A century ago, most families lived on farms. Boys, who started chores almost as soon as they could walk, worked the harvest right through their teen years and woke up one morning as men.
Their future was pretty clear-cut. They knew they needed to get a job, get a wife, have children to take care of them in old age and find some way to sustain themselves.
Then families made the mass exodus from farm to suburb. The plow was replaced by a station wagon. Dads drove to work. Moms stayed home and raised the kids and hosted Tupperware parties. High schools brought about a new development in growing up: the adolescent. Still, once women and men hit their 20s, they grew up, married and had children.
With the rise of the information age, the whole system broke open. Women, who were now getting more and more education, found themselves perfectly qualified for jobs in the creative industries. They turned into smart, sassy 20-somethings with disposable income, not particularly interested in marriage or children, at least not yet.
It turned out women were more suited to this mind-based, multi-tasking society, and they began doing mental and educational laps around men. Suddenly you had an entire generation of post-adolescent males who, finding themselves not really needed or wanted, shrugged at their buddies and said, “Let’s go watch 'Star Wars' again.”
All of this is described in a fascinating book published earlier this year by Kay Hymowitz titled, “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys.” Hymowitz argues that this new development has led to the “man-child” who bums around with his friends and still thinks the "Star Wars" saga is the hottest ticket in town.
As the mother of four young boys, I read a book like this with just the teensiest bit of apprehension. It keeps me either hunting Trulia.com for hobby farms, where my boys can get a proper “man’s” upbringing, and hyperventilating behind the Lego box. Just short of putting a down payment on a milk cow, I remember that I have the antidote for this post-adolescent plague. It’s called the gospel.
In fact, as I read Hymowitz’s book, my prevailing thought was, “The church solves all of these problems, if we’re tough enough to stand by what we’re told.”
For starters, the LDS Church gives our boys a lot of what is lacking in society — mainly, a purpose. As Horowitz says in her book (and an excerpted article in the Wall Street Journal), women are born with a biological purpose — to be mothers. That clock is ticking from the time they hit puberty. Men have no such clock, and in our modern-day society, no social benchmarks.
In the past, “boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles — fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity — are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.”
The gospel is different. From a young age, boys look forward to the priesthood benchmarks of deacon, teacher, priest and elder. They drop dimes in their missionary fund with hopes they’ll be called on a Mormon mission at 19. These are the tests.
Second, they’re counseled to get married and start having children soon after their missions. This is a huge shift from the societal trend toward older marriages. Consider this statistic, as quoted by Hymowitz. “In 1970, just 16 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that's true of an astonishing 55 percent of the age group.”
According to Horowitz, marriage alone solves most of the problems of the post-adolescent male. When men get married and have children, they step up to do what they were hardwired to do: be protectors and supporters of a family. This is especially true in the church, where the roles of both father and mother are clearly outlined in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Again, men have a specific purpose: to provide for the family and preside “in love and righteousness.”
Of course, church members aren’t immune to the societal trends. We have our fair share of 20-something males who aren’t getting married and an unsettling number of bright, lovely women who can’t find a decent husband.
Which is why we’ve heard more recently about men needing to take that step toward marriage. Consider President Thomas S. Monson’s message from the April 2011 general priesthood meeting: “ I have thought a lot lately about you young men who are of an age to marry but who have not yet felt to do so. I see lovely young ladies who desire to be married and to raise families, and yet their opportunities are limited because so many young men are postponing marriage.”
I consider it our duty, as parents of boys, to raise hard-working, contributing members of society and the family. The world needs more good men.
I won’t stop wishing for that milk cow. But I’ll be ever grateful for a gospel that helps turn our boys into men.