(Originally written for BroBible)
What The Hell Happened To Us?: The Decline of the Young Man in America
Recently, I read an article about the Matsigenka, a tribe that lives in the Peruvian Amazon. The men of the tribe have a highly regimented day that begins around 5 AM. In the morning hours, they tend to the yucca and banana plants that represent a majority of the food and trading opportunities for the tribe. In the afternoon, they chop down kapashi, a palm tree used for building their huts. At approximately 6 PM, they go on the hunt for monkeys and parrots, using only spears and slingshots, to serve for dinner.
By the way (or btdubs, if you’re a tool), the Matsienga consider you a “man” at 13 years old. And not the Bar-Mitzvah way of presents and braces, I’m talking about becoming a monkey-hunting, roof-thatching man.
About 6,000 miles north, I type this article from a Starbucks in NYC. I’m in my early 20s, a period referred to nowadays as “adultescence” or “the boomerang generation” or my Dad’s favorite, “being a douchebag”. Many of my peers are unemployed, spending their days on a parent’s couch, watching shows like “Girls” and movies like “Step Brothers”; stories that reflect their viewers’ own aimlessness. Some adultescents have had feeble attempts at productivity; a short-lived blog, or an iPhone app idea that never panned out, or worst of all, a stint trying to become a DJ. I understand early adulthood is considered the time to “find yourself” but many dudes I know aren’t even looking. The Matsigenka are light years ahead of my friends, and most haven’t even sprouted pubes. I don’t care how much Bear Grylls you DVR, you’d be dead in less than a week. Of course, we don’t need the skills to survive in the Peruvian Amazon. The United States has one of the highest living standards in the world. But perhaps that same standard has led to our decline as the BAMFs we once were.
When my grandfather was 23, he already served this country overseas, started his own manufacturing business, and began raising a family. He was a cigar-chomping, Nazi-killing brommando, and all his friends were too. I think about that a lot when I’m sitting in my boxers, eating peanut butter out of the jar with my finger. I’m sure many of you have done something similar in recent times. While it seems that I might be romanticizing the past, I am the first to acknowledge this early-start, hard-ass mentality was also my grandfather’s downfall. He spewed racial slurs and pinched waitresses’ asses way past that behavior’s expiration date. When my grandmother died, he went from the boisterous, happy-go-lucky guy I loved to a shell of a man. He become so aloof and reserved, refusing to even share the feelings he was going through out of some prehistoric notion of masculinity. He died alone and unfulfilled, never able to connect with his loved ones on a true emotional level. So perhaps his way wasn’t the best to go about getting your shit together. We’ve all seen Mad Men, the bro code wasn’t exactly at a gold standard.
So who is to blame for the declining backbone of the American male? Some it’s the fault of “helicopter parents”, mothers and fathers who hover over their kids with the well-intentioned desire that their children grow up in a world free of pain and suffering. A buddy of mine was a counselor at a summer camp, and was given a list of instructions regarding each individual camper’s likes and dislikes. One mother wrote that her son didn’t like to be ranked, and should never be told he had lost a competition at any time. I was disgusted as you are, but my friend assured me that directions like these were not uncommon. Come to think of it, I remember my Dad letting me quit the soccer league in first grade because I said it was “too hard”. In addition, many of us grew up without chores; only helping out around the house for a monetary incentive. That’s a far cry from the early responsibilities of generations past. So perhaps in an attempt to make our lives easier, parents made it easier for us to become lazy.
But it’s easy to blame others, and it does no good to harbor on the past. I know many of the things I have discussed in this article don’t apply to hardworking, take-no-bullshit bros. But I also know that I’ve described plenty of your lives. So I guess it’s best to leave it at this: We may not have the hardships of the Matsigenka, or even the no-nonsense attitudes of my Papa Harry, but in order to rid ourselves of this “adultescence” label, it’s time to take on some adversity, because without the ability to handle hardships, success will never happen.
With that being said, it’s time to get wasted and go wakeboarding. It is the summer, anyway.