Dude Ranch Masculinity

When it comes to our children, parents cultivate a remarkable ability to delude themselves. This is probably a very good quality from an evolutionary standpoint because, otherwise, it might be impossible for individuals to continue to shoulder their parental duties for offspring who are ungrateful, bratty, annoying, weird, or just plain unsatisfactory. Finding a way to make peace with the fact that these people are our children—we created them, we reared them, we set the stage for the individuals they’ve become—when whoever it is that stands before us looks or sounds or believes nothing we recognize, makes it tricky for parents to delight in the decades’ long process of parenting while retaining our very sanity. Oh sure, there are those kids whose differences delight and inspire us, but let’s not gloss over those troubling situations where we’re not too thrilled with the what’s looking like the final product of our efforts and more than a little perplexed what to do about it.


The lengths some parents will go to in order to help their offspring prepare for life is legendary. Tiger mother. Helicopter parent. Mini-me narcissism. Our fierce desire to protect our children from the unkindnesses the world can inflict impels many parents to pursue outlandish strategies—all well intentioned, but at times spectacularly ill conceived. An example that takes the cake for me is one mother’s determination to send her reclusive and very babied, nearly-grown son to a dude ranch for a week, where he can, “learn to be a man.” (These are her words, not those of a promotional brochure.) This poor kid couldn’t complete his school’s phys ed requirement rationalizing that badminton was too taxing for him—so how’s he gonna rope a steer? Everything about this idea horrifies me. I mean, the possibility that seven days at a dude ranch for a young fellow who has happily spent every single night of his life playing video games while one or both parents slept nearby, well, I predict trauma not transformation, mixed in with a whole lot of head scratching from the cowboys who are charged with his initiation into manhood. We need not trouble ourselves with further speculation.


Still, what this Dude Ranch Hail Mary demonstrates to me is the absolute anguish his mother must feel. Convincing herself that this wild grasping at straws (the passive father just nods—nice job, hon) is the ticket to reversing seventeen years of unfortunate parenting. What part of this is reasonable? And is this approach truly designed to help him or to make his mom feel better? It’s true that this young man is noticeably odd and has been poorly socialized, so it makes sense that his parents would feel concerned, but the fact that they’re placing their bets that a week at a dude ranch will remedy these matters astounds me. It’s not about whether or not the boy is “sufficiently masculine” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but for those who don’t come by it naturally, independence of thought or action must be cultivated over a long, long period of time.


His example is dramatic, yes, but the same challenge exists for more “normal seeming” people who do exactly what they’re told. Just because they have better social skills and can pass through the day without drawing stares doesn’t mean that critical thinking skills exist. How many people can you think of who have never strayed from the path set out before them, either because they’re too scared, find themselves “too deep” into it, or (more likely) it never occurs to them to dare to live a different life? People get confused when trying their best to conduct themselves “as a family man should” or as “a loyal daughter,” “diligent student,” or “responsible member of society/family/group.” They ascribe to a code that’s been imposed upon them. Whether it’s the dad who automatically agrees to whatever his wife declares, the child who enters the profession his parents have mandated, or the senior citizen who refuses to consider a different way of aging than exactly what her parents modeled. How is this any different from a gang code? Now that you think about it this way, they’re in a pickle not too dissimilar from that of our young friend.


The reason I chose this tragic and glaring example of unwarranted feebleness is to sensitize you to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there’s an aspect of your life that presents parallels. We do it, too. A re-booter strives to remember this before it’s too late; no Dude Ranch in the world can save us from ourselves.



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