I recently spent some time with a friend who has three children. My buddy, whom I've known since fifth grade, is a college-educated responsible guy who has never failed to do right by his family. When describing him, "well-rounded" comes to mind. He's masculine but not macho, sensitive but nowhere near maudlin, perceptive, intuitive, caring, compassionate. Like I said, well-rounded. His wife is as solid as a rock.
His oldest son, 40, never earned as much as a high school diploma, has had perennial problems with alcohol, and presently earns a living working in a record store. His youngest, another son, is rapidly approaching 30. Like his older brother, he's clearly intelligent and capable, yet he's barely supporting himself at menial jobs, still taking college classes, and has no sense of what he wants to do with his life. By contrast, my buddy's daughter, the middle child, is a go-getter. She's a top performer at her workplace and seems overall in command of her life.
For the first time in any culture at any time in history, females are emancipating earlier and more successfully than males. This crop of young adult males is certainly shaping up to be the most underachieving generation of men (perpetual boys?) to ever inhabit the USA. I shared the following observation with a recent audience, "When one hears of an individual in their mid-30s who's still living at home or largely dependent on parents for support and has no clear sense of direction in life, it's almost always a male. It starts in high school, where nearly every video game addict is a male. In the adult orld, women are graduating from college in larger numbers and have taken or are taking over a number of previously male-dominated professions." Everywhere, heads nodded.
It would be simplistic to attempt to attribute the ongoing collapse of the American male on one particular variable, but I think the main problem can be summed up thus: The role of father, and therefore his ability to model traditional masculine virtues, has been considerably diminished by several factors, beginning with the most obvious: the father-absent home. Involved dads push their sons to grow up and accept responsibility and encourage their daughters to find men who are grown up and responsible. The less involved the father, especially during the pre-teen and teen years, the less able he is to be that influence in his children's lives.
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The divorce rate has contributed greatly to the diminishment of male influence in child rearing, but the problem is compounded by divorced dads who, when they're with their kids, are little more than Good Time Charlies who are fountains of fun and games. The DisneyLand Dad winds up enforcing little if any accountability or responsibility and act like the world is one big playground. This does not send a good message to children, especially sons.
But even many of those dads who are involved, caring, and in the home have unwittingly diminished their ability to transmit masculine virtues to their sons by subscribing to the new ideal in American dad-hood, which is to be your children's best friend. Dad, your son doesn't need a 30- or 40-something year old buddy (this applies to your daughter as well). He needs a dad who steps up to the plate of leadership and swings the bat.
Then there's what I term the Magnificent Maternal Micromanager, the mom who not only micromanages her children's lives from morning 'til night, but micromanages her husband as well, directing him as to how to be a father.
The result is almost inevitably a Milquetoast dad who's allowed himself to be stripped of masculine virtue. He's his wife's "parenting aide" and his children's buddy: not a child, but not quite an adult either.
That's the short list. There's more - surely enough to fill a book. The bottom line is that we have a growing crisis on our hands, one that only America's parents can fix. That's going to require a completely new set of self-imposed marching orders. Unfortunately, bad habits die hard.