May 26, 2018
Michael Rotondo in front of parents' home
Last week, a judge in New York ruled that a 30-year-old man must move out of his childhood home on June 1 after his parents served him with several notices asking him to go. The ruling inadvertently exposed a hidden truth: The boys are not all right.
A generation of damaged boys are turning into impaired men and, as seen by the mocking coverage of this case, we’re treating this development like a joke, encouraged to ridicule and condemn them for it.
For months, Mark and Christina Rotondo asked son Michael to vacate their home. He had lived with them for eight years and, as he approached his 31st birthday, his parents set deadlines encouraging him to leave. They provided him with guidance and gave him money to move on, which he proceeded to spend on other things.
Michael, meanwhile, claimed he didn’t want to remain in their home, especially after they took him off the family phone plan, but he couldn’t seem to motivate out the actual door.
The story is a terrifying real-life version of the 2006 romantic comedy “Failure to Launch” starring Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker. In it, McConaughey’s parents, desperate to get their grown son out of the house, hire Parker to help them do that.
But what was a hilarious premise in 2006 is all too real in 2018. The Rotondo family story is a warning to modern families with no Hollywood love story at the end. While the media lambast Michael as an “entitled millennial,” that only tells part of the story. What’s happening is an all-out failure in how we are raising boys.
A Pew Research poll from 2016 showed that men age 18-36, exactly Michael Rotondo’s demographic, were more likely to be living at home with their parents than alone, with a roommate or with a partner. That’s a startling statistic, especially as the same isn’t true for women. We can’t blame this stagnation on the entitlement of the millennial generation when half of that generation is living their lives as intended.
Part of the problem is we’ve been encouraging girls at the expense of boys. The language of empowerment we use around girls is absent from how we talk to boys. The expectation that males will succeed just because they are male has been smashed, just like feminists wanted, but now what? To shrug our shoulders and not care what happens to a generation of young men is to produce a generation of Michael Rotondos, adrift and living at home as they enter their 30s.
It doesn’t help that this demographic is also finding it so hard to get, and stay, employed. An Economic Policy Institute report from February found that men are absent from the workforce in large numbers. This is a big change from the past. The report noted that “in 1979, only 6.3 percent of prime-age men did not work at all over the course of a year, but that number nearly doubled to 11.9 percent in 2016.” The telling thing is that there isn’t widespread concern about this; instead there is a celebration that women are outpacing men at school and at work.
A 2010 study by psychologist Judith Kleinfeld in the journal Gender Issues found that boys’ issues were going unaddressed. Boys, the study found, had “higher rates of suicide, conduct disorders, emotional disturbance, premature death and juvenile delinquency than their female peers, as well as lower grades, test scores and college attendance rates.”
It’s no wonder a generation of boys are growing into fearful adults who would rather live in their childhood room, and sleep on their old Superman sheets washed by Mom, than take a chance in a world for which they are unprepared.
The rising prominence of Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is a development of this. He has been described as a “father figure” to this group of lost boys. His controversial speeches, which are attended overwhelmingly by men and offer direction on getting their lives in order — to literally “clean up their room” — is taking the place of parents who have failed to instruct their children to do the same.
The fact that Peterson’s YouTube videos go viral to a majority male audience, and his book “Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos” is a bestseller, is significant. Despite some of his questionable ideas (such as if white privilege even exists), Peterson is speaking directly to men about something that has become a rarity in our “Future is Female” world.
We tell girls they are amazing and unstoppable by virtue of their gender while telling boys they have to somehow overcome their gender to be great. The result is a slumping male, unsure how to live his life, forced to watch YouTube videos to figure it out.
The Rotondos are right to force Michael to live his own life; they don’t owe him support this far into adulthood. But the message of this case should be taken to heart by us all.
Michael isn’t alone in his failure to launch; there are many others like him. We mock him at our own peril.
We need to start teaching boys how to “clean up their rooms” or not be so surprised that grown-up men still live in them.