it was clear from the beginning that he took the job seriously.

Politically, he often frustrated me, but I’m used to being disappointed by politicians.  What I didn’t expect and what disappoints me most, is that the man who awed me with his physical strength and presence. The man whose determination of spirit inspired me, let his family down in the most personal and heartbreaking way.  Not just the family that the public knew, but the family that he forced into the shadows to protect his reputation.

I’m not a man who women ever have or ever would have chased.  I will never know the kind of temptations Arnold may have had.  I did find a beautiful lady that inexplicably accepted my proposal.  We have two lovely daughters.  Those three women look up to me.  They depend on me.  They expect and deserve for me to be a man.  No feat of strength, no business accomplishment, no level of power I could achieve, can substitute for simply being the one man in their lives that they can trust will never let them down.  Ever.

My adult heart is broken not because my adolescent hero was unmasked as a mere flawed human being, but because his wife and kids no longer have a rock of manhood that they can believe in.  It’s not only sad for them and sad for him.  It’s sad for us all.  Every time a male fails in this most basic way, it devalues the role of men.  Right now we need in so many ways for so many reasons, to be able to believe husbands, to be able to believe in dads.  We need to be able to believe in men.

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About Larry Downes

Son, brother, husband, father, boss, mentor & friend. Believer in unfettered personal liberty. Occasional host on 93.1 WIBC in Indianapolis.

5 Responses to “An Adult’s Disappointment in the Disgrace of a Hero”

  1. You’re a good man, Larry!

  2. Thank You Larry. I more than understand what you said. 48 years old now and I still believe we can do it. Man has fallen but that doesn’t give us an excuse to negate truth or our vows. I hurt for the families who suffer like this.

  3. One more thing. I do believe in restoration also. I know families that have picked up the pieces of broken and ruined things and by forgiveness and perseverance they moved on in love. And that is good and best when repentance is evident. It is better than just leaving a big black mark and hole of emptiness and hurt. There can be a true sense of healing and growth from a down fall. We all fail at some level. And some failures are worse than others. I do know the strength of a rebuilt marriage. It is better for all.

  4. You are so right… but the saddest thing I find is that at some level I had to have this pointed out to me. The role of men has been so diminished by society, that this didn’t come as a surprise or disapoint me like it should have. It isn’t that long ago that society would have shunned his behavior, but today a lot of people admire him for ‘facing’ it….

  5. I am a woman whose husband of 20 years abandoned our son and I.
    It would have been easy for me to turn into a bitter man hater, lumping all men in the same box.

    But.. I was happy to see that men in my sons school, in our community stepped up to show my son.. not all men act that way.

    Most men value their family. Its important for men to show the world just how wonderful they are.. so those kids who don’t have an example get to see what a real man is.

    God Bless the real men out there! You are so important… not only in your own family but for those kids watching who dont have an example in their own home.

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