D. Aucoin. (2006, 14 November). “Men Will Be Boys.” The Boston Globe.
Whether it is music, clothing, athletics, or video games, today’s fathers and sons seem to have a lot in common. Jeffrey Stone and his 14-year-old son, Zachary, burn the music of Eminem together, and watch the TV show, “Supernatural,” on the CW network. Andy Gersten and his 19-year-old son, Ben, are into the Talking Heads. Audie Bridges and his four sons share triathlons in common.
Says Aucoin, “The once-bright lines between men and boys are blurry these days. . . . It’s a convergence of taste, attitudes, and style that, to outsiders, can sometimes be a bit confusing.” According to Audrey Guskey of Duquesne University, the contributing factors have to do with our view of time, and the influence of consumer marketing. “Teenagers desperately want to be older, but once you reach your 20s and 30s you don’t mentally want to grow older. And today, society is encouraging that.”
At The Gap there are few distinctions between men and boys clothing lines. At the movies, stars like Adam Sandler, Jack Black, and Will Ferrell win over audiences by straddling the line between grown man and eternal teenager. And when it comes to electronic gaming, men and boys can’t get enough. A recent survey found that one-third of men between the ages of 30 and 39, and one-fifth between the ages of 40 and 49, play regularly. Gersten, a therapist living in New Hampshire, observes: “A generation ago, fathers and sons cold connect through hunting. Now, fathers and sons bond through video games.”
By the looks of things, the term “generation gap” may no longer apply, says Aucoin. But not everyone thinks this is a benign or positive phenomenon. Harvey Mansfield of Harvard University, and author of Manliness, attributes the blurring of lines between men and boys to a 1960s exaltation of the teenager, and a feminist-inspired diminution of traditional concepts of manhood. Since men can’t claim manhood so readily these days, we end up with more immature expressions of it. But the fathers Aucoin features are more positive about the new common ground available for them and their sons. Music can provide a common language, for example.
Christopher Nixon, 37, recently published a book titled Rejuveniles, which explores the accompanying phenomenon of 20/30-something men who can’t quite let go of teenage tastes. In this case there is no particular father-son payoff, just a persistent attraction to “the kind of freewheeling fun that they had when they were teenagers.” And what is notable is that there’s little stigma attached. A 30-something man with a snowboard and indie-rock collection on his iPod is more likely to be marked as ‘hip’ than ‘immature.’
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Do the observations of this article agree with your own impressions of father-son relationships today?
- Does the ‘Rejuvenile’ thesis seem accurate?
- Is the idea of ‘manliness’ better off or worse off for its present confusion?
- Are video-games and fashion a good way for fathers and sons to bond?
If the assessment of a paradigm shift is accurate, today’s fathers or fathers-to-be exhibit lingering boyhood tendencies. It’s possible this can be fruitful for family relationships. But it is also possible the closing generation gap indicates a very real collapse in markers for male adulthood. If the male identity relies on consumer goods for its sustenance one wonders if the stability of this identity is on shaky ground.
Christopher S. Yates
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