When news broke last year that Arnold Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with his housemaid, then kept her in his employ right up until he was confronted by his wife, Maria Shriver, I thought he was a total scum.
Sunday evening, “60 Minutes” broadcast an interview of Arnold with Leslie Stahl, and my opinion of him was transformed.
I was a never a big Arnold Schwarzenegger fan to begin with, yet, strangely, I’m able to spell his last name without error or research. I never liked his thick Austrian accent; never liked his movies particularly; found him strange-looking, even. When I lived in California, I found him to be a pretty good governor, though. I appreciated his efforts as a moderate Republican, even though I am not a Republican. His heart and mind were in the right place: he loved California – the state in which all of his dreams had come true- and he wanted to play a part in saving it from ruin.
Stahl’s interview revolved around her trying to comprehend how Schwarzenegger could have done what he did, then keep on doing it. “She’s a good person,” he said of Mildred Baena, his former housekeeper and mother of their son, Joseph. “Taking care of them (financially, after he found out he’d fathered the boy) was the right thing to do.”
Arnold came from humble beginnings: he was a farm boy from Thal, Austria (why do I KNOW this? I’m NOT a fan!) and was son to an abusive father, who regularly beat him with a belt and other “creative” methods, according to Arnold. The old man (Arnold learned long after the fact), had been one of Hitler’s Brown Shirts, and, according to Arnold, his father left the Brown Shirts after the war feeling like a “loser” (which might explain the vicious beatings of his son or, at least made him perfect for the Brown Shirts in the first place).
To the outside observer, Schwarzenegger had it all. He truly has lived The American Dream. From champion bodybuilder, to A-list actor, to governor of the most important state in the nation, Schwarzenegger incited envy and inspiration in the hearts and minds of countless fans worldwide. He’s a man who has achieved everything to the highest level, even his greatest failure: gambling away his family unity in service to his ego, or perhaps in subservience to his wounds.
Last night, I felt a kinship to Arnold. We all have made mistakes in our lives and perhaps didn’t even know what drove us to make them. There is a certain broken place inside each one of us that operates on automatic pilot; sometimes, right up to the point of no return.
When Arnold admitted his mistakes and took responsibility for his faulty character, he became human, not the superhuman we’ve made him out to be. When the camera lingered on his face and revealed the pain of the greatest loss of his life, he was just a simple farm boy once again – one among the masses experiencing the inevitable suffering that life brings.
What Arnold revealed was vulnerability and that’s what made him seem the most human. He showed us that, after all, he was not only a success machine; he was just like us. I saw a man wounded by his background; a man who’d taught himself to not linger in his losses. Instead, he mastered the art of trudging on like a plowhorse to his next success.
His forfeiture of his wife and family, however, is one loss that Arnold will never be able to surmount. He knows it. You could see it in his eyes. The most pervasive and incorrigible mistake of his life clings to him, like the sticky residue of cobwebs.
He has had it all and now, he has lost it all. Life has returned him to a balance point of zero. How will he live with what he’s lost? Time will tell, I suppose.
Arnold Schwarzenegger reminded me that vulnerability is one of the greatest of human qualities. It is an equalizer; a stabilizer; a compass born of surrender, whose needle always points in the direction of higher self-knowing.
I now love Arnold Schwarzenegger, not because he showed himself to be more human. But because he has shown me how I might do the same.