Thanks for your quick reply. I really think this exchange is going to be fruitful. At least I hope so.
In my last letter, I warned that it was possible that you were going to get some boomer perspective from me. And it was good that I did that, because I can see I am going to have to start there, before getting into all the issues surrounding whiteness. I promise we will get into the ethnic stuff in the next round.
You grew up without a dad being very present in your life, just as a lot of your peers did. As this has ramifications, I think we really need to go into those in order to think clearly about the larger issues. But we will get to those larger issues soon enough, trust me. They are larger issues, not deeper issues.
Growing up without a dad means that certain things went missing. Some of them are obvious, but which are still freighted with symbolic value. I don’t know if this was the case in your situation, but I am going to just make up a couple of examples. Say that your dad never stood behind you and reached over your shoulders in order to teach you how to tie a necktie. Or say that your dad never stood behind you (again) in order to teach you how to hold a bat, or how to position your feet when you were holding that bat. There is something about a father’s presence in those sorts of things that provides and incalculable blessing. And you feel the absence of that blessing without quite understanding the nature of the ache. And now let us summarize all such things and roll them into one big metaphor—your dad wasn’t standing behind you for anything. He lived in another city, and he saw his girlfriend a lot more than he ever saw you.
If he had been there, he would have taught you how to do such things. You would now know how to throw a ball, or change the oil in your car. Not having had the great blessing of a father’s presence is really, really difficult. But here comes the hardest part.
If he had been there, one of the additional things he would have taught you was how not to complain or whine about your difficult circumstances. That is one of the blessings that a father is supposed to provide. Fathers aren’t necessary in order to teach sons how to be angry, or brittle, or bitter, or destructive. Boys can do that themselves. But fathers are needed if boys are going to learn how to be the right kind of tough.
One of the challenges that single moms have is in figuring out how to provide the stability, authority, and tough correction that a father can provide. In fact, just a father’s presence in the home can help with this kind of thing, even if he himself is not that good at it. A paternal presence in the home is ballast, and boys need ballast. They absolutely need that ballast. But there is a catch-22 in all of this. If he had been there, he would quite possibly have been able to teach you more things than how to play baseball or work on a car. He could have taught you how to suck it up. And growing up in the generation you grew up in, you would have been just as wronged, but not nearly as aggrieved. You would not feel nearly as angry or aggrieved because you would know how to suck it up. Your dad taught you.
But because he didn’t teach you that, you need to recognize something. When you are with a group of your friends, and they start in on the failures of the boomers—which were abundant and plentiful, I assure you—you need to make a decision to react to the whining the same way you do when you see a guy trying to throw a ball right-handed while leading with his right foot. It is unbecoming. If your dad didn’t teach you to throw a ball, you still need to learn how. So learn how. If your dad didn’t teach you the right kind of mental toughness, then you need to let a friend’s uncle say something.
I do know I am walking a dangerous line here, but bear with me for one more moment. On an objective level, I really do believe that you and your generation have been dealt a poorer hand than your parents or grandparents were dealt. It really is difficult. The economy is terrible, and the job market challenging. And if you do land a decent, well-paying job, you have to be on constant look-out for those HR memos that threaten to flay you if you ever share a wrongthink meme with a co-worker. The churches you have attended can be savage when it comes to how they treat your masculinity. You once made the mistake of going to church on Father’s Day, in which all the fathers were kicked around the sanctuary mercilessly, and you try to imagine anything comparable happening on Mother’s Day. You have taken multiple college classes in which your whiteness was described as a crippling disease. It is really bad out there, which is why you wrote to me in the first place.
Your complaint is that nobody taught you how to be masculine in the face of such difficulties. But that is what I am seeking to do now. Masculinity is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility and, if I may reduce it to the level of a John-Wayne-type wisdom, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Now the great thing about truisms is that they are very often true. This one would be an example. Okay, forget John Wayne. James tells us that we are to count it all joy when we meet with various trials (Jas. 1:2). Is this a trial? There are multiple places in Scripture where we are instructed not to whine and not to complain. We are also told not to be bitter, not to be sullen.
And when Scripture gives this kind of direction, it does so irrespective of the conditions of the various groups that have been abused or neglected by other groups. Angry bitterness is not the way of a Christian. We want to rush in with qualifiers because, as the old song puts it, “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” The problem is that it is just not true. A lot of people know troubles enough.
You really need to take this particular lesson to heart. I say this because when things are really difficult, there is a way of responding that makes everything more difficult. There is no situation so bad but that you can’t make it a little bit worse. Sorry, but John Wayne again. “Life is hard. It’s harder when you’re stupid.”
Let me change the skin colors around for a moment in order to make the point. One time, many years ago, I had a young black boy in one of my classes. He was not a good student, and he was also a pill. Because he was a pill, he was not well-liked by the other students, who were overwhelmingly white. One time, during a parent/teacher conference with his mother, I heard from her that she believed that he was being mistreated because he was black. I didn’t believe this at all, but I did not dispute it with her. But what I said was something like this. “Let me grant what you are saying for the sake of discussion. You are telling me that your son is growing up in a world where he will need to work twice as hard as anybody else in order to get the same return. You believe that the system is rigged against your son, and it is not fair that he must work twice as hard for the same result. But fair or not, I am trying to tell you, as his teacher, that he is currently working half as hard. In the kind of world that you believe he is growing up in, you tell me what is going to happen to him.”
In other words, grant the premise. Switch the colors back around again. You live in a world where more forces are arrayed against you than were arrayed against other generations. The system is rigged against you. The economy is terrible Okay. The world is a hard place. That is really true, but you are a Christian, and whining makes it worse.
What is the best thing a man can do under hard circumstances? The answer is the same in every generation, under every circumstance. He needs to be a hard man. Note that I do not mean hardhearted. I simply mean that in a world where there are dragons, there must be dragon-slayers. We cannot make the dragons evaporate simply by wishing. The mountain is filled with dragons, and there is no complaint department.
I am not telling you that you need to step it up because it is just that you do so. I know that it is unjust. None of this is fair. That’s why you need to step it up.
In circumstances like this, we are constantly tempted to look around in order to make comparisons. I have already said—on an objective level—that other generations had it better than you, all else being equal. But it is also true that you have it much better than other people elsewhere in the world. What every man needs to do is to thank God for the lot that he has been assigned, and then do his level best to be faithful in that place. It is the only place you will ever get to be. And besides, comparing various hard luck stories is a fool’s game. There is no future in it.
“The heart knoweth his own bitterness; And a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.”
Proverbs 14:10 (KJV)
Everybody thinks it must be easy to swap places, which is why we do it so readily in our thought experiments. But the root of all such thought experiments is fruitless envy, and such envy always ends badly. It always makes things worse. If you succeeded, and got entirely inside someone else’s troubles, and were completely free of your own troubles, you would be tempted to do the whole thing over again. This is because everyone knows their own grief, and the thing we are charged to do is to be faithful with that grief. Complaining that someone else’s grief is smaller is a bad habit that solves nothing.
Next to last thing. The way of a real Christian is often the narrow path, and not the broad way. If you take what I am saying to heart, you will be walking in a way that is distinct from that of many of your peers. And one of the first things you will come to realize is that there have been men in previous generations who did the same—who followed Christ instead of their generation’s rejection of His ways. There are boomers who were faithful to their wives, and who poured into their families, and who taught their sons. One of the things they taught their sons was how to suck it up.
Believe me, if you reached down into the morass of ethnic hostility, tension, unhappiness, and animosity, and simply removed the whining, everything would be fifty percent better, almost overnight. But the temptation in your situation is to ask why I don’t tell entitled blacks to stop whining. Oh, I have. Nobody likes it when I do that, but it turns out that whites aren’t any better at it. But from what Dawson says, and from what I have seen in your correspondence thus far, as the author of Hebrews put it, I am convinced of better things in your case.
So then, analyze what you are up against, and study what needs to be done without complaining about it. Incidentally, although this is not the point of our correspondence, living in this way makes it much more likely that you will be able to find a woman who would be a true complement to you. You do not want the kind of woman who would team up with a whiner. Golly.
Last thing. In giving this advice, I am concerned that you not take it as though I were urging you to just surrender to all the woke evils. No, never surrender. I am not telling you to give up. What this advice amounts to is how to get to escape velocity. More about that next round.
Cordially in Christ,