On a recent trip to the UPS store, I sat in our vehicle while our three boys whined about starvation in the back seat and my wife faxed a document inside. As we waited, I watched the front door of the adjacent outlet, a video game store. I was eying the customers as they came and went, making mental notes about the whole scene.
From the backseat my five-year-old chimed in, apparently doing the same thing. “Daddy, why is that man wearing pajamas?”
It was, after all, noon. We’re weren’t in the ghetto near a liquor store or at the Dollar General, so you don’t normally expect to see that at midday. There he was, though, a 20-something male, scruffy faced with a ball cap covering his eyes, adorned with checkered pajamas and fuzzy flip-flops. He rolled out of his late 90’s two-door Honda, which was apparently so fast it needed a racing spoiler on the rear.
“He’s probably a physically grown male who hasn’t learned about masculine responsibility yet,” I told him, thinking back to the few years in college I spent entranced by Madden and Halo for Xbox. Yeah, it made me feel kind of old and like Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, but that’s not a bad thing.
And there were more like him. Smug looking teens glued to cell phone screens, their thumbs a blur, while their Lexus-driving mothers escorted them in, paid, and left. The kids never looked up.
There was one guy, about 50, with coke bottle glasses, a 5 o’clock shadow from last week, and a button up shirt that died years ago. Another 30-something entered with a hoodie and a backwards cap, drawers drooping, and let the door slam in the face of the female who trailed behind him.
One final anecdote before I get to the point. When I sold my Xbox years ago after realizing that adult responsibility and many wasted hours in fantasy land didn’t jive, it was to a lady on Craigslist who was buying it for her son. He was five. She told me that his older brother, age 8, had his own TV and Xbox in his room, and now the younger brother was getting his own. I felt like slamming it on the ground instead of selling it, but didn’t.
Having once been enmeshed in that culture, I can say that it is a great example of why we have a culture without men. Boys are fascinated with playing life but not actually living it—wanting the privileges of manhood without the responsibilities and adult cares that rightly come along with it.
Having just read No Easy Day, the story of the Navy SEALs who took out Bin Laden, it’s a shame to me that gaming stores are lined with titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops II. You see what has happened here—people want the thrill of something without ever really having to sacrifice or be responsible for anything. They want some oddly distorted and fantasized kernel of the experience without the personal sacrifice, self-discipline, or pain involved in the real thing.
To me, it’s a slap in the face for the SEALs who gave decades of their lives to protect others and live for a cause bigger than themselves. They weren’t playing games. But here we are as a culture, turning their stories into games played by pajama-wearing 30-year-olds who live in their mom’s basement and have never even remotely come close to genuine masculinity. You think the guys who can’t make it out of mom’s basement could make it through BUD/S training as a SEAL?
It’s really not any different than pornography, cohabitation or promiscuity. It’s about a bunch of spineless, feeble boys who don’t want to be fully responsible for a woman, a family, and the attachments of a life down that path. There are legions of boys who know how to play at life but don’t know a thing about being men.
Mark Driscoll was right: masculinity is essentially about taking responsibility. So when my sons ask me if they can have video games, I’m going to explain why not. Because it doesn’t teach you to embrace responsibility, but your own neglect. I respect the fact that parents will make different choices about that. But those three boys in my backseat are my responsibility, and I want them to know how to be men. Responsible, hard working, family-raising, sacrificial men.
In the end, I want my boys to learn how to hunt, play football, wrestle, fish, treat a woman, hold a job, and more—not by playing a fantasized game about them, but by doing them in the context of life. Why play a hunting game when you can hunt? Why play Madden when you get a backyard game going, or go to a Friday night high school game? And when we as fathers do those things with our boys, we can place them in the greater context of a life of sacrificial servanthood and responsibility, which is where they belong. Learning how to do life with men standing by.
Even from three feet, they are watching.