My dad, the Hef and real wealth


Since Play­boy founder Hugh Hefner’s re­cent death, a va­ri­ety of voices have been call­ing him ev­ery­thing from a cul­tural icon and in­no­va­tor to, ac­cord­ing to New York Times colum­nist Ross Douthat, “wicked,” a “chau­vin­ist” and “a pornog­ra­pher.”

“Hef the van­quisher of pu­ri­tanism, Hef the po­lit­i­cal pro­gres­sive, Hef the great busi­ness­man and all the rest,” writes Douthat. “There are even con­ser­va­tive ap­pre­ci­a­tions, ar­gu­ing that for all his faults Hef was an en­tre­pre­neur who ap­pre­ci­ated the finer things in life and cel­e­brated la dif­férence.”

Douthat then goes on to tear old Hef’s legacy apart, and with good rea­son.

For all his pec­ca­dil­loes, Hefner’s suc­cess says more about Amer­ica than it does about any­thing else. For good or ill, a fel­low like Hefner could only rein­vent him­self in a free coun­try like ours.

As it goes, Hef was some­thing of a loser when he was a teen. A kid of av­er­age looks, he was frus­trated that girls ig­nored him. He de­cided to trans­form him­self. He nick­named him­self “Hef,” which is some­thing a nor­mal man would never do. And he con­cocted a fan­tasy life in which he would be rich, worldly and the life of ev­ery party.

In 1953, Hef pub­lished the first is­sue of Play­boy. It fea­tured Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and flew off the news­stands. Hef said Amer­ica was re­pressed and his mis­sion, which in­volved ex­ploit­ing the male sex drive to make dough, was to set us free.

Over the next six decades, we re­ally were set free, too. De­spite the fact that mar­riage rates are way down, divorce rates are high, and il­le­git­i­macy and sin­gle-par­ent house­holds have soared, old Hef be­lieved to the end that we Amer­i­cans are still re­pressed.

I don’t want to give the fel­low’s legacy too much credit for these trends. They would surely have hap­pened had he and Play­boy never ex­isted.

But his legacy brings us back to the con­cept of free­dom.

In Amer­ica, any man is free to be a fool. Any man is free to shun spir­i­tu­al­ity and in­ner beauty to pur­sue ego, dough and scant­ily-clad young women.

But our free­doms also al­low a man to choose to live a vir­tu­ous life, as my father has. He mar­ried young and worked long and hard for his fam­ily. My father knows what it is like to love one woman, through good and bad, for nearly six decades — an ex­pe­ri­ence Hef never knew.

My father, 84, is sur­rounded by six chil­dren, 17 grand­chil­dren and nine great-grand­chil­dren. The home he and my mother cre­ated is a place of great hap­pi­ness on Sun­days and hol­i­days — and any­time any of us want to stop by.

My father gave us some­thing old Hef failed to give his chil­dren: a clear ex­am­ple of how to pur­sue a vir­tu­ous life.

Whereas Hef be­came a car­i­ca­ture of him­self as an old man — wear­ing silk pa­ja­mas all day long and us­ing his worldly wealth to keep a tor­rent of young women nearby — my father has earned the love and re­spect of his fam­ily, friends and neigh­bors.

Whereas my father is get­ting by on a mod­est re­tire­ment in­come, he has one thing Hef never could at­tain: real wealth.

Old Hef was able to cre­ate a new life in Amer­ica and en­joy the trap­pings of worldly wealth for 91 years. Good for him.

I wish the old fel­low well as he set­tles up with his maker, as we all must in time.

I hope for his sake that our maker goes eas­ier on him than Douthat did.

©2017 Tom Pur­cell. Tom Pur­cell, au­thor of “Mis­ad­ven­tures of a 1970’s Child­hood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClana­han mys­tery novel, both avail­able at Ama­, is a Pitts­burgh Tri­buneRe­view hu­mor colum­nist and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated ex­clu­sively by Ca­gle Car­toons Inc. Send com­ments to Tom at Tom@TomPur­

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