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In Praise of the Alphas

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Gimme a genius, righteous, hot, alpha male hero and all will be right with the world. So sayeth the ladies who are tired of geek culture, video games, and soft hands.

A fan of archaic lit and nonfiction, it is rare for me to pick up a novel. After my night out with Stevie Nicks, and reflecting on feminism as a result, I decided to flip that coin over and think about men. What is their position relative to other points in my life, and American culture? Are there any male writers or artists that inspire the same "Yes!" reaction? Or are expectations so low that we've given up?

It's more complicated than the pablum in our daily media diet. Attempting to define what "having it all" means, or setting up impossible criteria for even the most accomplished among us is a part of the problem. Stevie Nicks embodies, for me, a meaningful example of living a textured, passionate life without regrets. She set her own rules and defined success for herself. She inspired millions and never pretended to have one-size-fits-all answers for anyone.

Henry Miller or Ernest Hemingway seem manly enough for their era. Herodotus and Ovidian would certainly garner my vote. David Bowie has lived an interesting life, much like Mick Jagger, or even Bono to some extent. But to be famous and brand aware is not the same as conveying self-awareness to the reader or listener. There, I hear Nelson DeMille's voice. For today's audience, I can think only of Ben Coes.

Coes' latest novel, The Last Refuge, landed on my desk recently. I devoured it. It is my favorite novel in at least a decade. The writing was inherently masculine, brilliantly crafted. The story follows Coes' hero Dewey Andreas into a complex intelligence operation conducted off the books and inside the United Nations bureaucracy and Tehran. At the heart of the story is Kohl Meir, a fictional great-grandson of the late Israeli PM Golda Meir. Meir is a fascinating special forces operative with skill and political acumen you might expect. A nuclear bomb is in the hands of an unstable Iranian regime. Powerful female advisers take supporting but critical roles, one a high ranking intelligence operative, another advises the president of the United States.

Writers often reflect a truth about their generation. Coes' demonstrate the alpha possesses feelings, a longing for wholeness, and fidelity, and is selfless when duty calls. The protagonists triumph. Coes captures the raw truth of their lives, pregnant with pain and wonder. It reflects a reality experienced by many military and intelligence industry professionals and their significant others.

GenX and the Millennials have a lifetime of washing the sand and grime away from service in the Middle East. Our lives are marked by the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics, the Iranian Hostage crisis, Black September's reign of terror and hijackings, to the Gulf War, and the rise of Al Qaeda, piracy, Joseph Kony, Omar al Bashir, Ahmadinejead, Osama bin Laden, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The men of our generation are not going to star in a remake of Love Story. They have and will continue to clean up the mess left by those who came before.

It is Coes' authoritative and gritty narrative that engaged me most. There is no judgement, no blame game. The acceptance of responsibility and desire to make a difference, craft a better path forward, to be both a delicious example of masculine power and an incisive, nuanced, critical thinker is beautiful. I know men like this. Many of them. They are friends, colleagues, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, fathers, and quiet professionals who exceed all standards of personal excellence.

In a recent conversation with Coes, I was impressed by his extensive research and depth of knowledge. His love and respect for his Godfather, a Vietnam vet who served with distinction and valor, was palpable. Every generation bears the scars of sacrifice. It humbled me, just listening to his speak of this man who inspired and mentored him. Mortality is a constant in the human condition, more so for those who step into the fire to keep the Gates of Heaven, or Hell, a bit farther off for the rest of us.

There are plenty of academic exercises to study men and women and our roles, our happiness quotient, our prospects. For pure pleasure and diversion, for a smart and insightful view on the superb qualities real heroes possess, I am thankful for men and writers like Ben Coes. An escape into his world is a welcome one for girls who are quite comfortable riding shotgun with an alpha.