Boys will be … men … maybe
By Ed. Lange
Scruffy the Wonder Dog and I took a walk in the woods in late autumn. The trees had long since shed their shawls in anticipation of the coming winter, leaving a crunchy, rustling blanket of dead brown leaves for us to tromp through. Limbs, boughs and branches reached this way and that, making an intricate latticework silhouetted against a mournful gray sky.
My little buddy, the gray and brown terrier mutt, and I happened upon two large man-made mounds of dirt, or more accurately, boy-made mounds of dirt spaced about six-feet apart in the middle of a path. Bicycle tracks on these mounds hinted at their being ramps for making airborne bike jumps, and a broken, twisted bicycle a little farther along the path confirmed my Sherlockian deduction.
“Hmph,” I thought. “Pretty crazy thing to do, isn’t it Scruff?” But he didn’t care. He was busily smelling things that I had no whiff of. Along with the broken bike, I envisioned broken ankles, wrists, collarbones, and Heaven forbid, necks. Why would boys take such foolhardy risks? Then I hmphed again as I remembered my own foolhardy teen years, and asked myself…
How do boys ever survive to adulthood?
While Scruffy romped and chased who knows what scent, I sat down on a fallen log to ponder the bicycle ramps and my own leaps into potential teenage hazards – hazards that increased in recklessness as I grew older, but no wiser. My junior high school buddies and I never thought twice about the risks we took with our BB gun wars. We climbed high rocky cliffs in the summer and those same cliffs covered with ice and snow in the winter, never considering we could break something essential in a place far removed from help. We rode heifers bareback, jumped off waterfalls into small pools of water, climbed stupidly high into trees and up mountains in the winter. We made a long canoe trip on a body of water that could challenge the seaworthiness of a much larger craft. We made gunpowder and blew cans sky high. We went hunting with shotguns, large caliber rifles, bow and arrow and hunting knives. We rode our single-speed bicycles without helmets, careening down steep hills at breakneck speed while hoping no cars were coming. We spelunked into undeveloped caves (where death has occurred since) carrying only a flashlight as we crawled underground through mud and cold running water.
And we drove cars. Undoubtedly one of the most perilous activities of all for teenage boys. But as we all know, teenage boys are invulnerable and immortal, which accounts for why they can also be so fearless and reckless. We were no different. Not only were these our years of no wisdom, they were also the years of no seatbelts, no airbags, a drinking age of 18, songs on the AM radio such as “Thunder Road” and “Dead Man’s Curve”, the television hit, “Route 66” and the legacy of James Dean and “Rebel Without a Cause”. As I looked back in time, I wondered what angel sheltered us with its wings – especially as some of us served in the military and went off to war.
Too often, boys don’t survive to adulthood
The fact of the matter is simple. Many boys don’t survive to adulthood. We rage – rightly – at the loss of 4,000 of our best and brightest over the course of several years of war, but we somehow seem to accept the death of many more thousands of young males at home as “the cost of doing business” or something. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), males of every age, from birth to age 80, die at a disproportionate rate to females. But, the numbers are most extreme among our young people.
In the United States in 2005, more than 25,500 young men aged 15 to 24 died as compared with just over 8,700 young women. Nearly three to one.
How did the young men die? Most, more than 60 percent, were killed by what the CDC terms “unintentional injury”. Motor vehicle accidents, unintentional poisonings (most from drug overdoses), falls, drownings, fires and so on. Another 20 percent, more than 5,000, died as a result of homicide, and more than 4,000 took their own lives. That’s in one year alone – not across several years of war – but in only one year, at home. And these figures, these deaths of our young men, are repeated year after year after year. Each and every year, more than 25,000 of our sons die from accidents, homicide and suicide, never reaching adulthood. Those are the top three causes of death for both young men and young women. But an equally astonishing truth is this: when considering the next seven causes of death (cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness, HIV, etc.), their combined total accounts still do no not equal the number of suicides of young people aged 15 to 24.
Young men and boys are different from the rest of us
Health advocates have done a superb job of informing the public that heart disease is the number one killer, and that cancer follows closely behind. Across the total population, those two account for nearly half of all deaths in the United States. But for our young sons, those causes barely appear on their mortality radar. While the general population is wise to address heart disease and cancer as major concerns, if young men were in charge (and aware of the facts), the drums would beat much more loudly for the prevention of premature violent death.
However, young men are notoriously oblivious of their own mortality. So it falls to us – we who fortunately have survived to adulthood–to take up the flag on their behalf. Let young men know that drinking and driving a car is the single most dangerous thing they can do in their life, and let them know that the danger increases with each additional teenager riding in the vehicle. Listen to them when they try – in their halting, insecure way – to convey feelings of pain, fear and sadness. Encourage them in every way possible to avoid any involvement with illegal drugs, which can lead to overdoses and are often connected to homicides.
We want our sons to be strong, independent and self-reliant. Fine. But it’s possible that closer involvement in their lives and deeper heart-to-heart communication with them – awkward as it may be at times – will help them survive through some pretty dangerous years.
Ed. Lange is grateful that against all odds he was able to survive his dangerous years, and wishes with all his heart that all of his buddies had, too. Unfortunately, too many of them did not, and the world is a lesser place because of it.
A freelance writer, three of Ed Lange’s plays were finalists for national Audie Awards, in 2000, ’05, and ’07, and one of the three won. His articles have appeared multiple times in national magazines: Sail, Soundings, American Theatre, and Dramatics.