The March Philly Mag cover story on “The Sorry Lives and Confusing Times of Today’s Young Men” is generating a lot of comments, so the editors asked me to explain how I came to write it. When I was in high school in Doylestown in the 1970s, there was a clear path to success. I and my fellow C.B. East grads went away to college, graduated, found jobs, bought cars, found spouses, bought houses, had babies, had lives. I assumed my kids’ generation would follow the same well-worn trajectory: out of Mom and Dad’s house and off into the world. Which is why it came as such a surprise a few years back to look around at my friends and relations and realize: Something strange was happening. Their daughters, sure enough, were treading what I’d always thought of as the path to success. But oh, their sons! Half a dozen of my relatives had promising boys who just gave up on college. One friend’s son got kicked out of school for drinking and bad behavior. Another close friend had all three of her darling boys back in the nest after they’d dropped out of college. She and her husband took to going on weekend getaways just to escape the depressing atmosphere of failure to launch.
My default assumption when a kid is unsuccessful is pretty brutal: It’s the parents’ fault. But how could it be that so many people I like—I love—were abruptly revealed to be lousy mothers and fathers? And I’d never once suspected as much?
But if it wasn’t the parenting, what? What would cause what seemed like an entire generation of male offspring to be content to curl up on Mom’s sofa and play Call of Duty all day long? Didn’t they want educations? Didn’t they want jobs? Didn’t they even want to get laid?
I had to know. So I set off on a months-long journey to try to figure out why young women all around me seemed to be thriving, while young men were folding their hands. I read up on the research. I talked to sociologists, psychologists, physicians, authors, those successful young women and, most interestingly, to young men who’d given up and moved back home. And I discovered that the causes of this strange generational malaise were much more complicated than I’d ever imagined. Young men today are trapped by a perfect storm of societal forces: overbearing parents, an educational system that plays to the strengths of women, a brutal job market, big industries (movies, online porn, video games) that laud boorishness, and a popular culture that urges them to sing along with Bruno Mars:
Today I don’t feel like doing anything/ I just wanna lay in my bed …
The result, as laid out in the cover story, is a tragedy—not just for these lost young men, but for the parents who love them, and for the young women who long to love them and share lives with them. I expect I’ll hear from a lot of angry young men about what I wrote. I want them to know: Now that I better understand their plight, I don’t blame them for it. And I’m sorry, along with all the other parents I know, for our own contributions to the mess.