Let me tell you about Pete, the everyday young Irish man. Just today I was conversing with a woman (we will refer to as Meg) who expressed concern about her daughter (Joan) and a relationship Joan has been in for three years to a thirty three year old man (Pete). She is understandably concerned about Joan because Pete is now an established professional, who receives a sizable salary with good career prospects. Still, despite all this, Pete refuses to commit to Joan. Joan is twenty-nine years old and longs to start a family. She wants to settle down, with a home and family to build, nurture and develop, with little voices filling the hallways. She has discussed her desires often with Pete but recently, in conversation, he replied sternly, “I am not yet psychologically, emotionally nor spiritually ready for marriage.”
So what is the dilemma? Although Pete is surely blameworthy here, the trouble with Pete’s words is not only a problem with Pete so much as it is also an issue with modern Western culture in general. Not to beat you over the head with it but we know, in the past thirty years, Ireland has experienced a financial boom where the citizens have enjoyed a flourishing economy complete with many wonderful entertainments and bourgeois style luxuries. Humans today live more extravagantly than the litany of kings of old. It seems to many that we will never have to struggle again.
The Irish have a long history of being poor. We have always been a nation of people who have had to rely on surviving on the bare minimum. There was scarce opportunity for advancement from one’s station and so we accepted and dealt with it by bonding together as family, neighbour, community or nation. Most people had to scrape and claw for every morsel of food that graced their timeworn tables. Our homes were rarely fancy, having just the bare essentials that a family might need such as a utensil here or a pot there. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters made do with sleeping in one or two room homes and youngsters were shifted off to school with holy shoes mended with cardboard. ‘Oul fellas still fondly yarn about these matters.
During evenings or on weekends, family would pitch in with the work that sustained them. They would milk a cow, harvest a potato crop or maybe haul hay. It was a beautiful interplay of partnerships united in a common purpose, connected in a dance of life. Each man, woman, boy or girl had their wee job and their focus was on survival, not only for the self, but for others they loved and cared about. Far from their thought was the wandering, experiencing, discovering and expecting that we see entrenched in the modern young soul. Entertainment took the form of a visiting friend or an evening of music in a neighbour’s home. It was rare you would witness a man or woman living only to traverse the country in search of stimulus to pleasure the senses. Yet, in the midst of all this, despite the hardships there were strong kinships and an argument can be made that the people were happier. Young people grew to love and appreciate outdoors and the friendship of neighbour. Husbands and wives understood and loved each other as partners with a direction and purpose.
And then, we became rich…
Pete may be thirty-three, and of course by the standards of most cultures and eras he is a man, but he still likes to enjoy himself. Maybe it is his reward for all them years spent toiling through university, because we know how tough the life of a student is right? Maybe he is a delicate soul that requires nurturing, before finding true fulfillment in his forties or even fifties. Maybe he wants to develop his physique and psyche and spirit to their ultimate fulfillment before undertaking the grueling, horrible drudgery of home life. Or, alternatively, maybe he is still a little boy.
Today, we have food when we want, television and computer games when we want, the Internet with seemingly infinite knowledge, pubs and nightclubs to dance and drink the night away and an endless supply of men and women who are willing to fall into bed with each other without consequences. Sure what more would we want? Free love, abundant food, endless fun, cheap technology! Why would we need to even think of heaven and God when life is so good? Life is all about having the most fun possible for as long as possible.
This is the lifestyle of the rich. Filled to the gills, with luxury at their fingertips, they equate freedom with exploring the senses in all forms. They no longer see marriage as a commitment, as a partnership, to journey through life with another. Rather they view it as an outdated and no longer valuable venture. “What is in it for me?” they ask.
My answer? Freedom!
No matter how long young men pursue the lifestyle of an English aristocrat of the 1800s, the vast majority still feel the pull of the relationship, the desire to settle with one person, the inclination to be a father and the yearning to have a home to put their children into. It appears an inescapable drive. It is freedom because the home is the one place we can actually be truly free. It is our own little kingdom were we can cook what we like, listen to whatever music we like, plant whatever flowers or crops we choose and raise our children as we see fit. Despite the allure of the neon lights of the city, the essence of a man is to be united with a woman, to love, cherish and grow a fruitful relationship. The soul is free because it is completely satisfied. Today, our young men prolong or put off this urging because they are enticed by the sensual pleasures of the rich life, which will never resolve their ultimate search for peace. They ignore their calling, sometimes until it is too late.
The issue with Pete above is that he is stuck in a state of perpetual boyhood. He is not ready because he is unwilling to relinquish his attachment to childhood and what he perceives to be freedom. He is willing to have Joan continue to wait for him while he gets his life in order. This could be years. Joan must hold on to the fading hope as her childbearing years decrease, or she must go searching for another. It is a sad reality and why many women have settled for cohabitation with a boy, rather than the commitment of a grown man.
Ireland has changed indeed. Still, although we may consider ourselves wealthier, we are in greater poverty than our forefathers, who struggled physically and financially on their little plot of land with their families. We have become a nation of boys who know nothing of manhood and strive less to achieve it because we have no motivation to be responsible for anyone except ourselves. Alas, life will go on and work itself out, but the people of Ireland must sit up and pay attention to this very apparent crisis because it threatens to rid our land of authentically masculine men. Pray!
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