A friend of mine, let’s call her Sheryl, has a son who’s 13-years-old. Let’s call him Mark. We try to include Mark in conversation as often as we can. At first I thought this was just for the sake of his self-esteem, but in no time at all I realized that Sheryl was raising a kid who was not only funny, but wise beyond his years. I mean, he’s still very much a 13-year-old; but every now and then Mark spits out one of these nuggets of wisdom that makes me realize that I could stand to learn a thing or two from “Kids Today.”
So here, in what I hope is only the first installment of a series, I ask Mark what I thought were some basic questions, and get back some rock solid life advice.
Chris: So Mark, in your own words, what does it take to be a good boyfriend?
Mark: As cliche as it sounds, I feel that mutual respect, communication and love are the most important things for a relationship, sexual or not. Respect, I feel, entails an acknowledgment of your partner’s needs and wants. With proper communication, relationships thrive. Without it, they turn into a series of passive-aggressive conversations. I feel that most of the arguments I have with my Mom involve a lack of adequate communication. Sometimes with my Dad, it’s not so much a lack of communication insofar as he has his ideas and I have mine. It’s a dude thing because we can’t talk about our relationship without it being weird. I also can’t talk about him being condescending without him getting defensive. I can’t talk to my friends about their having sleep-overs and not inviting me because it makes it seem like I care too much. It’s hard to talk about the things that matter.
Chris: What does it take to be a good husband?
Mark: Ideally, a marriage should function the same as any other relationship. Marriage is a vestigial arrangement, one of the few heirlooms salvaged from a time in which the exchange of women was considered an act of diplomacy. Anyway, it’s not about being a boyfriend or a husband, it’s about being a partner. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean that anything should change. Being a good partner means being understanding, getting what the other person really is about, being intelligent and able to learn new things, sharing mutual interests, and being candid.
Chris: A good father?
Mark: A steady income, love and shared responsibility for the kid. In this era, what with the lack of economic stability, having a baby without a source of money is an extremely misguided decision. Imagine not having enough money to feed your child and having to give it up. Also, if you hate your kid, he or she will grow up to be an unhappy adult, and parenting will be miserable. And as for males, the burden of raising a child is generally shifted off men and on to the woman because of it’s assumed that women should be caretakers and raise children. This should not happen. That baby is as much yours as it is your partner’s.
Chris: A good son?
Mark: Being a good son takes a lot of self-reflection. Sometimes you have to take a step out of your body and ask yourself, “Am I being a brat?” The amount of times I’ve said yes to that is startling. I also feel that being clear with your parents about what you want is important. I can’t imagine how much of parenting is trying to decipher your kid’s mixed messages. But at the same time, being a good son depends on your parents’ expectations. Maybe your parents want you to be smart. Maybe your parents want you to be good at sports. Maybe they say they just want you to be happy. You have to communicate with your parents to find out what they expect. You shouldn’t fight them on the small stuff, but pick your battles. So if they really want you to play football and you don’t want to, you need to talk to them about that. Any parents worth their salt are going to want to listen.
Chris: What do you think it takes to be a good man?
Mark: I believe that as a man, you need to acknowledge the privilege that you are given. For every dollar a man makes, a woman makes seventy-two cents. Men are much less likely to get sexually harassed or raped. Men are more likely to get more prestigious jobs. Men are allowed to choose not to have children without being considered complete losers. Men can balance careers and children without being considered selfish. Men still get to write history. The most obnoxious forms of sexism arise from the fact that men either fail to recognize these facts, or they outright deny them. Men have the privilege not to acknowledge their privilege.
Chris: What’s one thing that most people assume about kids your age that you think is untrue?
Mark: I feel that the most untrue thing about my generation is that we represent just one thing that can be lumped into some demographic category like Generation Y or the Milennials. We’re a lot of different people, just like adults. We are not all entitled idiots ranting on Facebook about the fact that we got a car instead of a Macbook who only care about buying more stuff. Nor are we all virtuous and obedient. We are people and people defy categories.
Chris: What’s one thing that most people assume about kids your age that’s totally true?
Mark: Like I said before, it’s hard to generalize about something like a generation. I really can only speak to my experience. I live in a city that’s not very diverse, so the group of people in my social circle is not very diverse. I don’t know any goth kids and I don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman in situations, so I don’t want to say what it’s like for them, because I don’t know. That said, I do feel that social interactions at my age are very challenging. Friendships can utterly crumble in a week, people who you think are your friends mock you behind your back and worst of all, it’s ridiculously hard to read people’s emotions. It’s harder for me now to tell how people are feeling just by talking to them. Maybe it’s a combination of hormones and taboos against expressing your emotions. Often I feel the need to ask my friends how they are feeling, which, of course, is a big no-no in male teenage culture. Being sensitive or caring what people think is somehow a bad thing among my peers.
Chris: When your generation takes over running the country for us, how do you think things will be different?
Mark: I do not know what my generation will be like when we’re old or which parts of it will be running the country. For example, I’d imagine that if jocks took over the country it would be a lot like the country under George W. Bush. Maybe they were the jocks of their generation. I do know what I wish could be different. I wish that everybody could have the same amount of money and poverty would be basically eradicated. I wish that public schools had more money and that people didn’t have to pay to go to university. I wish that people weren’t forced into jobs because of economic constraints, but could choose what they wanted to. I wish there were more patrons of the arts, so people could make money making music and painting and writing and being producers of great media.
Chris: What things do you think will remain the same?
Mark: I believe that Republicans and Democrats will still be stuck in the same perennial stalemate for control of the government. Virtually the only conflict in the United States is between Republicans and Democrats. Without any other parties, we end up in the same sort of navel-gazing arguments repeated ad nauseam. And the media plays both sides of this, as in the dispute over Obama’s birth certificate. America’s close-minded world view will remain the same. Until the evidence is so obvious about global warming, we won’t do anything and critics of climate change will be dismissed as crazy hippies.