In our time of fatherlessness, underachieving boys, social fraying, and the collapse of marriage, helping boys to become men needs to be done. We owe it to them in justice, or else we will not have healthy families, parishes, neighborhoods, and towns.
Many years ago, in an article for Touchstone called, “A Requiem for Friendship,” I wrote that the public acceptance of homosexuality would cast suspicion on physical expressions of friendship among males, and would make it more difficult for boys to forge strong friendships in the first place, especially if such boys were shy or not athletic. I said that all civilizations have been built upon those bonds: the team, the platoon, the guild, the hunting party, the council, the work crew, the school. I begged people to consider that in this matter as in others in human life, to condone the bad thing you notice in front of you is to curtail or damage or obliterate the good thing you do not notice, because you have taken it for granted, or because you do not care overmuch for the people who will be hurt.
Absolutely nothing of what I said then will I retract now. Rather, I will add this. If you so much as express in writing a concern for the plight of boys, someone will rush to cast suspicion upon you, as if you were no other and no better than a Ted McCarrick eyeing up the seminarians at the swimming pool. I will wager that when Helen Hunt Jackson went out west in the 1880’s to observe the Indians and write about their plight, many a sniffing woman or sniggering man nodded to say, “We know what she really wants, and it ain’t justice.”
For myself, I haven’t belonged to an all-male anything since I was twelve years old and in the Little League. I have no interest in it. I’ve never hung around with “the boys,” drinking or playing cards or whatnot. My father was all the mentor I ever needed. But what I happen to need and what others need may be quite different things, especially in our time of fatherlessness, underachieving boys, social fraying, and the collapse of marriage. I stick up for the boys because nobody else will, and the shabby neglect of their interests disgusts me. That I do not write about the troubles of girls, which I can know only by observation, is neither here nor there, any more than it was a point against Mrs. Jackson that she did not address working conditions for the immigrant Irish in New England. No one can do everything. Everyone can do something.
And helping boys to become men needs to be done. We owe it to them in justice, nor will we have healthy families, parishes, neighborhoods, and towns otherwise.
I marvel that those in our midst who attribute differences in results to prejudice and systemic injustice never apply that line of reasoning to boys. Yet in their case the argument is most strong. If we look at ethnic groups and their performance relative to others, we must account for innumerable factors besides ethnicity. What is their income? Is there a father in the home? Do they live in the city, the suburbs, or the country? How well do they speak or read English? Do they live in the south or the north, the coastal areas or the heartland? What are their schools like? What traditional skills or moral imperatives do they bring to bear upon their lives in the United States? Do they have strong extended families that can be sources of employment or capital?