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A Good Man Is Hard To Find

By Kellie Purcill

Quick quiz: name more than five examples of idiotic, selfish and/or juvenile men in TV ads, or movies, television programs or books. Pretty easy, yeah? Now, name more than five men who are believable, decent, good, caring men in the same mediums. More difficult, right?

Rapidly approaching my first Single Adult activities as a divorced woman (you can get lawyer’s help with handling a divorce through this site), panic struck so intensely I had been visiting a counsellor to address my significant… ah… “trust issues and social avoidance” (her words, not mine – I’d have gone with “self-preservation and comfortable habits”). Hence, I was given unexpected homework for the week ahead; testing the hypothesis that there were good men in the world and – to stop anxiety clawing its panicked way up my spine to throttle me – was told to look first for examples in books, on TV or in movies.

“I don’t want you to look for the romantic comedy/chiselled jaw/Disney happily ever after rubbish”, she told me. “Instead, I want to you consider the characters, their flaws, their strengths, and see if there are decent men, even presented fictionally. Men who try to do their best, not just for themselves but for their friends and family. Flawed people, yes, who might yell or get angry or pick their noses and make mistakes, but who also make and keep promises as much as they can, who try to be good. Go see what you can find. You need to find evidence that there are decent men in the world.”

I didn’t want to do it.

It’s one thing to come to an agreement with the monster under your bed about just how much sheet will protect you and the number of seconds head start given on your way to the door – it’s quite another to grab a flash light, tumble to the ground and crawl towards the scary unknown teeth somewhere ahead.

However, academic perfectionist that I am, because it was given as homework I couldn’t NOT do it. On the long drive home, and after careful perusal of my shelves, I came up with:

  • Coach Eric Taylor in “Friday Night Lights” (TV series). I’ve only recently started watching the show (I’m the only person in Australia I know who watches it) but love how decent Eric is. Sure, he argues with his wife, gets frustrated, struggles to connect with his daughter and is not thrilled at times to answer his door to one of the team members, but he TRIES to be a good husband, an involved father, a committed coach. He apologises when he’s done the wrong thing, or disappointed someone. He holds people accountable, and demands better from the boys – and people – under his care.
  •  Lalit Verma (the Dad) and PK Dubey (the wedding organiser) in “Monsoon Wedding” (movie). Monsoon Wedding has one of the most beautiful depictions of fatherhood I have ever seen, and one of the sweetest love stories.  These two men in particular are not perfect, but they make difficult choices with the best of intentions and hopes.
  •  John Perry in John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” series (books). On his seventy-fifth birthday, John Perry visits a grave, and then joins the army. John is loyal to his friends, protects those he cares for, and tries to live in a way he is proud of while defending Earth (from a long, long way away).
  • Wash in the TV series “Firefly” and the movie “Serenity”. Wash isn’t a hero. He’s a guy who drives a spaceship and has an enjoyment of loud floral shirts and plastic dinosaurs. But he loves his wife totally, and takes quiet pride in how good a pilot he is. Wash is proof that you don’t need muscles or guns or command to be an amazing guy.
  • Joe Harman in Nevil Shute’s “A Town Like Alice” (book). Set half in Malaysia during WW2, Joe is a soldier in the Australian Army, and a prisoner-of-war to the Japanese. What Joe does for Jean (also a POW), and for the women and children she is leading, is a depiction of a sacrificing, determined man for others in need.

I also asked friends for some recommendations. I’m still going through the list, but one early find was in Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Curse of Chaldion”. The main character, Cazaril, is broken in many ways, yet – as one person describes him – shines “like a city aflame”.

“You shine like a city aflame.” I was sent looking for a person whose character glowed from within, and could not be hid. I was counselled to look for examples, found more than I expected, and I continue to do so. I’ve seen real life examples of men who are intrinsically good, who actively try to be better than they are, and in doing so are examples to me (that there truly are decent men in the world, not just on pages or screens) but also to my sons, who are also looking for men to study, understand and emulate.

I am looking for a good man, and so far they are hard to find. But they do exist, I’m sure of it. Because I’ve read of their struggles on fragile pages and in sturdy library books, watched their choices unfold on flickering screens, sat in church and at tables near them, work with them, been promised one in my prayers, and am doing my wonky best within the loud, loving walls of my own home to raise two boychilds to become honourable, good and decent men.

In the meantime – while I wait to date one of these nigh on mythical creatures – I have plenty of books and shows to enjoy which present many a good man. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations of books, movies or series which have positive examples of men in them?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

40 thoughts on “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”

  1. I love you, Kel.

    Do older, familyish movies count? I love Steve Martin in the two Father of the Bride and Cheaper by the Dozen movies. He reminds me of my dad in a lot of ways, white hair (since age 38) and all.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this post – you are so inspirational 🙂

    How about Bill Cosby in the Cosby show and the dad and grandad in The Waltons 🙂

    and I know this is probably going to sound REALLY corny but what about Jim-Bob Duggar (if he does actually practice what he preaches)

    'hugs'
    Caryl

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  3. I completely empathize. Me, too! Mine had refined itself: I believe there are good men out there, but they are not my age, single, and attending singles ward.

    Truthfully, some of them are good, but they are hopelessly weak-willed. I would accidentally squish them before breakfast!

    Fictional good, strong men: Sealy Booth from Bones, Castle, Vimes frim Discworld, really a whole host of fantasy/scifi/comic genre men. But that is the problem; those are fantasy worlds, not reality. And the more I have dated, the more hopeless it seems in reality.

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  4. SilverRain beat me to Booth. I'm totally infatuated with him. I love that you mention Cazaril – read some of the other books in that series. Ingrey from "Hollowed Hunt" and the two brothers (actually, when I think about it, two different sets of brothers) in "Paladin of Souls" are also good. Lois McMaster Bujold is good that way – I think any of her books would suit your purpose but "Shards of Honor" might be particularly apt.

    There are good guys out there in the real world. One place I've heard to find them is in volunteering. Check out Habitat for Humanity – they're probably handy and they're helpful. Sounds like a good start to me. 🙂

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  5. For books, I second the recommendation for Discworld's Sam Vimes and I'll add the dad in Peace Like a River, Prince Raoden from Elantris, and Galen from Princess of the Midnight Ball. Greg Boyle of Tattoos on the Heart and Hal Halvorsen from Candy Bomber are two nonfictional examples of good men.

    Lastly, you might also like Kyle Chandler from his '90s series Early Edition. (I have no idea how hard it would be to find in Australia, though.)

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  6. is it really this bad in the single's world? #notgoodnews

    Percy from The Scarlett Pimpernel. He's honorable, devoted, creative, noble, and has a wicked sense of fashion 😉 oh yeah, doesn't hurt that he's loaded, too. Sigh.

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  7. Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird, John Ames in Gilead, and, since you mentioned A Town Like Alice, how about dear old N.H. Strachan?

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  8. The main guy on Parenthood. Dependable, loves his family, usually pretty wise, good husband, good father, etc. Great show with great acting and great writing.
    Phil on Modern Family. Both parenthood and Modern Family seems like my life sometimes.
    I agree with you about the coach on Friday Night Lights.
    President Obama. I'm not a democrat but I like having a president who can be a role model for boys to imagine being married with kids and loving their family.

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  9. My problem is that I read too much, and I know it. No one can live up to a fictional character, with a mastermind making everything work out for them. NO one is that good.

    So I knew I had to downgrade my expectations from fiction. But unfortunately, I had too much faith in real men and their professions of goodness. So I married a manipulator and an abuser.

    Now I know exactly what I want, but I have no hope finding it in a real man. For some reason, the qualities of single, righteous, proactively hard working, and attracted to me are mutually exclusive.

    But I have mostly come to terms with that. It is far better to be a single mother than the situation I was in before. And if my expectations are fictional, then I'd rather be single.

    Unfortunately, most intelligent women my age are coming to the same conclusion.

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  10. Arthur Weasley from Harry Potter also come to mind, along with many other male characters from that series.

    I also second Phil from Modern Family, and raise you Cam, Mitchell, and Jay. Really, all the men on that show are wonderful–if a bit weird and certainly flawed–and doing the best they know how.

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  11. The Miles books by Bujold (sometimes known as teh Vorkosigan Saga) feature Miles Vorkosigan as he grows up with pretty severe handicaps and becomes an amazingly good man who has to balance moral choices. He does it with grace. It's also a rip roaring space opera read. When my grandson was born with a serious heart defect I planned to read him edited parts of Miles from an early age.

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  12. Yeah, I got divorced a year ago and I have yet to find a man who is active in the the Church, mid-30s, working, has no bad habits, acts like a grown-up, isn't gay, and wants to date a woman who already has kids (I've had several guys tell me they want their own kids, not mine). I don't think I'm a perfectionist, but I'm a grownup and I want to date grownups–I have a family, a job, and a house, and it's surprisingly hard to find someone my age in a similar situation.

    As far as fiction goes, I'll have to think about it more. Most of the examples that come to mind are the ones already stated.

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  13. Dan In Real Life, the main guy in Return to Me, the guy in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Hitch, Princess Bride's Westly, Jason Bourne, the dad in The Blind Side, the man in Love Comes Softly. Mr. Ingalls.

    I second Adam Braverman from Parenthood and Jim Bob Duggar. I am also liking Ryan from the new show "Go On."

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  14. The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter. It leans toward idealistic, but it definitely features a good man. There's another good one (two, actually) in A Girl of the Limberlost by the same author, too.

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  15. Eric and Wash, ftw! Also, Veronica Mars – raised by her her single father Keith Mars. (Played by Enrico Colantoni – most people remember him from Just Shoot Me, but he's been in lots of film and television.)

    There's a reason the internet brought us together!

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  16. I second Dan in Real Life. I love that movie! It's the perfect movie to usher in autumn, and this week it's finally cool enough to consider watching it.

    I also love the men from Modern Family. That show is filled with flawed, slightly crazy people messing up but genuinely trying to love each other.

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  17. Edward Cullen, hello?! Oh wait, did you say man? never mind.

    For real: Johnny Foote in The Help. Thanks for your post. It's a good reminder for how serious an issue this is in the real world, and a reminder about how incredibly fortunate I am to have found one of the good ones.

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  18. Steve Carell played another good man (besides in DAN IN REAL LIFE) as Maxwell Smart in GET SMART. Very sweet and considerate.

    They say that the way to meet good men is to get involved in service kinds of things, because any men who do that are less likely to be selfish, etc.

    Hugs and best wishes to all who are struggling with this.

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  19. I've been going to/avoiding Single Adult activities for the past 10 years and I still have to psych myself up to even think about going. I have not had good luck dating in the Single Adult world, and often find myself escaping to many of the aforementioned pop culture men to have para-social contact with decent men. Not healthy, I know…

    Good luck to you once you're ready to start going.

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  20. It was already mentioned, but Atticus Finch is probably one of the greatest fictional men/fathers in literature. There is also Jean Valjean from Les Mis who devotes his life to his "daughter" when her mom dies.

    I also send my best wishes to all…

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  21. If we are talking about good men on televsion I've enjoyed watching Peter Burke's character on White Collar and Jane's big brother Ben on Jane by Design.
    My recent favorites in print have been found while I've read with my young son. The grandfather in Fablehaven and multiple male characters in the Beyonders have sparked a lot of good discussion.
    In "real life" I am enternally grateful that our church is led by a Prophet and Apostles. My family has really enjoyed reading their bios on lds.org and getting to know more about their life!

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  22. Bernard on LOST. He isn't perfect, and obviously that show is crazy town, but he is one of the best characters on the show for sure. And he and his wife meet later in life, and their courtship episode is very sweet.

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  23. Ok, a lesser-known but most excellent father can be found in Roald Dahl's book, "Danny, the Champion of the World." And I just finished reading a Newberry winner from the 60s called, "I, Juan de Pareja," where both main characters were remarkable men.

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  24. 😀 Fictional? Chuck Bartowski (Chuck) and Daniel Jackson (Stargate SG-1), Colonel whatever his name is (Alan Rickman in Sense and Sensibility).
    There are loads more but many have already been listed above. I am married to a real life all-round good man. Not perfect by any means, but those imperfections are not important in the overall scheme of things. I look forward to when you find your own. They are not always what we expect/want them to be at the outset. Not that we have to change them but sometimes we need to alter our perspectives or expectations (not lower, just alter). Life, man… Keep focusing on the good ones : ) Forget the jerks xox

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  25. P.S. I was referring to my own experience above. Just so I don't come across as prescriptive.

    P.P.S. I would add Mal Reynolds to the good man list. A bit more in the grey area than Wash, but still a good man.

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  26. Homer Simpson. For reals….

    1. He goes to Church every Sunday. He may not like it all the time, but he is there…with his family. Every week.

    2. He is faithful. There have been many chances for him to cheat, but he has remained faithful to Marge.

    3. They have family meals.

    4. He cares about his kids.

    Again, he's got a ton of flaws, but he's a decent man. You can tell that the writer's actually LIKE him and what he represents, whereas the writers for Family Guy despise/mock/condescend Peter Griffin and his ilk.

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  27. I second Peter Burke on White Collar. Most solid fictional TV marriage out there, and he is a great guy.

    Have you seen the movie Ramona and Beezus? It is a serious favorite. In one scene the parents argue and he sleeps on the couch that night, but they work through their difficulties. My kids love this movie, maybe because I had read them the books for years.

    I wish you the best in finding that good man for you.

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  28. If I have to even "alter" my expectations at this point, there is no purpose in marriage.

    That's my problem. I was not nearly so picky the first time around. But now I know firsthand how truly bad certain kinds of flaws can be—selfishness, laziness, misogyny, immaturity—those flaws which are ALL TOO common in single 30-something LDS men.

    I want no part of it.

    Are there good men out there? Of course there are. Some of them are probably even marriageable from my perspective. But I have zero hopes of ever finding one. So I just live my life, and thank God every day that now I have a life to live.

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  29. @SilverRain – Those flaws you have listed above – to accept any of those would constitute a lowering of standards, for sure. which, I suppose technically is altering them, but not what I meant. I was referring to the more superficial non-character related "lists" we can hang on to which can block potentials before they even get a chance to take you out. I know women who are looking for a partner but have a problem with (for example) bald men, or guys shorted than them, or of a certain ethnicity – none of which speak to an individual man's character.

    For example, I grew up with the expectation that I absolutely HAD to marry a musician or an artist or we would have nothing in common. So I only allowed myself to be interested in a certain type of guy. Eventually I got over myself and ended up married to a BANKER who is not artistically inclined but has been just what I needed. Sometimes we can get hung up on the minor things. Those things you've listed are major. Each one of them.

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  30. I'm looking at this from the other side. My wife died about a year and a half ago, and I haven't even started going to any single adult activities or anything yet. Back when we were dating, I was much younger and even more foolish, but I lucked in to finding someone with what for me was the most important qualification–she loved me more than I deserved.

    That is part of my hesitancy in starting to look to even date again. I'm confident I could find someone I could love, but doubt I could find someone who could love me as much as she did.

    And I know I'm not the match for anyone who has commented here; I'm much too old. Those of you who have mentioned age are looking for someone in his 30's, and I'm in my 50's. Maybe your Mom is looking for someone…..

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  31. CS Eric…I have a really amazing friend. Seriously….

    Marnie, thank you. Singles always hear that advice: adjust your standards. But the problem is that most women in their thirties have adjusted their standards down to those bare minimums already. Heck, most of then are thrilled if a guy, ANY guy, just gets out from behind his rejection shield to ask her out.

    The problem that I see most is a bunch of average guys who go after gorgeous women with little more than their priesthood to recommend them, they face rejection, then turn to frivolous pursuits and hide behind fear rather than developing worthwhile interests and going for a woman interested in the same things.

    The men I have dated or who want to get to know me want a woman much less opinionated than I am, they have no opinions or backbone, or they aren't LDS.

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  32. Some of my favourite examples of good men in fiction:

    Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TV Show)
    Christopher Foyle from Foyle's War (TV show)
    Ammar and Rodrigo from Lions of Al-Rassan (book)

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  33. Fascinating suggestions, comments and discussion – thank you all!

    To those who have been looking, or at least getting their feet wet in the SA pool, you have my admiration, respect and whole hearted in sympathy cringes. I'm finding that there are many different opinions by many in SA as to what is right, or desirable, or absolutely mandatory in both dating and a potential future spouse and it horrifies, amuses and confuses me by turns!

    I also sympathise with advice received from well-meaning (yet mostly unaware) friends about standards and expectations. It hurts, and being single and LDS is a very different and difficult path to walk than I expected.

    My homework was given to make me realise that the potential for decent men existed. My divorce occurred because my then husband had an affair (and later married) my sons' Primary teacher. As you may understand, that caused some degree of suspicion and dislike of men as a species.

    Being able to look around for – and then find – a wide variety of examples of good men helped me accept that not all men are jerks. It took a long time, and I'm sure whomever I may date will also learn that I'm still adjusting to the idea.

    Unless I'm dating Captain Moroni which means I'm a) likely dead and b)too busy counting his abs to worry about the possibility he's a shmuck 😉

    As for the recommendations – so glad I'm among friends so happy to share! And that so many recommendations were sci-fi. I'm a fan of Miles Vorkosigan already, though have realised I haven't read all the series (hooray!) so those books have joined my list.

    All the books have been added to my "Hunt" pile, as with many of the movies or shows I've not heard about. As a weird aside, I find it interesting that many recommended Dan In Real Life, which – since I first watched it shortly after my marriage ended – I don't like. I like the family interaction, but to me (and because of my own personal history) the love story is an affair, which turns my stomach. But I have plenty of other things to read/watch/consider instead.

    To the men who commented – thank you. And CS Eric, age isn't an issue to all.

    Thank you again to everyone, and I'll admit now that this has given me ideas for future posts about dating, relationships and fiction being a drug of choice!

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  34. Kellie! You're speaking my language:) You had me at Coach Taylor. But really, looking for a good man myself, they are hard to find, but as a wise friend told me, we have to believe in that possibility and choose to believe in abundance rather than lack. Thanks for your post!

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  35. Kellie (and others),

    I just want to say that remaining hopeful is good. If my mother, single mom to seven children, and with lots of emotional baggage from her abusive first marriage, could find a worthy LDS husband, then it can be done.

    Circumstances? She worked really hard at it and didn't give up. She was willing to be emotionally vulnerable and try again, risking more hurt. It took several years of dating. She finally met my step dad at the dance she didn't want to attend because she was sick of the singles scene. She listened to spiritual prompting (she got told bluntly that he was the only man who would work for her given her complicated situation) and introduced herself to him, even though he was Chinese American and shy. She didn't give up when his family wasn't thrilled with him dating a non-Asian woman. She didn't give up when he had cold feet and wanted to cancel their engagement. She didn't give up after they were married when dealing with his ex-wife was poisonously hard and increased the complexity of dealing with her step-children. And they are still very different. But they are both totally devoted to their marriage.

    I think that dating is hard, requires lots of courage and persistence, and is more likely to be successful when we open ourselves up emotionally (even though that increases our chance of further pain). I also had to go against some of the things on my list–or at least, against outward perceptions–to find my husband. I wrote him off because he was a computer geek. Luckily, he was getting some spiritual promptings in my direction, and stuck around long enough for me to see past the surface veneer. I do trust in spiritual prompting and direction, and know that God is involved in our lives. Just don't be surprised if your promptings run counter to your expectations or your plans.

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  36. Silver Rain,

    My mother had superbly strong opinions. She walked with a cain and when she took off her brace she was stuck with the monsters under her bed. She was then physically helpless. She was never, ever going to marry again…and didn't,
    But she had very good men asking for her to marry her. From my point of view – all the time. As a child I kept hoping she would accept one of them, because I loved at least two enough to want them for a father. She didn't.
    So, she didn't marry, but she had many good freinds who helped her and me.

    I decided not to marry either, but then…the Lord told me to accept a particular son of his, and I did. He took care of my mother's needs in her aging years sacrificing many of his own wants so she could have what she needed and often just wanted. he is a truly unselfish and good man. I don't desrve him, but I cherish and love him.
    There is no point to my sharing other than to say…good for you for not "settling". There has to be trust and there has to be sparks.

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  37. Quoyle in "The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx. I hesitated a little to recommend that on here, because the book is definitely not G rated, or even PG rated, but I really enjoyed it.

    I'm single in my mid-30's, and could write at incredible length about some of the issues in the over-30 LDS dating community. There are problems, people.

    I grew up in an abusive home, so it's taken me my entire lifetime to really internalize the idea that there are good, kind, gentle men out there. Learning to trust men enough to want to date has been a huge challenge. One of the things my therapist suggested that I do was find "safe" men to practice having friendships with–safe in the sense that they were men I knew cared about me, and they were good and generous men, but where neither one was interested in a dating relationship. (For me, this has included single men I'm not attracted to, gay men, and husbands of female friends who have shown interest in being included in our friendship.) And then I worked on just pursuing purely platonic friendships. It's been really healing. I know that's not what you're asking for, but it's been really significant for me, so I thought I'd share.

    Some of my best friendship/dating experiences have been with non-LDS men. I think that, in part, is because I unconsciously put non-LDS men up to higher scrutiny. I can't just assume anything about their lifestyle or values, so I have to pay close attention to figure out what kind of men they are. Probably also because I've spent my entire adult life living in areas where LDS folks are such a tiny minority, so I just happen to know and meet more non-LDS men.

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  38. 1) Lark Rise to Candleford – It presents some amazing male characters with real foibles, but strong convictions. Real solid people.

    2) Band of Brothers – Dick Winters is probably one of the greatest Americans ever. This mini-series is brimming with awesome men in difficult situations.

    3) The Office (Season 8) – Jim Halpert shows some awesome integrity; really reassuring.

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