Senior Moments: The Work of Men

During my senior/18th year growing up in Sacramento, I pumped gas, washed cars, parked cars, waxed and rented skis, photographed properties for my uncle's real estate business and girls at my high school who needed photos for their modeling portfolios, and, as mentioned in a recent blog, collated-folded-sorted-stuffed papers in the bindery at a printing plant. (I should note that at 18 I assumed I was going to be a professional photographer….)

My son Whitman has no job but sells things through eBay and other venues, demonstrating a sometimes shockingly modern entrepreneurial ability to buy, trade, sell—and earn. On a good day, he makes more with a few keystrokes than I ever earned in an eight-hour day. It somehow represents the changing nature of work. When I ask him about all this, he grins and takes an almost paternal tone of patience while trying to exlpain the modern world of digital commerce to me.

But an article in today's San Francisco Chronicle about men and work in America today really shocked me as it described the trends in the workplace in general and with men in particular. 

The article paints a portrait of a world  that could not be more different than the world my father stepped into at 18, taking a job at a place (the Office of State Printing) where he would work for the next 38 years until he retired (early due to cancer). And shockingly different than the world my father-in-law Melvin occupied at 18 as he prepared to ship out to China during World War Two (his brothers going to Omaha Beach and the Alusian Islands).

I want to say I am worried about the young men I teach, and I suppose I am; but I also find them all good young men who seem not to turn away from work. What I do know is that the world is not waiting with open arms and easy jobs as it was for me, my father, or my father-in-law when they were the same age.

It was, of course, a different world then. Now we must help our sons and students learn to live in this world, a world where women and my female students appear to be much more at home and willing to do what they must to make a living so that when the work day's done they can then make a life.

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7 Responses to “Senior Moments: The Work of Men”

  1. Interesting reflections, Jim, though you made me feel a bit older by the end! I liked your concluding line, too.

  2. Meredith (@msstewart) August 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    But let’s also remember that the world of work is not an easy one for women, who, even in two income families, tend to bear a higher percentage of household work and child care and earn lower salaries than their equally educated and qualified male peers.

  3. Oh I completely agree, Meredith! This is always the problem with discussing these issues of gender, race, and other distinctions: to speak to one side suggests ignoring the other.

  4. to speak to one side suggests ignoring the other. I liked your concluding line, too.But let’s also remember that the world of work is not an easy one for women, who, even in two income families,

  5. Thanks for the comments, Sports Good. Believe me, as I watch my sister raise two girls now in their teens on her own and struggle with all the challenges that come her way, I am always mindful of the challenges unique to women. And, as you say, those in two income families, simply have their own challenges–doubled! Thanks for the response.

  6. The changes are truly amazing. But is it a line, a circle, or maybe a coil? As a parent of one of your seniors who came of age in the 80’s, we could easily see that we were a jaded lot and getting more so. We all assumed the next generation would extend that line. But as far as I can tell that did not happen. Instead this generation sings campfire songs and seems to crave connection. In other words, things look more old then they look new in many ways. Might the coil turn, lets say, once around each 80 years? The next twenty years might, dare I say it, look more like the 30’s and 40’s than the time you came of age. Perhaps the lack of “open arms” or “easy work” is exactly about that. On the other side, no veterans ever returned from war more celebrated than did those returning from WWII. So, as we look out on these seniors, might this be before us the new generation of heros? Heros become heros through what becomes demanded of them and how they face those challenges. It might be reasonable to consider that, depending on what the years immediately ahead bring, your son’s paternal tone my be just beginning …

  7. I really like this line in your thoughtful response, Kim: “Instead this generation sings campfire songs and seems to crave connection. In other words, things look more old then they look new in many ways.” This captures so much!

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