Last weekend, a few relatives and I gathered at my great aunt’s house to eat dinner and spend seven hours telling the exact same stories we told the last time we saw each other. As the youngest person in the room, my job was to do what any youngest person in a room full of loved and respected elders is usually supposed to do: listen, fetch cans of Pepsi, fact check in the most non-condescending way possible, and get teased for my reliance on my phone.
Anyway, midway through one of my dad’s inappropriately (but intentionally) hilarious recollections about New Castle, Pa (where most of my dad’s side of the family is from), something dawned on me:
“I’ve finally been here more than half as long as he has.”
You see, my last birthday officially made me more than half of my dad’s current age. Why is this important? Well, this means that I’m now officially older than he was when he had me, and this realization was quite jarring. Now, when I look at those grainy photo albums where my afro-clad dad is holding a three-day-old me in his arms, I’m looking at a man a few months younger than me. The man who looked so big, so proud, and so, well, so how a man is supposed to look hadn’t been on the planet as long as I have now, but I don’t think I measure up.
This particular brand of age-related angst is far from unique, though. In the last two weeks, both the Wall Street Journal — Kay S. Hymowitz’s “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” — and Slate — Mark Regnerus’s “Sex Is Cheap: Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they’re failing in life” — published widely read and discussed pieces that each contained the same latent premise: Men just aren’t growing up the way they used to.
From “The Extended Adolescence of (Some) American Men” – Sister Toldja’s examination of “Where Have The Good Men Gone”:
…I think Hymowitz’s examples of the boyish cultural tastes of pre-adult males, the “Animal House”, extended college lifestyle and dating behaviors (using women as “estrogen play things”) make a stronger statement. The longer these young men extend their boyhoods, the less prepared they will be when they do choose to enter adult romances, marriages and when they become parents.
Although I don’t possess most of the characteristics each of these articles cite as synonymous with “extended adolescence,” I do believe my singleness (“singleness” in the census sense, at least) and childlessness contributes to my feeling, well, less manly than I think I’m supposed to, and there’s no remedy waiting for me over the horizon. I still consider marriage and fatherhood to be the most prominent markers of adulthood, but “professional and creative success” remains at the top of my personal needs hierarchy.
I know this isn’t an “either or” proposition. It’s quite possible to have both the traditional “grown” marker and the contemporary ideal at the same time. But while I’d like to eventually have a family, it just isn’t a deep-rooted need for me in the same way it was for my father, my grandfather, and other men like them.
Actually, let me rephrase that. I don’t know what was going through my dad’s head the day before he found out my mom was pregnant with me. In fact, I don’t even know what was in his head the day he took those grainy pictures. While I’ve assigned a certain nobility, a certain maturity to him, this is a presumptuous act. For all I know, he could have been experiencing the same age-related angst; wondering if he was ready to be an adult and doubting whether he’ll ever be able to be grown in the same way his father was. Who knows?
I do know, though, that I’ve been more places on Earth at this point in my life than my dad had when he took those grainy pictures. I have more experiences. More memories. More embarrassments. More anecdotes. More stories. More pains. More time. And, while I’m not taller (My dad and I are the exact same height), when you add weight to the equation, I’m definitely bigger than he was.
But, I just don’t feel as grown as he looked, and I’m beginning to wonder if I ever will.
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