Retro Relapse: A Generation of Men Raised by Women, Volume 1: An Introduction

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2014.

*This is a series I’ve wanted to start for awhile, as I want to cover multiple things that will be too much to put in a single post. I figured I’d kick this off with my story and where I am coming from in my life experience.

The character of Tyler Durden struck a nerve with the young male populace when in the Chuck Palahniuk novel and David Fincher film Fight Club he uttered the line, “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.”

While the version of the line in the book was slightly different, in both mediums, this is the point that stuck out to me the most among all the great points that Palahniuk and later, Fincher tried to make. After talking to not just my male friends but my female ones as well, everyone seemed to be in agreement that this was the element that resonated above all others and in fact, it was the one line that truly summed up everything that was happening within the tale.

It has been almost twenty years since the book came out, which makes me feel pretty fucking old, actually. Additionally, it has been fifteen years since the film came out. In that time, I have read the book a half dozen times and seen the film more times than I can count. While it isn’t my favorite Palahniuk book, it is still, after all this time, the one that resonates the most and still pulls at some emotional strings. It is the book that I needed to find when I did back in 1997 when I was graduating high school and didn’t understand the angst I had and the lack of experiencing some sort of authentic rite of passage as the hands of time forced me into adulthood.

In my life, my father was around for the most part but we didn’t spend a whole lot of time together, as I mostly lived with my mother and when I did live with my dad, his job had him on the road quite a bit. I don’t fault him for that, as he was making money to provide for his family and when I wasn’t in school, I got to travel and work with him. I get why he had to do it and I got it back then. Besides, I usually enjoyed the experience of getting to work with him and I really liked the bonding time. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some deep seeded yearning for something more. Something I didn’t understand at the time because I really didn’t know any better and at the end of the day didn’t realize that I wasn’t getting all the pieces I later felt that I needed to move on in life, as a man.

My father and I never had a solid relationship and the time we spent together was usually spent arguing due to the inability of either of us to really connect. I wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with but for the most part I was a nice kid, I typically did what I was told and I was generally raised to be a good person and I believe myself to be one. I don’t blame my dad or myself for our never really being on the same page. It’s like that old adage says, “It is what it is.” Regardless, I know my father loves me and I know that he knows I love him.

One thing about myself, is that I have always been incredibly independent, often times to my detriment, especially as a teenager. This didn’t resonate well with any of my parents but at least my mother was able to come to grips with it and accept it around the time I was sixteen. It doesn’t mean that I ran all over her, she just understood that I was wired a certain way and respected it. It also didn’t mean that she stopped worrying, she still does today and now I am thirty-five. But in allowing me to be me, we had a very strong bond and a real level of respect. Looking back, I know that my chronic independence wasn’t a direct product of either my parents’ personalities, it is just something I have always had. And it is probably a major reason as to why my father and my stepmother didn’t seem to understand me. I never really dealt well with authority and one thing that my father and stepmother were, was authority.

I’m telling my own tale, not because I want people to know my intimate details but because I know that this is a similar story to what almost every guy from my generation and after has gone through to some degree, exchanging a few details here and there. Almost all of the boys I hung out with, as I was growing up, had a similar upbringing and a similar attitude. I noticed that the kids who still had both parents in their lives full-time didn’t seem to share our attitude and our outlook. They also seemed a lot more dependent on their parents and authority figures. They lacked the angst that many of us had and I noticed this when I was an adolescent. I was friends with pretty much every kid that was into comic books, video games, movies, music and sports cards but I gravitated towards those who were more like me, as that is just human nature.

We were the kids that drank, dabbled in drugs and partied. We also had sex (mostly unprotected) way before the prom. We were also the ones who took the normal kids and corrupted them into diet versions of ourselves. The thing is, we weren’t bad kids, we just felt incomplete to some extent and had a lot of built up angst that we didn’t know what to do with. I, and many like me, still have this angst. We just deal with it in a healthier way now. Well, those of us not in jail anyway.

I now know that those angst, independence and authority issues stem from having to rely on myself as a child because even if I had parents around, I had to carry my own ball through much of my early life. With parents who aren’t together, a kid typically has just the one that they can connect with on a daily basis yet that one still has less time to spend with the child, as they are usually working more than they should to support a family on one income. I don’t blame either parent in my case, these are just the times I was brought up in and the times we have lived in since.

But the point is, it is no wonder why guys (and girls, really) from my generation have grown up differently and exhibited different behavior that was not common to generations before ours. And I can understand why those older generations looked at us as bad seeds. Regardless of societal labels, I think that most of us weathered the storm okay.

The problem is, many of us still have somewhat of a void in us because what has been the natural upbringing of human beings for millennia hasn’t been what we’ve experienced. We’ve been raised by one parent or parents in shifts and learning things from both aspects of masculinity and femininity is somewhat incomplete. In most cases, the men of my generation lack that rite of passage into manhood and have been raised with an overabundance of feminine figureheads. The thing is, we are still men – mentally, physically and chemically. Although most of our younger experiences with men have been negative or nonexistent.

What I struggle with, I know a lot of guys struggle with. Many of us have attempted plugging our own holes and experiencing that rite of passage on our own. There is however, that natural need to feel some sort of paternal approval and acceptance and unfortunately, for many, that acknowledgement eludes them. Some look for it in the wrong places, like through a boss or some other guy who seems to be more “manly” than themselves. Truthfully, I don’t know if there is a right answer to any of this.

Moving forward, I want to discuss several different aspects of life and adulthood and how it relates to all this. However, I will have to write this over several parts and I think this post is long enough already.