Monthly Archives: March 2015

To Sir, With Love


Actually, this was the title of a classic film from the 60’s. It had a famous soundtrack with a great song by Petula Clark. I’m aging myself, and that’s what this post is really all about. I’ve now noticed that everywhere I go people keep calling me “sir” – even old guys at church, gentlemen that I would refer to as sir – they are now calling me “sir” – what’s happened?

Have I all of sudden aged? Maybe. The past few years have been unusually severe. But I can’t imagine it would turn me into a “sir” – maybe a “bub” or “crackpot” – but whenever I hear “sir” I recoil with a slight shock. Are we as a society suddenly becoming very proper? I doubt it.

My students send me emails addressing me as “hey.” I’m not a professor so much as just another tweet. We had Christmas stockings hung in our college and all the faculty members had their first names only spelled out. All very casual. No danger of too much respect happening here.

Every now and then I run across a young man who will say “yes, sir” over and over.  He’s been well-trained and full of respectful interaction conduct. During those rare exchanges I feel like I’ve fallen into a military academy. Sometimes it’s a little over the top.

Is there a bigger application here? The last census reported that a third of our children live without their biological father. How do kids, especially young males, learn respect for authority figures like teachers, police, coaches, ministers and older relatives? How successful can this be in a single-parent home (usually a home with a single mom and no male father figure present)?

My point is that the fabric that holds our society together is stitched with all kinds of common values and practices. When we aren’t able to pass on much that we have in common, like how to demonstrate respect or live/work together in an orderly fashion, then we start to experience a kind of disintegration that keeps each one of us from thriving as well as we could. Those kids who were raised in fragmented homes end up missing out on valuable elements of social capital (habits, attitudes and behaviors) that benefit them once they begin their ascent into the larger society.

I’m not suggesting all our problems would be solved if we all started calling each other “sir.” What I mean is that all the little ways that we treat each other begins to reveal how well we’re actually held together as a society of real people. And… sitting around in a room full of strangers glued to your cell phone isn’t doing much to keep our fabric from fraying.



Motherhood and Role Strain


I got a great blog post sent to me this past week by my dean. It’s all about the role of motherhood these days here in America. The writer traces the ways it has been overcomplicated and presents contradictory expectations to young women and families. It’s a great read that I highly recommend:

We’ve Overcomplicated Motherhood Because We Don’t Like It

I was thinking about this article today when I overheard a celebrity on a talk show recounting the narrative of her recent courtship, marriage and birth of first child. I can’t remember if it went in that order, you know how it is these days. She said something very much off the cuff that stuck with me. She was talking about her wedding and she said something like , “we’re a modern couple so having a wedding wasn’t important to us.” I wondered what she meant by that.

Since 1960 the percentage of Americans 18 and older who are divorced or have never married has doubled (from 20% to 40%). I’m not sure that being modern means that people don’t want to get married, I think what’s happened is that young adults are afraid of failure. Marriage and all that it represents can seem like a daunting challenge, especially with the failures of their own parents’ relationship and some of the way’s it’s been overcomplicated. In a recent Pew study, 55% of American singles reported that they were not in a relationship and were NOT even looking for a partner. Over half the single population has given up on marriage (or even living together).

All of this brings me back to a concept that my sociology students were trying to learn last week. Role Strain describes the phenomenon of being overwhelmed by the expectations coming at us from a single social position we occupy, like being a mom, a dad or a spouse. Sometimes this “job” is just too much.

  • The expectations become unrealistic. Television, books, friends, and family can pressure us into believing we’ve got to get everything just right.
  • The lack of a support system often makes being a parent and/or spouse even more difficult. As our families become more fragmented we lose connection with an extended family that can provide experience and resources to help ease normal strains.

We experience role strain because we can’t physically, mentally, socially, or spiritually manage some of these expectations. These strains can come and go with each stage of a role but a feeling of strain can also persist with the everyday expectations and solitary nature of many family situations. The Overcomplicated Motherhood blog post details much about these kinds of unrealistic expectations.

It was interesting to read my young college students’ examples of role strain. Many chose parenting or being a spouse. It was discouraging to see the level of fatal and insurmountable difficulty that they imagine for their possible futures.

Americans have built an instant gratification society. we really don’t like to suffer discomfort. We don’t even like to wait too long in the drive-thru line!

No wonder marriage and family are fading. It costs much and our collective character is too weak to bear the burden.

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”   – Donna Ball