The day I have long dreaded has finally arrived. My oldest and only son, Tyler, left for the Marine Corps this morning. For the next thirteen weeks, he will be going through basic training (boot camp) in San Diego. We will not be able to communicate with or see him until his graduation in November and then only for a few days until he ships out again. This will be a challenge for his mother, two sisters, and me, as he has always been an enormous personality and presence in our home.
Of course, we always knew that our children would leave home and, frankly, it’s what they must do. However, I thought we would have a little more time-he would go to college; not quite as severe a break as the military, especially in time of war. In fact, last year he had opportunities and was planning to play baseball in college. This was-we thought-his immediate future. I would have four more years with my son, helping him navigate his college years, and watching him play baseball, which has always been an enormous source of joy to me.
I was surprised when Tyler came to me this past December with his plan. Especially after being offered a scholarship to play baseball at Ouachita Baptist University. He explained, “I love baseball; it’s a great game, but baseball will never make me a better man.” He said, “I’m not sure I’m ready for college; I don’t know if I’m ready to be a student and full-time athlete.” Well, my first thought was who are you and what have you done with my son? Don’t get me wrong. I love my son dearly and I am very proud of him but up to this point, this kind of insight had never been his strong suit. Tyler explained that he felt he needed more self-discipline and that he wanted to “serve something greater than himself.” He wanted to join the Marine Corps first and then go to college.
I thought about his reasoning and realized he was more right than wrong. In fact, I have met very few eighteen-year-old young men today who are emotionally and spiritually ready for college, much less adulthood. It doesn’t help that the university has become one of the most spiritually, morally, and philosophically toxic environments on earth! In the past decade or so, a new phenomenon has been sweeping the Western world, in which young men in particular are failing to mature. Adolescence often extends well into their twenties and, in some cases, their thirties. They remain boys in men’s bodies.
Last year Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, released the results of his groundbreaking study in a book entitled Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Kimmel interviewed nearly 400 young men between 16 and 26 years of age, and over the course of 352 pages, he reveals a disturbing trend among the future of American manhood: Too many young men are stuck between adolescence and adulthood. They are simply failing to progress into responsible manhood.
Kimmel coined the term Guyland to describe “the world in which young men live.” Guyland, according to Kimmel “is both a stage of life, [an] … undefined time span between adolescence and adulthood that can often stretch for a decade or more, and a place … where guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids, and the other nuisances of adult life. In this topsy-turvy, Peter-Pan mindset, young men shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood…” (Kimmel, Guyland [New York, NY: Harper Row, 2008], 6).
Kimmel goes on, “In college, they party hard but are soft on studying. They slip through the academic cracks … getting by with little effort and less commitment. After graduation, they drift aimlessly from one dead-end job to another, spend more time online playing video games and gambling than they do on dates, ‘hook up’ occasionally with a ‘friend with benefits,’ go out with their buddies, drink too much, and save too little. After college, they perpetuate that experience and move home or live in group apartments in major cities, with several other guys from their dorm or fraternity…. They have grandiose visions for their futures and not a clue how to get from here to there.”
Both Britain and Australia are confronted with “Laddism”: Lads are simply Guys with British accents, consuming the same media, engaging in the same sorts of behaviors, and lubricating their activities with the same alcohol. In Italy, they’re called mammonis, or mama’s boys. In Italy “a whopping 82 percent of men aged 18–30 are still living at home with their parents” (Mark Penn, Microtrends, [New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2007], 324). So severe is the economic impact that the Italian government began offering incentives for these mama’s boys to move out and become productive! In France, they’re called “Tanguys” after the French film of the same title that depicts their lifestyle.
In other words, many young men throughout Western culture are not growing up; they’re not leaving the narcissism of childhood for the responsibilities (as well as opportunities) of manhood. They’re unproductive and short on ambition; they’re hedonistic, shallow, and vain, lacking any coherent sense of direction, purpose, or meaning. And this is not, according to Kimmel, the exception in America. He writes, “Guyland … has become a stage of life, a ‘demographic,’ that is now pretty much the norm.”
As Christians, we bear the responsibility to raise our children in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord, to put away childish things and assume their place in the world, seeking first the kingdom of God. This is the purpose to which we as parents should orient their lives! We should not send them to college simply because we don’t know what else to do with them after high school. Neither should we send them to college simply to get a good job so they can pursue their version of the American dream. And finally, we should not enable our children to drift aimlessly while they wallow in adolescent self-indulgence.
You may wonder if serving in the military serves the kingdom. Some may disagree but I think it does if you consider the concepts of enacting justice or liberating the oppressed. Every indication at this point is that my son will go to Afghanistan after training; if you know anything about the Taliban then you understand they are an exceedingly tyrannical and evil regime that has inflicted enormous pain and suffering upon the people of Afghanistan. Such suffering should grieve the Christian and seeking first the kingdom includes the bringing of relief whenever possible. If my son can be used by God to bring such needed relief-to “set at liberty those who are oppressed” as Jesus said-then I pray the Lord do so.
I will miss my beloved son more than anything on earth but I trust that the Lord will use this experience to prepare and equip him, to put away childish things and make him a better man, devout and courageous, one who will hold nothing back in his service to the King. I believe this: the need for such followers will only increase in the days ahead.