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If You Love Me, Please Read ThisA Challenge to the Men in Generation X and Y from the People Who Love Them
By Art Heemer Marilyn Wilson Miller Sharon Lilly Runyon
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Art Heemer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIntroduction: There is a Problem
You see it in their eyes. When they look my way, I'm sure they're thinking, "I'm glad it's not my son." or, "What did they do wrong?" After all, it's what I might be thinking. How could things have gone so wrong with this child? The other kids are far from perfect, but well-adjusted, hard working, and living life. What did we miss? Did I not care enough, or too much? How can I reach this young man?
To the one who may be considering buying this for a young man as a gift:
There is a problem and it could end the society we have come to know and expect. Many of today's young men who are reaching the age of adulthood, estimated at 10 million in the U.S., seem to lack the training and skills necessary to be viable and vibrant Christians and productive, fulfilled citizens. Of course, I don't mean every young man is coping poorly with life, but we hear increasing commentary from worried parents, wives, girlfriends, siblings, friends, and employers about the fact that they know many young men whose lives seem to lack direction, focus, goals, motivation, and ambition. This trend is evident in the behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and values of these young men.
These are the young men of Generation X and Generation Y. Those in Gen X were born from the early 1960s through the late 1970s, while Gen Y came on the scene from the early 1980s through the late 1990s. Gen X is estimated to be a population of 23 million American males and Gen Y is estimated to be a population of 30 million American males. That is a pool of over 53 million young men of which 10 million are estimated to be affected young men and represent roughly 20 percent of this cohort. I am amazed at the number of people who claim that this estimate may be much too low!
So, what is the big deal with these men? What manifestations, attitudes, and behaviors do they exhibit, that would label them as dysfunctional? What is the commentary on a sizable portion of this cohort of young adults? The people they interact with on a daily basis, their family, friends, and employers, can best answer these questions.
It goes something like this.
"He's so gifted and full of such great potential, but he can't seem to stick to anything."
"He doesn't work and doesn't communicate with our family. He stays up all night on the Internet and sleeps all day."
"He can't hold a job, and it doesn't seem to bother him. We are out of answers."
"What turned my, once-cute little brother into this wreck of a man?"
"We grew up together. This is not the guy who used to protect me from bullies as we walked to school."
"We could just kick him out, but he might not survive."
"He is just drifting, as if his only goal is to make it through another day."
"His lifestyle and his professed claim to be a Christian do not match up. He's self-centered and only weakly committed to the kids and me. He gives the expected performance on Sunday and he's a mess the rest of the week."
"He's so troubled, but he won't talk to anyone. He'd rather self-medicate with excess food, alcohol, or drugs. I can't seem to make him understand how much I need him to step up and be the man of the house."
"We would promote him to a higher position in the company, but he lacks the values and discipline necessary for advancement. It's a shame."
These are examples of what parents, wives, sisters, friends, and employers say about the young men in their lives. We, the people who care about these young men, need to be asking some questions.
How did this happen?
Consider this. Young boys grow up and learn what is "normal" by observing the culture, adults, and situations they encounter around them. The TV and movies that young boys watch encode their attitudes, beliefs, and values for when they become men (attitude, belief, and value will be defined later). Do not think the funny TV shows depicting men as lazy, stupid, bumbling, shiftless, unproductive, valueless, never rewarded for gentleness, cold, distant, or glamorizing the player lifestyle aren't being processed by those young minds. These distorted portrayals of men are linked to humorous sitcoms; the messages are pleasantly viewed; and because children are rarely debriefed at the end of a night of TV watching, they tend to have an insidious effect.
Learning normalcy is also influenced by the presence or absence of intentional, instructional training and disciplined life lessons on the role of a man in society. The stresses of two parents working to keep families financially solvent combined with the shortcomings of latchkey realities, exhaustive after-school schedules, and weekend activities, leave limited time for quality training and nurture options. We are not passing judgment. It is what it is.
The Church should admit to some accountability here, too. Rarely do religious education programs intentionally develop curriculum to teach boys how to internalize and apply Christian principles and behaviors, as they become adolescents and adults interacting with the world. There are no "lab sessions," practicum experiences, or role-playing exercises to aid adolescents with the development of correct attitudes, beliefs, and values. These are the ways we train teachers, doctors, and lawyers in our culture. A former pastor I know has said that he felt these ways were too "worldly" for use in the Church. I think he is sadly mistaken. Just because a technique isn't expressly ordained in Holy Scripture doesn't really mean it couldn't be used effectively.
Church leaders who count warm bodies in the pews as evidence that they have fulfilled their mission to their parishioners, but who do not also invest in developing Christian men of strength and vitality, will see these men drift away. These young men will rarely achieve their God-ordained potential. The real tragedy in all of this is the loss of peace, joy, and fulfillment by these men and a continuation of the cycle of despair into the next generation will become increasingly probable. We grieve for these young men, for their families, for their troubled relationships with women, for their children, and for their careers. We grieve for the little children of the next generation, who view all this dysfunction as normal. Financial stability will erode and families will implode.
In most cases, loving parents, who respect each other and their children, seem to pass stable lifestyle values down to the next generation. Even so, a family can exhibit stable values and lifestyles, but a young person can still drift away. This book is not about affixing blame. Too many parents, wives, girlfriends, and others are engaged in that useless pursuit. Affixing blame is a fool's game, where no one wins and young men keep slipping away. Now is the time for doing, not blaming. Our prayer is that this little book can have a part in pointing your young man toward a vision of his true potential-his new beginning. You know him and realize what he could become with the correct guidance. We think a copy of If You Love Me, Please Read This will help him sort out some issues in his life and show him where he may be confused as to how to get his life pointed in the right direction.
Let's face it:
Our young men are where they find themselves due to countless variables (cultural, familial, situational, and individual), that have had an impact in their lives-the attitudes, beliefs, and values they internalized, and the choices they made about their priorities for living their individual lives. They have followed their individual free moral will and at some point they have made the decisions (or neglected to make decisions) that have placed them exactly where they find themselves today. We cannot even place the blame solely at their feet. These men have grown up in a world of dual-paycheck households with latchkey care structures. They belong to blended families with four parents and eight grandparents, who made sure the toy boxes were always well stocked. They have the latest high-tech gadgets and the lightening quick information capabilities of the Internet at their fingertips to satisfy an astounding instant gratification mindset, which is immersed in a post-Christian and increasingly secular culture where values and ethics are more fluidly expressed in cultural norms than ever before in this society. That is the demographic of this group. The traditional underpinnings of 1950s America are absent and may not return. These variables of material excess and spiritual minimization have given rise to behavioral manifestations of alienation and loss of motivation. Consequently, these young men are unsure of their intended role in life. There is quite enough accountability to go around.
So what happened?
Life happened. Parents do not always get the children they deserve. They are dealing with the adults those children have decided to become. Parents, loved ones, and concerned friends just want these young men to make a move toward growing up and accepting responsibility for their lives.
As we were struggling with what to say to encourage you to place this little book in the hands of your troubled young men, Marilyn Miller, one of my co-authors, had the best take on all of this when she stated:
"We have no blame to place here. We don't know all the whys, but we do know that God's plan for your young man-your son/brother/ husband/boyfriend/friend/employee-is to live an abundant life. God promised that.
You are not alone. Thousands of other parents and concerned people in this country share your pain. If these pages help you, or help him in some way, then to God be the glory. We understand your love, concern, and pain; we understand your feelings of helplessness. We only seek to provide a first step for the young man in your life-to consider a step back from the cliff of no return. Perhaps this book will offer him a glimpse of a fuller life ahead."
This book was written to address a staggering need in the world today. Due to the phenomenon of young men who are unsure of their role as men, husbands, fathers, and productive citizens, the infrastructure of the family unit is being damaged. Young men who are not achieving their full potential are having a negative impact on the economy of their family units as well as the national economy. The trickle-down effect to the next generation is going to be exponentially worse if things continue without correction. The need is evident, urgent, and immediate. We must address this problem clearly, passionately, and forcefully.
What can be done?
We-Marilyn, Sharon, and I-have scoured the Christian resources for materials to place in the hands of the troubled young men we know, but we have found nothing! There are bits and pieces scattered throughout the secular shelves, but nothing exists in compact form with an overarching Christian worldview. This project was born out of that discovery. We hope you will give this book to a young man who holds the promise of great potential and achievement.
To the guys who receive this book:
We wrote this book to young men in an attempt to fill the gap between where you find yourself and what you might aspire to become. Our goal has been to be bold, but with the "churchliness" kept to a minimum. However, since you are reading this, you may see the words God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit thrown in occasionally. Do not panic! It will be okay. I maintain that help is often found in the craziest places. We are going to build on your foundation. We are going to strengthen that foundation and expand your vision of what you can really become as a vital, fulfilled man. You will learn, step-by-step, how to identify your unique growth issues and how to attack each one systematically. It is our prayer that this process will allow you to see God's vision for you, and that your vision of your true potential will interface with God's purpose for your life. We want you to see yourself clearly-your strengths and weaknesses-so you can begin to make the necessary adjustments as a man, boyfriend, husband, father, and valuable contributor in the business world, so that you will become all you were intended to achieve-capable of great things.
If you are not Christian:
We may be accused of neglecting young men of Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths, or even the agnostics who want more stability in their lives. While Christian young men are the primary audience for this book, those from other faith traditions and spiritual worldviews may find applicable thoughts for their unique issues and lives. As the Jewish folks say about chicken soup given for colds, "It couldn't hurt!"
Who is writing this book?
We are one man and two women doing this project. The man, Art, was a troubled young man, who found his way out of a dysfunctional childhood and into a committed Christian life and lifestyle. The two women, Sharon and Marilyn, have lived lives of purpose and commitment to their Christian values. All three of us know young men drifting through life who we hope might benefit from this resource. Sharon Runyon (also a co-author) has developed a women's ministry in Michigan, called Oasis. She interacts with the girlfriends, wives, and mothers of these troubled young men, who are painfully watching the young men they love live unfulfilled lives of dysfunction with little hope for a better future. Her initial idea and our discussions have lead to this book. Marilyn Miller has a long history of working with Christian organizations and interacts with young men and their loved ones.
We meet mothers and wives of young men who raise these issues on a regular basis. We see the pain in their eyes as they relate their concerns. We want to help the young men in these women's lives achieve their full potential. To this end, we have committed our training, our talents, and our resources. We are trying to help break some of the generational cycles that do such a disservice to young men in too many places.
So, strap in, guys; here we go!
Chapter TwoWhat Gives Me the Right to Talk to You?
It's a valid question. I am about to tell you some very pointed things. You might even think I am speaking like an expert in the matter of troubled, abused, and dysfunctional young men.
I am an expert. Allow me to prove my point. I was such a troubled young man. I was born into a dysfunctional home. My mother lost the first baby she carried and blamed my father, who beat her regularly. They separated and divorced early in my life. She became a prostitute and wandered the country. I was given to my father. He was not up to the task of raising me. When my uncle, my father's eldest brother, came to pick me up "for a few days," he found a two-year-old eating a breakfast of moldy corn flakes and sour milk alone in the apartment. I am told I was left unsupervised quite a bit of the time. So, off I went to my uncle's home.
My uncle meant well, but he did not confer with his wife on the matter. She was already caring for five children of her own and was not thrilled to have another child in the house. I stayed in that home for fifteen and a half years. Those years were filled with psychological and physical abuse.
My aunt once tried to drown me as I was taking a bath. To this day, I do not know what triggered her action or what stopped her from killing me. I was about eight years old at the time. I can remember holding my breath, just looking into her eyes. She must have held me under for about twenty seconds. She suddenly let go and walked away. That day I began to believe in guardian angels. She and I never discussed the incident, but I pondered it often.
She viciously attacked with kitchen implements and publicly humiliated me often. She purposely underfed me as a teenager, and I was not allowed to sit with the family for meals. I had to eat in the kitchen standing at the counter. All the while, I mowed the grass, pulled the weeds, took out the trash, and shoveled the snow without being told. I would mow lawns in the summer and shovel driveways in the early mornings before school in the winter, but I was not allowed to keep any of the money. I put the money I earned in her hand and never saw it again, even though they were not a poor family-my uncle was a corporate president.
Excerpted from If You Love Me, Please Read This by Art Heemer Marilyn Wilson Miller Sharon Lilly Runyon Copyright © 2010 by Art Heemer. Excerpted by permission.
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