The Coddling of the American Man

There are several ways to quantify the woefully dilapidated state of masculinity at present, but maybe one of the best indicators of failed masculinity is the rise of the manosphere and the Red Pill movement.

As Michael Foster has succinctly pointed out, the manosphere—comprised of everyone from pickup artists to psychologists—can best be described as “men helping clueless bastards get a clue.”

In an article that appeared in The Guardian, Stephen Marche offered his summation of the movement, which has grown exponentially in recent years around figures like Jordan Peterson, Roosh V, Rollo Tomassi, and Jack Donovan.

“In the hours upon hours I spent wandering this online neighbourhood,” Marche writes, “I saw mostly feral boys wandering the digital ruins of exploded masculinity, howling their misery…craving the tiniest crumb of self-confidence and fellow-feeling” (emphasis mine). 

Feral boys running around in the bomb-stricken remains of a once-masculine world, shell-shocked by tyrannical feminism and fatherlessness, trying to figure out what it means to be a man—that’s a pretty good summary of the state of masculinity today. 

How did we arrive at this, a generation of lost boys who tend to put off responsible life decisions (marriage, children, career) longer than previous generations, are emotionally unstable, undisciplined, and crying out for any last vestige of masculinity they can find? 

Here’s the main point: We have a generation of fragile boys because we’ve had at least six or seven decades of steadily increasing fatherlessness, burgeoning divorce rates, single-mother homes, and children born out of wedlock. It is nothing less than the bastardization of American culture.

For the remainder of this article, I want to unpack the specific ways in which fatherlessness has contributed to the coddling of the American man.

The Coddling of the American Man

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.7 million children currently live without the rearing influence of a biological father. Compare that to the post-war generation, in which almost 90 percent of children grew up in a two-parent home. The Greatest Generation won a war but lost its sons. 

Absent a masculine hand of discipline and direction, the predominant influences on a young boy’s life are his mother, female teachers, and an age-segregated (and equally immature) peer group. In that case, a boy won’t enter the world of work alongside other men until his mid-20s (and counting), long after the most significant formation has occurred. Little wonder he doesn’t possess the masculine skills of interacting with the opposite sex, building a career, or changing the oil in his car.  

Since the rearing of America’s youngsters has been relegated largely to women, several trends—each along the spectrum of effeminacy—have dominated: 

First, our sons have been raised by over-protective helicopter parents.

Our parenting has been guided by what Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt describe as “The Untruth of Fragility” in their book, The Coddling of the American Mind. Mistakenly believing our children are like fragile little teacups always in jeopardy of irreversible brokenness from the slightest bump, we do our best to protect them from pain, difficulty, or even opinions that might upset them. We’ve developed “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to shelter them from “traumatizing viewpoints” that might “do violence” to them.

The irony is that our best efforts to protect our children have actually been the primary cause of their increasing fragility. Mental health among teenagers has reached crisis levels, so poorly equipped are they to deal with the once normal stress of adulthood. 

In truth, our sons are adaptive and antifragile by nature. They require stressors, challenges, and adversity to grow and flourish. Pain, suffering, and hardship, in the right measures, are vitally good for them. 

Organs are made for action, not existence; they are made to work, not to be; and when they work well they can be well. — Dr. Henry Hyde Salter, 1864

In past generations, this was the stuff fathers incited and mothers lost sleep over—jumping dirt bikes across the canal, tackle football in the cul-de-sac with the neighborhood kids, or letting a son sort out his differences among school bullies with his own two fists. A boy learned masculine work ethic and virtues from an early age as he labored alongside his old man, much the same way the clueless Thao learned from Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino.

Fathers have an essential role in introducing some measure of danger into their sons lives and guiding them through it. It may be the danger of a chainsaw or the presence of a beautiful woman, but it’s from fathers that a boy learns how to navigate these daunting obstacles with skill and come out the other side with confidence.  

Our sons, however, are generally raised in an over-regulated world of safetyism, often with far too much motherly oversight. Their lives are obsessively manicured from birth so they can be the next Tiger-Woods-like Outlier. We fret over their grades, schedule parent-supervised play dates, and idolize the hope of a college acceptance letter from a prestigious university. Not surprisingly, our sons turn out to be risk averse and timid, unable to build a career or embark on a lasting relationship.

The solution is simple: Let them fail. Guide them. Encourage them that challenges and frustration are important teachers. Welcome scraped knees, bruised noggins, multiple stitches, and crushing disappointments. In a wind-swept world of adversity, teach your sons to be a fire wishing for the wind to energize them, not a candle afraid of a slight breeze. 

Second, our sons have been trained primarily in emotional reasoning.

Ours is predominantly a feelings-based culture, something that could be said far less about previous generations (can you imagine a soldier on Omaha Beach telling his sergeant that he didn’t feel like fighting that day?) We’re a bunch of sissies. A lot of this can be traced back to Dr. Spock and other parenting manuals in the 70s and 80s that touted parenting for self-esteem.

In essence, the theory goes, you protect a child from anything that negatively impacts his sense of self-worth and instead shower him with praise. All sugar, no cane. Cue the onslaught of participation trophies, white college freshmen named Jaxson with more entitlement than a Kardashian and less accomplishments than a ham sandwich, and you get what Time magazine called the Me, Me, Me Generation.

Our sons, as a result, have learned from parents to idolize their feelings. What matters is not the objective truth but subjective feelings. If I feel entitled to a six-figure job right out of college, then I am. If I feel traumatized by competing worldviews, then it must be true. The result is fragile, soft-shell crab men who crumble in the face of criticism or rejection. 

Fathers in previous eras didn’t tolerate this sort of thing. Teddy Roosevelt’s father, for example, looked upon his sickly, weak-bodied son and challenged him to a higher standard: “Theodore, you have the mind, but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body. It is hard drudgery…but I know you will do it.”

Instead of falsely inflating his self-esteem or allowing him to play the asthmatic victim, Teddy’s father laid out the boy’s shortcomings and challenged him to work vigorously on a solution. He told him it would be hard. But he also shared his fatherly belief in the boy. It will be so hard. But you are up to the challenge. 

How do we stop raising a generation of soft men? We stop coddling them. We call them to the strenuous life. We set hard things before them and call them to rise to the challenge. We make things harder when they could be easier. We discipline them in love. We call our sons to rule their emotions rather than be ruled by them. 

It only works if we’re out front, embracing the adversity and challenges ourselves. Men, you have to be in the fight. 


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5 thoughts on “The Coddling of the American Man”

  1. It’s a though you were reading my mind when you wrote this! I was forced to watch my nephew be raised by my sister alone and when I attempted to provide some “fatherly” advice, I was the one who was stupid, I was the one who didn’t know what he was talking about. My nephew is now 28 years old and can not hold a job and knows more about drugs than he does any type of work or relationships.
    My son and daughter, that I raised for quite a few years on my own, are both hardworking, young adults contributing to society and supporting themselves. My son at 23 years old is supporting himself, much like I did at that age. Why…..because I raised him the same way my father raised me!
    Keep up the great work!!

  2. Mr. Conn, excellent and insightful article. I’m 62, and I deal with young men daily like this in both my full-time day job, and my part-time evening job. Raised by single mothers and hippie culture parents, they worship at the altar of popular culture and social justice, while others bow a knee to these MGTOW and Red Pill nihilist and atheist PUA gurus. Temper tantrums, disengaged from the job, self absorbed, and entitled all in one package.

  3. Not to make multiple and lengthy posts a habit, but being more introspective about this excellent article after reading it again several times, is the well articulated point about the “bastardization of American culture”. This past Friday afternoon, I was downtown Kansas City, MO for my job looking at a demolition project at a high rise office building. I found a parking spot several blocks away in a young hipster neighborhood called Quality Hill. Upon completion of my business, I trudged back to my truck. We’re still in lockdown mode until May 15, so I assume many are still out furloughed, or unemployed. Here’s what I noticed. Lots of young twenty-something and thirty-something women walking dogs, or coming out of expensive town houses and driving away in nice newer vehicles. The few young men I saw were thin, almost effeminate looking. I noticed several young men working in the coffee shops and sandwich shops. I saw mostly Hispanic men working at construction sites. My point leads here. Young men looking more effeminate, working minimum wage jobs, and young women who are working better wage earning jobs, owning homes or pricey townhouses, and driving nice new vehicles. Young men turning their noses up at trades or blue collar occupations, and trying to leverage themselves in a job market where their skills and degrees are essentially worthless. Case in point, my 33 year old girlfriend just got promoted at an emergency animal hospital. She now makes almost six figure, and drives a brand new Range Rover. While I don’t begrudge her good fortune, I at 62, with somewhat marketable skills, and many years of experience in the workplace, working both a full-time job and a part-time job, make considerably less than her, drive a 4 year old Jeep, and make 22% less than what I made in 2010. Further, in my day job, I work/worked with young single mothers (several who’ve had children out of wedlock by multiple men). While receiving lower-level wages, they also receive a plethora of supplemental social welfare benefits, along with child support payments from some of the fathers. I’ve heard them boast of receiving tax returns of several thousand dollars, yet I know they pay little in income taxes. While absent fathers, single mother households, No Fault Divorce, out of wed lock births, a very real anti-male educational system and popular culture, and I’d add, the loss of good traditionally male dominated manufacturing jobs, have devastated an entire generation of young men. Those of us in traditional faith communities, with traditional upbringings, push back and persevere, but is there enough of us, and is it a fight we can win?

  4. It is likely a boy will go through his public school years never having a man teacher, unless he is involved in baseball, basketball, football or other boy sports. Even those sports are endangered by the necessity of gender diversity. My wife and I raised two sons and a daughter. We never said of a failure, “Well, you did the best you could, and that’s what is important.” No. There is a training management principal: What was wrong, why it was wrong and how to fix it. Our oldest son retired from the Army six years ago; our daughter was medically retired from the Air Force eight years ago; and our youngest son will retire from the Army in two years. They know hard work, disappointment, success, failure and responsibility. And they know God.


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