A Few Good Men
February 21, 2011 1 Comment
Code Monkey pointed out an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the growth of a new cadre of young men – these are the ones who eschew those pursuits which are traditionally viewed as “manly” – notably settling down and providing for a family.
I have only seen a sliver of this- my religious community (Orthodox Judaism) bucks the nationwide trend of delaying marriage, and what are often derisively referred to as “traditional family values” are very much the norm in that community. It is a rare person who declares him or herself a committed singleton, and most of the singles are deeply unhappy about the fact (although many put on a brave face in public, and others are stoically resigned). Working in technology tends to mean that most of my coworkers are male and adept at differential equations, and thus don’t quite fit the description of the men in the article. Even earlier, I spent my teens and early twenties in Utah, which certainly is a statistical outlier with regard to marriage and the like. Heck, growing up, I didn’t think it was unusual that lots of my acquaintances had five or six siblings.
And regardless of the people around me, I’ve always been someone who desired a “settled” family structure and dynamic – if Sarah were asked, I’m reasonably certain that she’d say that I was both more interested in and more ready to be married than she was during our courtship.
However, the sliver I have seen has, like duct tape, a light side and a dark side. On the one hand, why precisely should we have to put away childish things? I think that nerf weaponry sounds like a great idea, I was thrilled to now have fuzzy 20-sided dice in the car, and my band is working on our fourth album. On the other hand, some of the pursuits embrace a certain dissolution – either in terms of recapitulating the collegiate drunken-conquest scene, in lionizing faux-achievement (video games / rock band / etc), or sublimating the desire for achievement into an unbalanced work / life arrangement.
The gripping hand, however, is that a balance needs to be struck. There are tremendous pressures to achieve higher and higher watermarks of success, and the attention given to Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother business (which would be silly if it weren’t busy being sad) is merely the most recent example. Consider the discussions about schools: we talk about graduation rates as though that is a measure of success of the school, when we have instead optimized them for warehousing rather than instruction. Consider the rhetoric about college attendance – that “everyone should be able to attend” and the like. The DC Urban Moms show that this drive begins prenatally; the tiger mother was apparently late to the party. The dark underbelly of that drive is the unasked question: “to what end?”
What precisely is all this preparation supposed to prepare us for? Will it enable us to take more joy in a sunny day? Yes, getting a good job is a nice thing. Yes, being able to pay both the phone bill and the gas bill without having to worry about it is a nice thing. But is all of this so necessary? I propose that some of the dissolution that the WSJ is finding among young men is in fact a necessary outgrowth of their reaction to being so over-programmed – the right preschool leads to the right prep school leads to the right college leads to the right grad school the right grad school leads … where again?
Perhaps the antidote is a little introspection and self-determination earlier on, and for folks to remember that failure is by far the best teacher.