I purchased the magazine pictured above at an estate sale. It was published sixty years ago. It contains an article by the actor, Kirk Douglas, that grabbed my attention: Are We Making Weaklings of Our Sons? Here are some excerpts from the article (my comments are at the end)…
I picked up a newspaper recently and was shocked to read that fully forty per cent of our American youths weren’t smart enough or honest enough to be accepted for military service!
Granted, the Army wants the best men it can get these tense days and therefore sets its standards rather high. Nonetheless, it came as a severe jolt to discover that two out of five American young men are being turned down for physical, mental or moral reasons.
Perhaps this evidence will convince you, as I am already convinced and worried, that we parents can no longer avoid asking ourselves these harsh questions:
Is something seriously wrong with many of our sons? Are vast numbers of them growing up to be physical and moral weaklings? Are they, in addition, developing into mature men without possessing real emotional maturity—that is, without being really grown up enough to manage themselves, their desires and their feelings?
As the father of four boys, let me tell you that I see what is going on and that I don’t like what I see. I want my boys to grow up to be men, not milksops.
Please don’t misunderstand me. A man is not necessarily a man because he can drop an elk at 300 yards, live off the land for a month with nothing but a fish-hook and axe, or rip a telephone book in half with his bare hands. That’s not what I mean by a man.
In my book, a man is a mature male who can look at life realistically and not through a cloud of rose-colored wishes and dreams, accepts things for what they are, does an honest day’s work and expects decent pay for it, puts his wife and family above all else in life, has an abiding faith in God and loves his country.
A man also respects his own body and keeps it in condition because he knows, first, that other people’s lives depend on his continuing good health; and second, that physical vigor can help him get the fullest possible enjoyment out of the only life he has.
That’s the kind of man I want my own sons to be.
I can tell you my boys won’t ever get muscles in the wrong places by sitting and watching somebody else do the playing! They’re out there doing things themselves, and a lot of the time their dad is right there with them. I’m sure it’s not a brand new discovery, but I’ve found that even though a son is close to a father and respects him, he still gets a special thrill if he can top the old man in some game or sport. No matter what—whether it’s checkers or hand-wrestling, swimming or hunting, running or badminton—the youngster wants to compete and he wants to win.
I’m letting this spirit of competition have full and free reign with my boys. It’s not only a lot of fun for us all, but it spurs the youngsters on and keeps them physically active.
It’s certainly a fact that kids of today are riding the gravy train, and I mean children of poor and middle-income folks as well as rich ones. Almost all parents are showering their youngsters with as many toys and gadgets as they can afford—and often that they cannot afford. Kids also have more privileges and even more money than before.
If over-privilege is bad, over-protection is even worse. Can there be any doubt that, out of the goodness of our hearts and with the finest motives, we are raising the most carefully guarded generation of all time?
Unquestionably, children do need attention, love, help and guidance. It’s a tough, complex world out there and they must be taught to handle themselves in it. But in our anxiety to shield them from the perils, problems and knocks, many of us go too far. Instead of helping them make decisions for themselves, we decide things for them. We’re afraid they might make a few mistakes, take a few tumbles and get a few physical or emotional bumps.
The lack of self-reliance of many of our children is literally staggering and saddening. These youngsters grow up with little ability to cope with the relentless competitiveness of a world that’s not going to protect them, cater to them, bow to them or lead them by the hand.
Never given the freedom to meet difficulties and challenges, never allowed to make mistakes and to learn through them, these pathetic people wander through adulthood as half-men, wistfully seeking someone to dominate them and care for them.
By now my boys have learned the difference between being loved and being babied. one does not follow from the other at our house. Ann and I show them constantly that they are first in our hearts because being loved gives a child real security. But neither of us has any intention of mollycoddling them or fighting their battles.
I say this to my boys, and I hope you don’t find the statements too astonishing” “You fellows don’t have the advantages I had when I grew up. My parents were desperately poor. Born in Russia, they came to the small town of Amsterdam, New York, the center of America’s carpet and rug industry, seeking a precious commodity they could not find in Europe—liberty. For this privilege, they were willing to live and work in desperate poverty.
I was the youngest of a family of seven children, and I can remember the cold and the hunger to this day. While still in grade school, I got up at five every morning and delivered papers for two hours to earn some money that was so badly needed in the house.
I had to compete to succeed. I learned this early in life and it was a lesson richer kids often never learn, to their sorrow.”
The above article provides some historical perspective into the loss of traditional ideals of manhood in America all the way back in 1962! The article was, no doubt, a response to President Kennedy’s call for a national physical fitness movement in the nation’s schools.
Perhaps not coincidentally, America was also ramping up our involvement in the Vietnam war at that time. There was a huge shortage of men willing or able to be soldiers. The lack of fit men led to Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara’s Project 100,000, which was a foolish attempt to fill the military with more men by significantly lowering the standards.
Dubbed McNamara’s Morons, the low-bar soldiers were sent to war and it was a colossal failure. Forrest Gump was a funny movie but he is, mind you, a glorified fictional retard in the theatre of war.
These days, America’s future men are mostly all overweight due to diets heavy with high-fructose-corn-syrup soft drinks (HFC was not part of America’s diet in 1962) and so-many sedentary hours of daily video game playing.
Also, in 1962 very few mothers worked outside the home. They cooked healthful meals for their family from scratch. It would be interesting to see a comparison of the average boy in 1962 and the average boy of 2022. It would probably be shocking.
Kirk Douglas (who, by the way, lived to be 103 years old) put an emphasis on sports involvement to help his boys be fit and healthy. What other option is there when you raise your family in high-wealth neighborhoods like Palm Springs and Hollywood?
There are no farms in Hollywood where boys can do useful, meaningful, physical work and, in so doing, be exposed to the mentorship of rural men who, generally speaking, have character traits far more admirable than the typical man about the town in any flashy city. Sports play for children is an artificial, modern-era substitute for meaningful work.
And Douglas laments that his children will not experience poverty in their youth, as he experienced. That is a keen observation and worth noting. A degree of monetary and material lack in childhood is not a bad thing. Not at all.
On the other hand, a mother (preferably at home)and father in a committed and stable marriage is far more beneficial to children than an excess of money and the things excess money can buy. We all know this instinctively, if not statistically, and yet the decline of such families in America since 1962 has been precipitous.
None of this bodes well for our country as a whole, but it is what it is. The good news is that there are plenty of stable families throughout the land who are intelligently and deliberately raising their boys to be responsible and capable men. They are doing this best in rural settings, on small farms and family-economy homesteads. These families are not a majority. They are a faithful remnant. Such families are in the process of changing the world in positive ways we can not yet see, or even imagine.