While having a drink with a friend in a neighborhood bar a couple years ago, a distraught-looking woman approached us and started chatting. We engaged in typical barroom banter until she introduced herself as the mother of a guy I had met in the same bar almost two years before: Mitch, who introduced himself to me then because he recognized me from my column in a local newspaper.
Our conversation lasted only a few minutes, but I remembered the encounter because Mitch seemed to be troubled.
While talking about her son, Mitch’s mother told me that he described having meeting me then with the words, “I talked with the guy from the newspaper.” She also described Mitch’s suicide note to her, and at this she shed some tears. Mitch’s problem, as I learned sometime later, was an addiction to heroin that he could not shake.
By the end of the night I had promised her that I would check out a Suicide Prevention event she was organizing. After that I thought about the suicides that had affected my life in some way:
- A school chum of my brother’s shot himself while a student at a Washington, D.C. college in the 1970s. This A student, who used to decorate his bicycle with Barry Goldwater for President bumper stickers, had been on the Dean’s List.
- A “full of life” female friend of mine who died of a prescription drug and alcohol overdose in the bathtub of her home.
- My uncle who hung himself in a motel after years of drifting from job to job along with fighting bouts of depression and alcoholism. I was 14 when my mother announced his death. He was a tall good looking man who resembled the actor Tyrone Power.
Sometime later I happened upon an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Miles Groth, who posited that suicide among young males is four times more common than among young females. Not only that, but suicide is now occurring at younger ages, in the early teens. With males, Dr. Groth said that one problem may be the relationship between fathers and sons, such as young males not having had a father in boyhood. He cites other issues as well, such as body image and relationships with women. “Young males are very impulsive, more than females, and they act without thinking,” he said.
Dr. Groth elaborated on this theme in a 2014 interview, in which he said that men and boys have come to hate themselves:
This is a result of the image portrayed of them and of the roles they are compelled to play, but also given what they hear about themselves and, especially as young boys, come to believe about themselves. As a result of self-hate, the suicide rate of boys and men has increased at an alarming rate over the last twenty years. It is 4-6 times higher in teenage males than in female peers. The life expectancy of males is about seven years less than for females, compared to a two-year difference a century ago. College courses that are pro-male are now necessary to offset the misandric curriculum.
“Misandry” means contempt for men, but you don’t hear that word very much these days because it has been trumped by the word “misogyny,” thanks to the antics of third-wave feminism.
The month of September may be National Suicide Month, but every month needs to be a suicide month of sorts. The transitory nature of many of life’s problems which lead some to take their own lives — a broken love affair, a job loss, drug addiction (“There’s no hope for me”), the loss of financial security, or a startling medical diagnosis — can, over time, turn into quite manageable situations.
Robert Gebbia writes that studies show men are less likely than women to say they would tell anyone they were considering suicide. Here we have a reworking of that old stereotype: men hold things inside, and are less likely to reveal their feelings. Isolation makes young men feel inadequate and angry. This can sometimes lead to thoughts of self-directed violence.
An essential side note to this topic is the current role of men and boys in American society. According to Dr. Groth, the rise of certain strands of feminism have devalued the essential role of men — even though a certain devaluation of men and boys has always been present in our culture. He cites that Father’s Day did not appear until 1966, while Mother’s Day was instituted in 1905. Why did it take so long for America to recognize fathers?
Today on college campuses, it’s hardly permissible even to talk about men’s issues. Men are seen as the primary advocates of sexism, as perpetrators of rape, so-called “male privilege,” and the “patriarchy.” Dr. Groth cites a university lecture about boys and men in contemporary society that was held at the University of Ottawa which drew a number of hecklers. The hecklers seemed to believe that “men’s issues” were not something to take seriously.
There does seem to be something bizarre happening to boys and men in contemporary American society. No matter where you turn, you’ll discover another alarming statistic that points to the continued devaluation of men. Consider Dr. Groth’s statement that the number of men attending college today is at an all-time low (37% nationally).
Niobe Way writes in her book Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendship and the Crisis of Connection that the problem with young American men can often be traced to “[t]he loss of the male role models … the father figure. The majority of children of divorce are raised by their moms. There are a portion of children who have very limited contact with their dad. The loss of a male role model is very significant for young men who are developing their gender identities.”
Much of the problem then goes back to single mother households.
But say this in front of a television audience, and you would likely cause an uprising, as Ann Coulter discovered several years ago while talking about her book Demonic on Father Albert’s show Hot Under the Collar. Furious women in the audience booed Coulter as she manifestly stated — and proved with statistics — that “[w]omen who get pregnant out of wedlock should give up their kids for adoption.”
That didn’t stop Coulter, who added: “If you were in the womb right now and if you could choose whether to be black, white, rich, poor, the one thing you should hope for as a child in the womb is: ‘My parents are married.’”
I don’t know whether Mitch was born into a traditional family with a mother and a father, but I do know that at the time of his death there was certainly no father present, and I suspect that this was the case while he was growing up. Just like so many kids in Philadelphia, where single mother homes constitute more than 60% of the population.