Pop Culture, Theory & Essay

Grainy Pictures: Me, My Dad, and Measuring Up To “Maturity”

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.

—The Champ

Filed Under: , ,
Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Femster


    I will die a happy person. Peace, love and chicken grease.

  • D’Lady

    After reading this post, the first thing that popped into my head was Amanda Diva’s “ManChild” video.

  • Honey

    society is changing…

    …and i’m high. this was beautiful for some reason

  • DC1913

    For Some reason I read this with the voice over from wonder years voice in my head lol. Nice post. I feel the same way when I think of my age, technically im “grown”. But when I look at what my mom or aunt etc were doing at my age, 27 (married with kids) I coukd not even fathom that for my life right now.

  • I just had a visit from my parents last week, and while they marveled at how I was a fully-functioning, completely self sufficient “adult” at the age of 22, I began to come to a similar revelation as the champ. When I was younger (keep your jokes to yourself) I always thought that by the magic wand of time alone, I would be transformed into an adult that somehow mimicked what I saw in my parents everyday. Now I’m realizing that they are more impressive than I ever gave them credit for, and that nothing but having to care for another life will give me that “Grown Up” feeling.

  • Tes

    I feel like I have the exact opposite problem; I’ve been too grown up for far too long. I was that kid in the glasses reading two books in class while answering all the questions. I was that kid who the adults would come to for sound and unbiased advice. I’ve been that kid since I was seven years old. Now, I feel like a 30 year old in a 20 year old’s body and I’m not so sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
    I feel that, given my maturity and intellect and all those other things that make me sound conceited instead of honest I have a harder time connecting with people my own age, especially the men and especially romantically. It’s not that I don’t try (because trust me I do) and it’s not that I’m not willing to go out of my comfort zone (ditto), it’s that there’s too little stability and confidence in men my age and that’s ironically what I ideally look for.
    Am I doomed? o.O lol

  • You know Champ, I have to say in the depths of my mind I have thought the exact same thing. I allow those thoughts to linger as I attempt to find a solution. My father big ups me in the fact that I have done things at my age that he wouldn’t be “mature” enough to do. Considering my father was the oldest of 17 and more or less raised them, I tend not to believe me.

    I think part of the reason is b/c of the shift in the economy from manufacturing to information and the skills required to be proficient in this new economy mean extended schooling (which isn’t on the same level of responsibility). In college you’re only real work is going to class and learning. Beforehand, you grabbed a blue collar job and went out to make your place in the world.

    Maybe I’m just reaching.

  • DQ

    I had my moment when I turned 32. Why 32? Because that’s how old my parents were when I first recall being cognizant of their age. Turning that age was a paradigm shift for your a$$.

    I have since concluded that life circumstances now are just different than what they were back “then” and thus we are afforded more time before we are forced to “grow up”.

  • DC1913

    Also, I dont think it’s just men. it’s our generation in general.we didnt have to live as hard as our parents and grow up as fast. We were able to be selfish and be students and “find ourselves” they didn’t have that luxury back in the day as much.

  • You made me think that when my mom was my age she had a 6 year old, a failed marriage, and was a year away from purchasing her own home. However, I don’t feel “some kinda way” about it. In fact I couldn’t imagine the Alise I am/was having a baby with no support at age 25. It just doesn’t fit who I am/was. I think a marriage at 25 would have ended in the same unfortunate divorce that she fond herself in because personality wise we are very similar. I am glad of the weird twisted path my life has taken at times and I feel just as grown-up as I want to feel. I think sometimes we try to compare or lives to our parents or other folks that we forget our journey is OURS and we get to define it how we choose. (and shyt)

More Like This