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Occasional ramblings by an anesthesiologist/mother (and sometimes her husband).

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Eternal Adolescence

Tom Lehrer once said that he had dedicated his life to what had since become a rather successful project, namely the attempt to prolong adolescence beyond all previous limits. That was in 1959.

Since then, eternal adolescence is all around us. Adolescence is basically categorized by wanting privileges without responsibilities. In California, for example, there is an entire city that thinks you can have freedom without having the ability to defend it. Across the nation, people who bought houses they knew they couldn't afford want to be treated as victims.

But nowhere is adolescence more apparent than in young men.

Consider the biological differences between men & women. Let us think back to the early days of human existence. Imagine that you have a small village with 50 men and 50 women. The primary focus of long term survival is the production of new villagers. Men and women are both required to produce villagers.

Women can produce only 1 at a time, take 9 months plus recovery time to do so, and are vulnerable during that period - any injury to the mother is an injury to the child.

Men, however, are only biologically required for a short period of time. Their part in production can be performed multiple times each day. This part can also be performed even if they are sick or injured.

The result is that to maintain a population, it is far more important to insure the health and safety of women than men. A handful of men can repopulate the village if necessary. Any jobs that are dangerous or require time away from the village, therefore, would logically fall to men.

Fast forward a few millennia. In our society, most jobs don't call for putting your life on the line day in and day out. A handful of people now do that to protect even those who spit on them. Technology has reduced the required time for cooking and cleaning to the point where it is no longer a full-time job, thus eliminating the requirement of a full-time housekeeper.

For men, the requirements of responsibility run counter to biology. Civilization, however, is there specifically to counter biology. From table manners to hygiene, civilization reminds us that natural ≠ right.

As Kay Hymowitz points out in this brilliant article, marriage and children is the true responsibility that turns boys into men.

This quote, in particular, is telling:

"In 1970, 69 percent of 25-year-old and 85 percent of 30-year-old white men were married; in 2000, only 33 percent and 58 percent were, respectively."

After reading this article, I decided to take a close look at my own life.

I looked back in iCal to June 1, 2005 - the day I turned 26. On this day, I had been married for 14 months. I was at the end of my second year of full-time teaching. ES1 & I were living in a nice apartment while we were preparing to move into our house. We are expecting our first child this summer. Somehow, despite going through 4 majors during my undergraduate and graduate career (Mechanical Engineering -> Mathematics w/ History Minor -> History w/ Mathematics Minor -> Graduate History Study -> finally an MSEd), I ended up statistically ahead of the curve.

Looking at my friends from college and before, I find mixed results. Many are married with or without children. Some have been unlucky in love, but are still settled adults. Some, however, are still stuck in extended adolescence. No points for guessing which ones we find ourselves spending more time with nowadays.

I am one to admit that marriage alone did not make me grow up. The responsibility of a home, a dog, and now an impending child are what did it for me. Case in point: every year, when we take down the Christmas decorations which engulf our living room, we take the opportunity to selectively choose what goes back up. This year, our talking Yoda and robotic R2-D2 did not return to their spots on and below the mantel respectively. And my favorite lightsaber no longer hangs from the mantel - it sits in a drawer. When you're about to fill up your house with your kid's toys, it's time for your own toys to be put away.

I have come lately to more and more appreciate one of my favorite sitcoms - Home Improvement. As a kid, I was amused by the tools and the grunting and so on. As an adult, I appreciate that Tim Allen's character is one who finds himself as a responsible adult, but still completely unapologetic for his stereotypical man characteristics. One episode in particular, "For Whom the Belch Tolls," I found rather poignant. Tim finds himself distanced from his old college friend. He realizes that he has grown up, but his friend hasn't. At the end, his friend says he'll call first next time he shows up. They both know, however, that there won't be a next time. They have officially grown apart. I can think of many old friends that I now see very seldom if at all. It's hard to spend significant time with people, even those about whom you care deeply, when your lives have taken you in such opposite directions that you no longer have much in common.

How many of today's national discussions, political or otherwise, can be reduced to people wanting to be able to do whatever they want while someone else pays the check and picks up the pieces? People want it all, and want it all to be free. We have devoled into a nation of infants who don't believe that actions should have consequences. People want pills to lose weight. We're having trouble finding good employees because people want to be praised for having a pulse. They want the government to tell companies to charge less money. The other day I saw fat free half-and-half. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

Eventually, there will be a correction. Adolescents will either grow up or fade away. Those of us picking up the slack will become stronger. Men will be real men. Women will be real women. Small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri will be real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. We'll shake our heads at the children, but ultimately move on. The grown-ups have better things to do.

Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs for the original article.

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