Anybody remember these guys? They made up P.A.C.K. My memories are becoming more and more vague; less and less reliable. So it’s a good thing we’ve got the Internet. This collection released by Mattel in the early 1970s (1972 according to Wikipedia) ran through the early 1980s. It was about this time that the home video console and cable television became much more common thus pushing the more imaginative toys like these action figures into the most remote regions of the closet. And, in fairness, I guess it should be mentioned that the Big Jim core market would have discovered other forms of entertainment by then.
Regardless, Big Jim, Big Jeff, Dr. Steele, and Big Josh represented masculinity for a generation. Seems strange now. Especially scrolling through image after image of these action figures. Of course as a kid you don’t notice stuff like this, but each one had a specialty. Dr. Steele was the anti-establishment guy. He was scary for sure, but when the going got tough he’s the guy you wanted. (“A doctor of what?” you may ask. “A doctor of pain,” I say) Big Josh was the no-nonsense lumberjack. He was the calm in the middle of the storm. And I’m sure he always always voted Republican. Big Jeff was the proverbial “second”—equal parts fun and danger. Big Jeff was the guy Dr. Steele would most likely go to with his problems. And then there was Big Jim, the undisputed leader. I can only imagine the confidence, self-suredness, and strength it must have taken to lead this group; to command such men. Just because Barbie’s been around forever doesn’t mean that she’s got a monopoly for placing expectation.
So these were, in some ways, my heroes. They were perfect. These were the guys that had it all together. And if they didn’t they’d just find somebody to beat up (or maybe find some wood to chop). They had chiseled chests and square jaws. Abs like the commercial guys. They were men of few words. They spoke through the sheer force who they were. These guys had presence. They were fearless. This was life, I thought. And this is what being a man in the mysterious adult world, then whirling around above my head, was going to be like.
What Big Jim told us is that this is all it takes. But what Big Jim couldn’t tell me was how to be a husband or a father. He was unable to tell me that strength lies not in a bicep, but in heart, commitment, and passion. And even though Big Josh can swing a mighty axe, I wonder how he would have coped with a crying daughter with a broken heart. Dr. Steele would make a great body guard being able to chop a metal rod in half and all, but I’ll bet that didn’t help him fix the dryer or clean the gutters. And that crazy Big Jeff. He’s got nothing for me during a child’s asthma attack. No, there’s a whole other reality for these things. That’s where real life happens. That’s where the rest of us live. And there’s a different kind of strength required for that one—the beautiful kind.