As a millennial, I often feel my life is just a little behind schedule. I graduated high school into the Great Recession and spent my twenties finishing a graduate program that led to little but a series of low-paying teaching gigs. As I approach thirty-four, single, childless, with no prospects of ever owning a home, I still don’t feel like a full-fledged adult. It’s hard to imagine that at my age, my dad was just a couple of more chapters away from finishing that Tom Clancy novel that he’d been keeping on his bedside table for years.
I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m shrugging off personal responsibility, but my whole generation seems to lack a serious work ethic. We were promised we could be whatever we wanted and patted on the back for taking selfies and resetting the Wi-Fi. My dad, on the other hand, knew the value of hard work. Can you believe that at my age, he spent night after night, week after week, picking up that same dog-eared paperback copy of Patriot Games, making seemingly no progress toward finding out how Jack Ryan went from a well-to-do investment banker and history professor to enemy number one of a splinter group of the PIRA?
Personally, I still have even more to find out. I don’t know how to change my oil or rotate my tires. They didn’t teach me these things in graduate school, that’s for sure. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical, but sometimes, I feel like half the man my dad was at my age. He was the kind of man who was eagerly telling everyone at dinner about how good Tom Clancy is because he really knows his stuff, and how he’s “just a couple pages” away from the big showdown between Jack Ryan and the Lybians, or maybe the Lybians are the good guys—he’s not sure.
All I’m sure of is that it’ll be years before I even meet someone I can settle down with. Yes, I’ve had my fair share of long-term relationships, but they’ve always ended when we realize we’re just not compatible. Can you imagine that at the same age I am today, my dad was already telling my mom he’d help with the dishes after he finished this next chapter of Patriot Games, only to be heard loudly snoring five minutes later? And then she’d come in and ask him to at least dry the dishes, and he’d say he’ll be there as soon as he knows Jack Ryan’s unborn son is safe. And then he’d promptly fall back asleep. Me? I didn’t even know Caroline “Cathy” Muller-Ryan was pregnant.
I know it was a different time, but I can’t help but feel that society is worse off now that men no longer make it three quarters of the way through a Tom Clancy novel and then make it their only small talk for years. I look around at my peers and see a listless, lost generation, full of men who could never struggle to reread a single chapter of Patriot Games. Today’s men would never be shocked to discover that Geoffrey Watkins was the mole the whole time. They wouldn’t also then need to flip back and reread some more because they only half-remembered who Geoffry Watkins was. Was he the prince of Wales? Honestly, I can’t see my peers ever coming close to almost finishing Patriot Games, or The Cardinal of the Kremlin, or even Threat Vector.
It’s just so hard to wrap your head around the fact that not so long ago, so many men came so close to finishing a single Tom Clancy book. And now? I wouldn’t even know where to start.