You ever play that game when you ask yourself what your parents were doing when they were your age, and compare your progress through life with theirs? I think about that with my late dad sometimes, and Father's Day brings it to mind again.
Dad was a hardworking guy, a physically tough man who could endure a lot of pain. When he spent a day in bed, you knew he was practically dead. I only remember a couple of occasions when he was flat-out sick (once from bronchitis and once when we all got food poisoning), aside from the illness that claimed his life.
I wanted to be just like him when I was little. We wound up being very different, for any number of reasons. It doesn't make me better than him, not at all. I certainly am not as hearty as he was, nor as hard a worker. He was omnicapable with anything construction related, and could fix any car up to the time they started putting computers in them. He was an extremely reliable human being.
I wonder if our country is still capable of making guys like Dad.
In her book Men on Strike, Dr. Helen Smith argues that American men have been so disdained, ridiculed, attacked, isolated, and denigrated that it's no wonder that they aren't marrying, making lives, being the pillars of society they once were. Why should they? They get no respect for trying---look at any TV show. Mom is the superhero; Dad is the comic relief. "The law and culture tend to protect women and to harm men. Men are starting to realize this, and women need to understand that men have few reproductive rights, have few legal rights in divorce, and are seen as the bad guy in marriages that go wrong. It is not immaturity for men to be reluctant to marry, it is a rational choice not to place oneself in a harmful legal contract that gives them no safety net."
It runs throughout the culture the way faith in God once did: girls need to be encouraged to be kickass geniuses, boys are boneheads who are more trouble than they're worth. But do girls need all this talking up? Women are now the majority of voters, the majority of college students and graduates. What are men the majority of?
Our local high school had pictures of the top 25 grads. Five were boys. (Only one was a Caucasian boy.) I don't wish to downplay the excellence of the other students, but it's been more than twenty years since our culture got obsessed with representative groups that "look like America." Does five boys out of 25 look like America?
Boys know that they get more attention when they mess up and no plaudits when they do well. They expect girls to be better students and they see no reason to compete. They see Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, supposedly heroes, being belittled by their more-intelligent female friends. A 1997 MetLife study (The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher 1997: Examining Gender Issues in Public Schools, available here) reported that "contrary to the commonly held view that boys are at an advantage over girls in school, girls appear to have every advantage over boys in terms of their future plans, teacher's expectations, everyday experiences in school and interactions in the classroom." It's little wonder that boys think less now of book learning than they ever did.
I see it with sons of friends. They may be okay with athletic achievement, but they discourage academic achievement among themselves. Why be a dork and get picked on by everybody?
We have rightly been concerned about inner city cultures that disparage academics. What happens when half the human race adopts that attitude?
You can say that men had more privileges in my father's time, and you'd be right. But they also had a hell of a lot more responsibilities, and could take pride in the honor of fulfilling them. Now men are considered superfluous, and honor a sham, and have acted accordingly. As C. S. Lewis famously said, "We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst."
When Dad was my age, he had survived poverty, cancer, and he had to support a teenage me. He was a rock. Men today have been turned into those phony plastic rocks you see in landscaping. Some look good, but you can't build anything on them.