Syndicated columnist Carolyn Hax recently published an interesting online conversation she had with some of her readers. The conversation revolved around the 27-year-old son (“Ron”) of one reader, who is smart, has a college degree, but works a low-end job and relies on his girlfriend to pay his bills.
Ron’s father was puzzled over this turn of events, particularly since he had raised his son to have a “strong work ethic.” As such, he wondered if he should confront his son about the turn his life had taken.
To my surprise, this concerned father was jumped on from all angles. “Absolutely do not confront him!” was the collective cry. He is being creative, one commenter implied. Another suggested that “househusband” is a perfectly legitimate role for an unmarried young man to play. Meanwhile, another cautioned against holding young adults to high expectations.
If you read these opinions wondering if you were entering the twilight zone, then you’re not alone. Ron’s father seems to have sound instincts: he wants his son to have goals, be ambitious, and provide for a family. Yet Ron’s father is excoriated for having these ideals. Indeed, it appears that the genre of young-man-in-Mom’s-basement is no longer looked down upon but is in fact extolled as a viable career choice.
How did we get to this point?
There are a number of ways to answer that question, but I think author Ralph Moody does it best.
Moody, the author of the famous Little Britches series, grew up in the early 20th century amongst the Coloradan ranchers. From his father he learned honesty, hard work, and perseverance. He put these lessons to good use when his father died and Ralph became the head of the family at age 11. Moody explains the situation:
“When I was a boy on the ranch, I used to look forward to the day when I’d own my own cattle and horses and land; when I’d have my own home, a wife to make that home, and children to run out to meet me as I came in from the fields. By the time I was eleven, I was very proud of being in the livestock business. I couldn’t have horses and cattle, so I had rabbits. I bred the best ones so as to improve my stock, and traded the others or sold them for meat. …
Lately, there seems to be a quite different outlook. A little while ago I was talking with a friend about my feelings in the matter. I told him that I thought we’d raise better citizens in this country if people still had to scramble for a living as we used to when I was a boy. Then I told him a bit about the way we made our living after my father died; that there were six of us, and that I became the man of the family when I was eleven. I told him that we all did every sort of work we could find; that we never had any outside help, were never hungry, always happy, and that we’d all been successful and had successful families. …
Our family was not unusual. There were, and still are, thousands of other families in this country who are facing the same sort of situations without complaint, and who have not been misled by the political cry that they are underprivileged.”
Moody grew up in a different world than we know today. A world in which entitlement was frowned upon. A world which placed straightforward goals of home and family in front of its young people. And a world in which working hard and providing for oneself were counted a privilege and a satisfying challenge.
Would our young people be happier and better situated if this was still the case? Is there still a place for high expectations and a strong work ethic like Moody learned and practiced?
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.