By Scott Keith –
My good friend David Rufner sent me an article recently that didn’t surprise me but did rile me up a bit. Written by David French, the article was in the National Review and titled “Young American males are losing touch with a critical element of true masculinity.” What grabbed me was the first few lines of the article. There, French says, “If you’re the average Millennial male, your dad is stronger than you are. In fact, you may not be stronger than the average Millennial female.”
The article recounted a study that analyzed the grip strength of a representation of university-aged guys, noting that their grip strength had decreased significantly between 1985 and 2016. In fact, the grip strength of the representation of university-aged guys had weakened from 117 pounds of force to ninety-eight. Again, he noted that the young men’s grip strength now rivaled that of older Millennial women. Says Mr. French, “In other words, the average college male had no more hand strength than a thirty-year-old mom.”
Now, I knew things were bad, but really? The average Millennial male can’t beat his girlfriend in a contest of strength? What the hell is going on here? I think what’s going on is that boys are not taught to succeed in becoming men, at least not real men. We are working on three generations of kids raised almost exclusively by women, compounded by a society that is increasingly feminized, resulting in a distinct lack of masculinity among grown men. Safety has become the paramount goal, even among boys and men, and the type of hard work that turns a boy into a man is scorned.
Most boys today will never learn to change the oil in their car. Why would they when a “quickie” oil change is only $19.95? Further, when is the last time you saw an eleven-year-old mowing a lawn (though Adam Francisco’s twelve-year-old mows ours) or helping their dad paint a fence? In the not-too-distant past, these were the types of everyday tasks that taught boys that manual labor was not beneath them, but rather that taking care of the home was an integral part of the vocation of being a grown man, a husband, and a dad.
Last Friday, my second son, Josh, and I decided to spar in the front yard. He has taken some boxing lessons, and I like to hit the heavy bag in the garage. So, we thought, why not? We gloved up and went at it. I got a few good shots in, and he rung my bell more than once (my nose still hurts). The first time he walloped me in the head and “rung my bell,” I said, “this reminds me of high school.” I was in more than a few fights in high school, and the event took me back in time.
Everybody who was sitting around watching me get my ass kicked confusedly laughed. Why did they laugh? Well, because such a thing as getting walloped by another boy in high school is a nearly unheard of event. The schoolyard scrap is verboten! As Mr. French said in his article, “In the age of zero-tolerance school-disciplinary policies — where any kind of physical confrontation is treated like a human-rights violation — they have less opportunity to develop toughness.”
If this has gone on for three generations, and I think it has, then the truth is that a good number of young boys today haven’t seen strong masculine men as fathers or mentors that they want to emulate. If young men don’t grow up respecting older men, it follows that they also won’t grow up wanting to be strong men. Why would any young man want to put in the hard work to be a strong, masculine man? They can’t aspire to be the picture of something they have never seen. Young men imagine being a real man as just another grown-up duty like changing the oil or unclogging toilet, tasks they have never had to do and don’t want to do. There is no magic, no wonder, and no greatness for them in doing the types of chores that defined a man’s place in the home in the past. So they become more feminine themselves; they become weak as women now learn to be strong.
Our culture has taken vocational integrity from young men just to inquire as to why they can’t stand on their own two feet. It questions why boys struggle in school (Check out this article on how teachers tend to fail boys with masculine sounding names.). It too queries as to why young men seem so useless in the workplace, the whole time refusing to acknowledge that the modern workplace is a distinctly feminine kingdom. At the same time, our culture tends to desire that men be weak while beguiling the results of that weakness.
In his article, Mr. French ends by claiming, “Men were meant to be strong. Yet we excuse and enable their weakness. It’s but one marker of cultural decay, to be sure, but it’s a telling marker indeed. There is no virtue in physical decline.” I think he is right, and I believe that the implications, especially to fatherhood, are staggering.
So where do we go from here? We need to set our boys free to become men. We actually need to begin desiring strength over weakness, competence over dependence, and masculinity over passivity. In Being Dad, I suggest that “Men need to know that they are free to be what God has created and called them to be: confident, gracious, forgiving, masculine men who are analogies of God to those who don’t seem to see Him anywhere else.” I said that then, and I think more needs to be said.