Thursday, February 10, 2011

Middle-Aged, No Kids

I was reading the second chapter of the apostle Paul's letter to Titus this morning (because I read the Bible--do, dap, dippity) when I found myself in the throes of a crisis. I could go with this:

Encourage the young men to live wisely.
Or I could go with that:

Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience.
Reading this passage I realized that I've probably switched, permanently, from being one of "the young men" to being one of "the older men"--from being at risk for wearing my "pants on the ground" to wearing my pants up to my armpits. And this freaked me out a bit.

I should have seen it coming, honestly, but I've gotten pretty comfortable thinking of myself as a young guy. I have coworkers who could be my kids (had I been more, um, prolific in college), and yet my default sense of them is that we share a common cultural history, that we'll be moved by the same music, all those sorts of identity markers. I think it has to do in part with the fact that I'm a MANK--middle-aged, no kids.

When I was a boy (in the 1900s, in the late twentieth century, back in the second millennium), much was made of the phenomenon of "DINKS": double-income, no-kid households. These were the folks advertisers targeted for their heaps and heaps of discretionary income and free time. They were the hedonists, sucking the marrow out of life before life sucked the marrow out of them. Or something like that. Advertisers kiss up to the demographics they seek to siphon money out of, so the DINK lifestyle was highly romanticized. What I don't think a lot of people saw coming back then was the phenomenon, twenty years down the road, of MANKS like me.

There are growing numbers of us who, for any number of reasons (not all selfish and hedonistic, as some of you are probably thinking right now--tsk tsk), hit our forties with no kids in tow. And while advertisers aren't overlooking the MANKs--I get wooed aplenty, thank you very much--it's not the advertising that presents a crisis; it's this transition from category to category that the apostle Paul identifies for Titus but that sneaks up on MANKS like me.

"Live wisely" is good advice at any age, which is probably partly why my older self is not relieved of the burden of it by Paul here. Now, though, I have additional responsibilities: to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, to have sound faith, to be filled with love and patience.

It's worth noting that none of these aspirations is necessarily exclusive to middle-aged men, so don't get cocky, everyone else. But I do think that it's been assumed historically that these traits will be learned principally in the practice of parenting: it's fathers who find themselves with urgent need of love and patience, who have little people longing to respect them. It's fathers for whom the collision of vocational and relational demands of middle age require a heightened sense of self-control and sound faith. In a culture largely focused on the family, MANKS have a mitigated middle age.

That doesn't excused me from these responsibilities, though. Paul doesn't say "Dads, do this; MANKS, eat, drink and be merry." No, if we take Paul seriously here then I too have a particular responsibility, now that I'm older and regardless of the structure of my household, to be particularly self-controlled, particularly sound of faith and full of love and patience, particularly wise in the way I live. My advanced age garners me a certain amount of respect; what I do with that respect is a test of faith.

4 comments:

TBone said...

I've never really thought of you as an advertisers dream! But, it is an interesting thing to think of - kids or none, older or younger - we're all the same, with all the same goal. Live wisely! Kind of breaks down more walls

Andy said...

So good... I love how I can read your posts, laugh out loud, and then come away with some profound stuff about sociology, demographics, and the church (and pick up a few new acronyms at the same time)!

Anonymous said...

So, ye be a "MANK" little Davey boy? Why I remember when you were in diapers (a much nicer memory than the one where you escaped your diapers and the cleanup rivaled that for the Exxon Valdez.) But whatever. I got a right to talk, because I am an OMKIC (Old Man/Kids In College) which is the ultimate test of patience and faith. Just pray that I pass this test. But leave your diapers on while praying.

David A. Zimmerman said...

And he's back! Good to see you, Uncle Anonymous!