To promote The Tender Bar, opening in limited release on December 17 and wide on December 22 before heading to Prime Video on January 7, Ben Affleck has done an extensive, very personal interview with The Wall Street Journal. He is asked directly about Jennifer Lopez. He does not answer directly but does answer in a way that has given us enough headlines. We’ll get to that at the end of this post because he gets quite vulnerable during this discussion, about as revealing as he’s ever been, and there’s a lot to take away here that doesn’t have to do with JLo.
Ben has spoken quite candidly about being in recovery from alcoholism. What he’s doing in this interview is opening about what he’s learned about himself while working through his mental health issues, some of the root causes of his addiction, the pain he was running from, and how it’s shaped his approach through the years to his career, and his personal life, and particularly how he parents his children.
There will be some who object to his comments about fatherhood and raising a son. This part of the discussion comes out of a question about main character in The Tender Bar, a boy who does not have a father figure and is mentored by the men down the street at the pub:
“It’s important to have two parents for the rearing and upbringing of a child. The most important thing to me is to be a good father. Boys need to be taught. How to behave, how to conduct yourself. What your values should be. The ways my father did that for me are really meaningful—as are the ways in which he was absent. So, I felt like in a lot of scenes I was talking to my younger self.”
I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that “it’s important to have two parents for the rearing and upbringing of a child”, because of course that negates the experience of single parents. My parents were divorced for a decade and I was raised by a single father so I would challenge Ben on this perspective. He’s a writer though, and I wonder if he could go back and edit what he said, if he would swap out “important” with “ideal”, so that the sentence reads “Of course it would be ideal, if possible, to have two parents for the rearing and upbringing…”
Most single parents, I think, would appreciate a partner in raising their children. That said, while Ben’s statement as is presents a narrow worldview of the reality of the modern family, it is shaped by his own personal history and what he experienced in his own family: his father struggles too with alcoholism and was absent a lot, and also, as Ben seems to suggest, was wrestling with failed dreams and ambitions.
For him, then, being that his relationship with his own father is so complicated, it makes sense that that would inform his attitude – even though it’s wrong – about being a father to his son.
The most insightful part of the interview, to me, is when Ben is asked about being so successful that he’s eclipsed his father. First of all, big ups to the journalist, Michael Hainey, for working his way into that question. It was a natural progression with how the conversation was flowing and Ben did not give a canned response. Here’s the question and the answer:
WSJ: “Dustin Hoffman once told me he wanted to be a movie director, but when he got the opportunity, he turned it down because that had been his father’s dream, and because his father was still alive he didn’t want to eclipse him. Did you have conflicts about surpassing your father as a writer?”
BA: “That was enormously complicated for me in ways that I understood when it happened—and in ways that I probably still don’t understand. But it’s interesting that you bring up Dustin Hoffman. When I was a boy, my father would tell stories about being an assistant director at the Theater Company of Boston and about him and “Dusty.” And I remember thinking, This is tragic, he’s bullsh-tting. He’s building this horrible fantasy about having had movie star friends. And I internalized a kind of shame that you carry when you feel ashamed of your dad. I carried it for a long time, until I was 25, and I went to the Oscars. That night, Dustin Hoffman came up to me and said, Is your father named Tim? I said yes. He said, Your father and I lived together. And I had this massive sense of embarrassment that I had misjudged my father. So then there I was that night, being recognized as an actor, but also as a writer. And there was a little bit of panic, like, Oh, I didn’t mean to eclipse my dad in this way.”
That hit me in the gut when I read it. For my own reasons, in weaker moments, I’ve been ashamed of my parents and misjudged them. And it’s only later that you can see through a different lens and interpret their mistakes through your own experiences. That’s what Ben is sharing here in this interview, which is well worth the read, and not just for the Bennifer parts. But let’s go there now.
He is asked about it, straight up. Multiple times. Michael Hainey was not deterred! This was Ben’s first response to the JLo question:
“You can write conjecture about it, but one of the harder lessons that I have learned is that it’s not wise to share everything with the world. There are some things which are private and intimate and have meaning in terms of their intimacy by dint of the fact that they’re not shared with the rest of the world. I’m more comfortable just learning to find a boundary between things that I want to share and things that I don’t. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I don’t. I know that I feel more comfortable having those healthy boundaries in my life around which, in a friendly and straightforward way, I tell you, I just don’t want to be talking about my personal relationship in the newspaper. I’m going to exercise a little restraint.”
As I said, Michael tried again. He even brought his own wife into it, telling Ben that his wife was curious about who called who first, Ben or JLo? Ben won’t answer, but he does answer, LOL:
“I can say that it’s definitely beautiful to me. And, you know, one of the things I really value across all facets of my life now is that it was handled in a way that reflected that. My life now reflects not just the person that I want to be, but the person that I really feel like I am—which is not perfect, but somebody who tries very hard and cares very much about being honest and authentic and accountable. It’s hard to say who benefits more, without going into gossipy detail. I could just say that I feel great about being very healthy. And it is a good story. It’s a great story. And, you know, maybe one day I’ll tell it. I’ll write it all out. [Pauses] And then I’ll light it on fire. [Laughs]”
You know, from a gossip point of view, that’s good enough for me! The fact that he says it’s a “great” story. Because that reinforces what we’ve been seeing for the last nine months anyway. Bennifer is 100% playing out their own “great” story! They love their love story as much as we do!
But Michael Hainey wasn’t done – he went back one more time, telling Ben that what’s appealing about Bennifer on a gossip and on a general level is the idea of second chances. To which Ben replies:
“I am very lucky in my life in that I have benefited from second chances, and I am aware that other people don’t even get first chances. I’ve had second chances in my career. I’ve had second chances as a human being. Life is difficult, and we are always failing and hopefully learning from those failures. The one thing you really need to avail yourself of the opportunities provided from that growth is the second chance. I’ve definitely tried to take advantage of that. I haven’t always been successful, but in cases in which I have, they’ve turned out to be the defining aspects of my life. But tell your wife to imagine the best story, and I’m sure that’s the true version.”
Ok now we’ve gone from Bennifer 2.0 being “great” story to, just one question later, the “best” story that Michael’s wife – who is our proxy – can imagine. Well, yeah. We’ve been imagining and enjoying and watching it the whole year. Their happiness is everyone’s gossip happiness!
So if you are inclined to roll your eyes and sh-t on him for talking about his personal life when he said he didn’t want to talk about his personal life… let me stop you there. Because, frankly, that’s a complaint. And, seriously, why are we complaining about this? As pop culture observers, what’s there not to appreciate about Bennifer? About Ben Affleck being this giddy about Bennifer, and tacitly endorsing our giddiness about them?
I’ve said this many times this year, and I’ll say it again – there are gossip stories that we have come to regret participating in, that many of us were too ignorant to truly see and objectively unpack. And that applies to OG Bennifer back in the day too. In 2021, though, this is a full embrace. To run with the theme of second chances, they got a second chance, and so do we. So let’s just enjoy what they’re letting us enjoy and no more, no less. There’s nothing ulterior here. Are they performing? Sure. Can a performance also be a legitimate situation? Yes too. And also, do you actually want them to stop? I f-cking don’t.
Read the full interview at The Wall Street Journal. And pictures below. This smirk though. LOL.