My wife and I joke very frequently that we wonder what we ever did with all of our free time before we had children. Simultaneously I find great solitude in the life we have built with our new family. We had our son within months of my transition from the military and I believe it was a huge blessing for my wife and I. The responsibility of having a child that was thrust upon us was a gift we were unaware of. A gift I believe many people in my generation are unaware even exists.
This year marks one of the lowest number of child births on record in a century. This is a problem for many reasons, not the least of which is missing out on the gift of responsibility having a child grants us. My wife often jokes that when we bought our fat little english bulldog Rex, it was her first real responsibility in life. She adds that it prepared her for the trials of being a real mother to a human and not just a fur-baby. I equate the importance of previous responsibility as a Platoon Commander in the Marine Corps to her experience with Rex. I was unaware of the many gifts that experience would grant me that I could rely upon in the future. I believe it makes me a better father and will continue to make me a better father, son, and husband.
The birth of my son came at a pivotal time in my life. As I transitioned out of the Marine Corps and took off the uniform that meant so much to me, I was left wondering what my reason for living was. The minute I held a six pound, eleven ounce baby boy in my hands I found a new reason for living. It gave me another reason to get out of bed in the morning. I had a mouth to feed and an obligation to put a roof over his head. An obligation that magnified more than two-fold when my daughter was born. I found a purpose and reason for living again. Lord only knows how lost I would have been fumbling through the darkness, grasping for a sense of purpose after the Marine Corps without my children.
The millennial generation needs few things more than it needs to take on responsibility. Many people in the veteran community wonder why our suicide rate is so high. I doubt there is a single answer to this question. I argue that one of the main reasons is a lack of responsibility after service. Why are we surprised that young men and women who once carried the weight of the nation on their shoulders are struggling for a new sense of purpose that is equal to previous experience? This need for responsibility is not restricted to millennials who once wore a uniform.
We have obtained the highest level of comfort as a society in history. Our infant mortality rates are the lowest ever across the world. Life expectancies are the highest they have ever been, across the world. Our capacity to earn and accrue wealth is the highest it has ever been. Need I say again, across the world? See Enlightenment Now and Factfulness if you doubt these stats. I’m not arguing that as a society we are free of problems or struggles. They exist. Yet many of the things we think we need more of are not in fact what we actually need more of.
Responsibility is scary I agree. It forces us to struggle and to stick to our obligations. It requires us to be something, every single day. Taking on responsibility and failing does not just hurt ourselves, but also those around us. Which is why responsibility is so beautiful. It makes us struggle for purpose and performance. A worthy struggle indeed. Viktor Frankl quoted Neitzche saying, “A man who has a why can withstand almost any how” when discussing his strategy for surviving multiple Nazi death camps. If you’re struggling to find a why, then first seek out responsibility and your why will show itself.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.