I try not to let things that others write get under my skin these days, but unfortunately David's Brooks recent opinion piece, Men on the Threshold, is something that requires a response.
The article has a lot of things that bother me, but perhaps the one that grates the most is the suggestion, "that men raised in fatherless homes, without as many immediate masculine role models, do worse in the labor force." I come from a fatherless home and so that makes this article a little personal for me.
I have never been a fan of broad generalizations about people. There are just too many exceptions to the rule when you talk about humankind. Brooks should also be careful about defining the road to success for others. If he has done anything other than write, teach a couple of courses, or pontificate, I cannot find it, but if I am wrong on that score I would be glad to amend my post.
Matt Taibbi does a good job of taking apart the statistics from Brook's column in a Rolling Stone article, David Brooks Wonders Why Men Can't Find Jobs. My comments are more of a personal nature.
Perhaps Mr. Brooks should have taken a trip into the real North Carolina when he was teaching at Duke in 2006. I was 57 years old and actually working at a startup then just across the border in Virginia. The CEO was younger than my older daughter. Brooks suggests the following.
A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things.
I would disagree. There are plenty of examples of people doing jobs which Brooks might find "humiliating," but most men will do whatever it takes to take care of their family. While he might not want to take orders from someone under thirty, I did not mind being told what to do. What was challenging was watching young team members reinvent the wheel because they were so certain that no one had ever faced the same problems that they were uncovering. Young companies can be a little like young adults, they often have to learn the hard way. I find Brooks' between the lines suggestion that older workers cannot be savvy a classic case of ageism. I try always to respect the knowledge of others, but I certainly think that I can hold my own in the world of technology.
Obviously David, whose pieces I sometimes enjoy, never got the chance the meet my mother, Blanche Styers Sobotta. She raised me back in the fifties and sixties before fatherless homes were as common as they are today.
I doubt that there could have been a better example of hard work, dedication to family, and the hope of a better life for the next generation. Mother did not have an executive job, she worked as a beautician. The hours were long and every Saturday morning she set aside time to cut and fix the hair of close relatives for free.
Blanche did not just raise me, she had a hand in raising her many nieces and nephews. In a sense her spirit and efforts gave them and other family members a taste of what life off the farm might bring.
She was the only one of the three Styers sisters who ever lived beyond the red clay of Yadkin County, North Carolina. They were all born there by their father Walter's millpond in the days of horses and buggies. She started cooking for her brothers and sisters at the age of eight when her mother died in the 1918 flu pandemic. She was also the only one of the sisters to ever drive a car on an Interstate highway or to fly to another country.
Mother managed to see that I went away to McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for my high school years. McCallie was a military school in those days, but I knew how to study hard long before I got there. Mother would accept nothing less than the best even when I was in grade school.
From McCallie I went to Harvard and after graduating built a cattle operation in the hills just north of Fredericton, New Brunswick. After that I had a career that lasted almost twenty years at Apple. I have known a lot of CEOs over the years, and I have no doubt that my mother could have outworked any of them. Anyone who knew her would agree.
Mother, who lived to the age of ninety-three and six months, resided in our family home at 347 West Pine, Mount Airy, North Carolina, until she was ninety. She was able to stay there for so many years after she became a widow because R.J. Berrier, a family friend, lived upstairs until his death in 2000. During his career of 50 years in the press, R.J. was an editor at both local papers, but I remember him most for his Mount Airy After Midnight columns.
R.J. would get in police cars and ride around with local patrolmen. Unlike television's Mayberry, which is modeled after Mount Airy, things did happen and R.J. was there to see them and report the events from a first hand perspective. It is a lesson that I have taken to heart in my writing. Before I wrote about the beaches of Emerald Isle, I walked the more than twelve miles of beach in the town more than once.
There are plenty of others who have grown up in fatherless homes who have gone on to show they can work hard and achieve success just like those who grow up in homes with a father. In New York you do not have to look very far for examples. My older daughter was at high school with Tiki and Rhonde Barber. I got to see Tiki score some touchdowns before he went on to the University of Virginia. While Tiki has had some personal challenges no one can take away the success he and his brother have achieved. I am not surprised that they were raised by a strong woman without a male in the house.
You can read more about the influence of my mother in my recent book, The Road To My Country.