George Will is fond of skewering those who would commit sociology. I tend to agree, finding most journalistic observations of social trends goofy or worse. Minus the insinuation that the rise of women is to blame, however, I quite like this article.
Within we find an interesting question. “Where have all the good men gone?” We all like to say we had it tougher, grew up faster, and generally wound up better than people more than ten years younger than us. Even poor Telemachus in the Odyssey was said not to match his father’s cunning and nobility. Homer laments at one point that no son ever matches his father–a pessimistic view of the progression of humanity.
I suspect the authors are onto something important. In my profession, I see young men and women for the most part in their early adult years, say 21-25. To date, I have never noticed any difference in maturity between men and women. In fact, I have oft been tempted to refer to them as boys and girls respectively. It is a strain to call them adults. Today let’s focus on the male side of things.
Our college years are for many things, fun being one. I too did my share of partying, but managed to keep a quite respectable GPA while finishing two majors. From 21-24, I was gainfully employed and simmering in the hopelessness that was my hometown. This is not to disparage my hometown–it would have been the same anywhere else. I needed to become a man.
The Cosmos moved that process along for me. While life on the farm had taught me many things about becoming a man, it had also become unbearable. I longed to snap the chains I perceived as holding me back from a life of…what?
Starting my own business, a martial arts school, was one of those serendipitous events that shape a life. I worked my behind off, did everything I thought I was supposed to do, and lost it all. Everything. From a benignly disgruntled farmer to a dead-broke 20-somethinger I was transformed instantly. The next year of my life taught me more about myself than I had learned in the previous 25.
What I learned mostly was how naive I was. I learned that poverty stinks. I learned that desperation leads to poor decisions. I learned that I could be tempted to do questionable things when the pressure was on. In short, I was being tempered in the forge of reality.
I had help getting through all this. At one point, I borrowed money from my parents, soon paying it all back. I made do, made up, and made over. I faced the uncomfortable fact that I was not quite as smart as I thought and that I did not really know what “tough” meant yet. It took until my mid-thirties to stop bouncing around like a cork and settle down into adulthood. Being a man became as natural as breathing and as hard as dying.
In my 50’s now, I realize that these passages never end. In my male students, I suspect they never get started. A few of them get it. They show signs of having thought about a time beyond the next afternoon. Most appear to me shiftless and childish. They not only never launched–the fuse never got lit.
Tomorrow: The Man Factor
Terry insists that stories and/or photos of him acting like an idiot in early adulthood are part of a plot to smear him. He is not sure by whom.