Have you ever experienced one of those incidents in your life which perfectly illustrates a nagging concern that has stayed crouched in a hidden corner of your mind? No? Okay then, maybe it’s just me…
Yesterday I’m walking into a local business when I noticed a young woman a few steps behind me. I stopped and held the door open for her to enter the building first.
“Uh, no thanks,” she said, with an expression of mild annoyance. “I think I can open the door for myself.”
A witty riposte leapt upon my tongue but I bit down on it and gave a tight smile instead.
“Very well,” I said, walking in ahead of her.
Take another incident, this one occurring several weeks ago and far more disturbing.
A young woman divorces her husband of five years because of his refusal to provide her conjugal rights, due in no small part to an addiction to internet pornography and massive multiplayer online games.
This 30-something man, no more an “adolescent” than I am, would rather remain hooked-up to a simulated world and choose a simulated intimacy instead of reveling in the very real connection that he is meant to enjoy with his beautiful real-life bride.
Man, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying.
Now I hate to sound like some sort of knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who yearns for an idealized “good ol’ days” (that, in fact, never actually were) but what is going on with men and women?
As the father of girls whom I hope will someday find men of character to love and honor, I have to admit that I’m rather nervous about the sort of “guys” they will have to sort though.
In fact, to quote a one-hit wonder from my younger days, sometimes I feel like asking, “Where have all the cowboys gone?”
The legal age of adulthood is 18 in this country and, if trends of the last 10 years are any indication, I suspect that is a rather optimistic appraisal. Of the 18-year-olds with whom I am acquainted, very few are worthy of the term.
Instead, we have a generation of boys who can shave.
By the time my great-grandfather was 30 he had been working for nearly 20 years. He’d fought in a world war, built a house with his own hands, married his high school sweetheart and had five children. My father fought in Vietnam, has worked since he was strong enough to lift a bale of hay, has been married to the same woman for over three decades and has children who have children of their own. When I think of what it means for me to be a man, I think of men like this. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how many 30-year-olds I know of who are still struggling to “find themselves” or some other balderdash.
Throughout history the achievement of manhood was not necessarily equated with a specific age or even certain physical characteristics, but by a rite of passage. For indigenous tribes the rite typically involved pain and an abandonment of more childish pursuits.
In our Western culture the rite of passage has usually been a bit more nuanced and subjective, increasingly so with the passage of time. In fact, a remotely coherent idea of “manhood” is probably on the ropes for many of our young. Between “sexting” and random hook-ups and booty calls, why bother with such introspection?
I would venture that within many men there remains a vague inner drive to prove oneself through courage, physical prowess or even the mastery of certain skills. That one can gain admittance to the fraternal order of manhood, and so continue on the hero’s journey toward winning a woman of virtue and establishing a household.
But if there’s no desire to this end, if there’s no impetus to establish a family, then does a “guy” feel the need to prove anything to anyone, or even himself? Of course not. He can simply coast along and enjoy the affluence purchased for him by the sacrifices of previous generations. There is no shortage of diversions for him. In fact, entire industries cater to his every desire, especially the baser ones.
I don’t mean to throw my gender under the metaphorical bus because the gentler sex has their part in this as well.
From mothers who mollycoddle their little boys and refuse to hold them accountable for their more youthful indiscretions, to the young ladies who tolerate any “guy” who treats her like a “friend with benefits.”
I come from a tradition which teaches women are created a certain way and men are created a certain way. Biological science and human history both testify to this fact. This difference is not a limitation, it is a miracle, and should be celebrated.
Of each we are all called to manifest the character of our Lord, in standing for what is true and gladly sacrificing our wants for the needs of others.
There is nothing as strong as tenderness, and nothing as tender as true strength. In this, we are all to lead and to serve each other.
If women want more out of men they’re not going to be able to simply hope for it, but they must refuse to settle for less.
Sometimes what it takes more than anything else is a good woman to help make a man out of a guy.
It certainly did in my case.