I suspect I’m the only student at Cambridge University who lived out of garbage bags as a child. Here’s why I didn’t live the life I was meant to.
From one list kid to another: well done!
I grew up in chaos not quite as severe as this in many ways, worse in a few. The last grade I actually completed was sixth, though I officially finished eighth in various penal and psychological facilities. I hitchhiked across the continent for three years starting at age thirteen.
At age twenty four I set a goal of graduating from university by my thirtieth birthday. Two young children, working full time and sixteen credit hours a semester, excluding the semester I took off after my youngest’s birth. I met and married my husband while in school and we’ve been married almost three decades.
I made my goal by three days. Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, math and writing.
Not the best or easiest way to get ahead but don’t tell me one cannot change one’s situation and by extension change the trajectory for one’s children.
The three kids we raised in an intentionally structured stable home are all financially independent, law abiding people. My daughter’s three kids are being raised in a home with Daddy and Mommy working together to create and maintain a child-healthy environment, including a stay at home mom plan they instituted before her first pregnancy.
Dysfunction is terrible for kids. BTDT. Fixing the dysfunction isn’t easy but so worth the effort when I see my children and grandchildren thriving.
The author briefly mentions the real reason he turned his life around - he enlisted in the military and thus became disciplined. Had he not, he'd probably be in jail. Author and now activist/politician J.D. Vance is another whose life wouldn't have been worth a plugged nickel if he hadn't joined the Marines.
When my two boys were 6 and 4, my wife contracted bacterial meningitis, spent four and a half months in the hospital, and came home a quadrilateral amputee - both legs above the knee and all ten fingers below the first joint. To compensate, we threw ourselves into the task of creating as normal a life for our children as possible. Looking back, I gave them high expectations and my wife gave them discipline and a relationship with God. It worked out well. They both are living happy and successful lives and they’re both involved with helping the poor and the disadvantaged. In retrospect, I think the only really important thing was that we cared. We made our share of mistakes, but not running out on our responsibilities was the key to their eventual success.
My husband and I have been donors to charter schools for a long time. We have had dinner with graduates who have gone on to college and were succeeding there. All the students were from disadvantaged minority families. All the students at these dinners came from two parent households.
Reading Hillbilly Elegy several years ago drove home this point once again. The white children failing in the rust belt also came from broken homes. We must do better for our children - we need to change our culture. This essay nails it. We as Americans must undertake a concerted effort to build stable, nurturing two parent households where high expectations, mutual respect and delayed gratification are extolled.
I love Bari and I want her to enjoy the maximum amount of commercial and professional success......but as a comedian I am obligated to point out that her podcast with Rob about luxury beliefs is sponsored by Whole Foods where they sell almonds for $57
Thank you for this article!!!! These statistics are SO well documented, and known, yet so often ignored (by those who benefited most often). A stable two parent home is the most important factor for children to grow to live fulfilling lives. The military, and discipline, have saved more than a few who lacked that. For thousands of years, across cultures and around the globe, the “traditional” family unit has endured as the most stable and successful.
Unlike a luxury car, which is simply a choice that doesn’t hurt anyone else, these “luxury beliefs” are incredibly destructive to those who buy them.
I tell my children often that they are “privileged,” not because of the income we earn, not because they “look” white, not because they attend private school. They are “privileged” because they have two parents who love them, and each other. It is a “privilege” to which more children should benefit, and the reason we reject as parents these cultural fads that seeks to stupidly dismiss the importance of the environment in which children are raised.
Bari - I am convinced that the degree of your influence on American culture will not be understood for many years, but that it will be remarkable. In so many ways you are clearly on the right path; I encourage you to plow forward at flank speed.
Refreshing to read truth. The wisdom of the ages made illegitimacy a taboo. There is a solid reason for this. Children need a two parent home with a father as one of the parents. It is tragic that the government accelerated the growth of illegitimacy or single, unmarried mother homes through its welfare policies. Before the new welfare rules in the late 60's most children grew up in a 2 parent home. Now after 60+ years of this welfare promoting illegitimacy we have four or give generations who have never had a father in the home only a succession of males who flow in and out of the homes, don't live there, just "stay at" that address occasionally. These families often have a different father for each of the children. It is a national tragedy because these children, particularly the boys have been deprived of a loving, engaged father.
My heart is heavy reading this article from my comfortable kitchen in Los Angeles knowing how many Lost Boys must be suffering only a few miles away. This is a beautifully written and eye opening. Short of adoption I’m wondering if you have any input on what can I do to help these boys? Is there a recomended charity making a meaningful impact?
Congratulations to you Rob on your PhD studies and thank you for this article.
Fantastic work and congratulations on your accomplishments to date. You've identified a massive blind spot in the discussions about racial and economic inequality, social violence, education, etc., etc. Better families could solve more of those problems then all of the trillions in social programs, law enforcement, incarceration, drug treatment, job training, education reform, etc., combined ever could.
The child psychologist Leo Sax wrote a series of books about this matter including “Boys Adrift”, “Why Gender Natters” and “The Collapse of Parenting”. I m so glad I saw one of these on my friends coffee table one day. Obviously, he is not on CNN or NYT….
Wonderful essay and gets to the point of a (maybe "the") real crisis in our society: a paucity of true male role models. I grew up in a relatively poor household but with a completely stable family situation. Dad wasn't in the house much because he had to work two (or three) jobs but he was always there for me and my eight siblings. All nine of us went to college and moved on to stable careers. As wonderful as Mom was, it's probably a different story if she tries that on her own. Well done to you, Rob, and kudos to those who helped you on your path.
I am 62 and a life long conservative. I have espoused and been supportive of conservative social principles oh these many years. I have been mocked and vilified for these views by the sophisticated elite culture. You reap what you sow. It was “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand at age 19 that made me realize my life was my responsibility.
Stable families being key to thriving children and adults has been obvious for years. Maybe decades. Why do we resist this truth in our culture
What a heartbreaking yet completely edifying essay. Rob defines the issues, problems and solutions in a few paragraphs. LBJs not so Great Society started this downward plunge and the culture has rotted ever since. Two parent families and a male presence are what’s needed for success and those are the very things the left doesn’t want to see in lower and even middle classes. Perhaps the elites want to keep chaos going so they can stay on top?,
Profoundly moving, inspiring, and worthwhile read. Thank you for sharing Rob and Bari.