Archives: David Lapp

Could Pregnancy be a Reason NOT to Get Married?

David Lapp 04.22.2013 1:49 PM

In “Promises I Can Keep,”  Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas find that among the poor single mothers they interviewed,  “Nearly everyone has a morality tale to tell of two fools who rushed into marriage only to divorce.”

And, “The harshest condemnation is reserved for those who marry because of pregnancy. Such marriages, they believe, are almost certain to end in divorce, and thus benefit neither the couple nor the child.”

My wife, Amber, and I are finding the same thing in our research with white, high-school-educated young adults in one small Ohio town. The young adults we interviewed are generally very reluctant to give advice to others about relationships. But on this point they are not shy.

For instance, one mother, Erica, says she felt pressure from her grandma to get married to her high school sweetheart when she got pregnant with her second child, only to separate soon after getting married. She now advises people, “Don’t get married because you have a kid with somebody. I have a new thing: if you have a kid with somebody, don’t just keep trying to make the relationship work out…. Because it’s not healthy for the kid, it’s not healthy for anything.”

After hearing this sentiment repeatedly, Amber and I are beginning to wonder: For an unmarried couple, could the news of pregnancy act as a reason not to get married—even if the couple might be otherwise thinking about marriage?

Even if there is still a social expectation among one’s grandparents and great-aunts that an unmarried couple who gets pregnant should “do the right thing” and get married, might there be a social stigma among young adults—among one’s peers—about getting married because of the kids?

From our interviews, we have reasons to think that this may be true.

For instance, Myron, 23 (whom I wrote about previously at, did get married to his high school sweetheart when he found that she was pregnant. Even though he says he had every intention of breaking off their engagement because of what he describes as her “mean” treatment of him, the news that she was pregnant with his child changed his mind.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna marry her, and it’s my kid. That’s awesome. That’s my kid.’” However, a few months into marriage, she admitted that she was cheating on him, and he filed for divorce.

Looking back, he describes his first journey into marriage as “not the right way to do this.” Instead of marrying her because he loved her, he listened to people like his grandpa, who warned him that “you’ve gotta marry her or she’s gonna get you for child support the rest of your life.”

When I interviewed Myron, he was engaged to Christa, who was pregnant with their child. This time around, Myron was explicit that he was not getting married because they were having a child.

“We don’t wanna rush into anything,” he says. “I don’t want Christa to feel like we’re getting married because we’re having a baby.”

He then took pains to note that although he proposed after they found out they were having a baby, “I had already picked out the ring, had already taken her ring shopping. I already planned on getting married.” In fact, he says that his plan was to wait until after the baby was born to propose. But eventually, “I couldn’t hold it no longer.”

But, he is careful to say, “I want to be married to her, but I want her to have her wedding. I want her to have what she wants on her terms, not because of anything else.”

As the “Knot Yet” report points out, “Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life.” And the capstone model does not think about marriage and children as a package deal. Marriage is primarily about love between two adults. To the extent that it is about children, it’s the “glue” (as one working class woman whom we interviewed described it) that brings all the children from different parents together into one family.

This shift in the meaning of marriage may help to explain why some young adults are putting off marriage even as they are starting a family—traditionally one of the reasons to get married. If there are more stories like that of Myron, it would mean that some young adults may be delaying marriage—at least for a time—precisely because they want to avoid the appearance of getting married “just because” they are having a child.

Of course, the first time Myron got married, he did not delay marriage precisely because he was having a child. And just as his first failed marriage was a morality tale for him about how not to do things, now that we have had at least a couple generations of “shotgun-wedding-then-quick-divorce,” I wonder if we have reached a turning point where young adults coming of age today are adapting to the failed shotgun marriages they have seen and heard about: marriage is not about children; marriage and children are two completely separate things. And the “right” thing to do, they think, is to get married because you love the person—and for that reason only.

Although the dichotomy that many young adults erect in their minds about marriage between children and love is understandable—particularly because of the loveless shotgun marriages they have witnessed—I think it is unfortunate. Because it is true that one of the most important purposes of marriage is to unite a child to his mother and father. However, young adults are not entirely wrong, I think, in their moral intuition that a marriage must come into being for the sake of love. Without love, a marriage is just a prosaic institution, not a personal relationship. And who wants to live in a prosaic institution?

Building a thriving marriage culture that breaks through class lines will mean inviting young adults to appreciate that marriage is both/and: both about love and children. In fact, because marriage is about love, marriage is also about children: as a couple’s love and trust matures, so does their desire to share themselves completely with each other, to the point that they wish to have a mutual share in a new person, and to found a new family.

Now, there’s a good reason to get married!

Cross-posted at

Rights, Obligations, “Honoring the Struggle,” “Remembering the Reward”

David Lapp 04.19.2013 10:26 AM

I found the conversation with Larry Mead and David Blankenhorn last night at the Center for Public Conversation extremely helpful in terms of how to talk about strengthening marriage. (The video should be up in the next few days.) Larry talked about how for so long, academics and politicians emphasized the rights of poor people, and social barriers to their thriving. However, while completely acknowledging that these are important, he also emphasizes that poor people, like everyone else, have obligations as citizens to fulfill. In order to have rights, you have to be a participant in society.

Then he started talking about rights and obligations in terms of marriage. He suggested that our society should be more insistent about upholding marriage as a common obligation. (I would specify here that it should be an obligation for those who aspire to lifelong love, and to have a family.  We must honor those people who wish to remain single, or to take on a vow of celibacy. Marriage is not the only ticket to the good life.)

But, Larry insisted, we can’t just uphold marriage as a common obligation–we can’t just have high standards. We have to help people to fulfill the obligation, to live up to the standard. This, he suggested, means ”honoring the struggle” that comes with marriage: the struggle of two selfish human being trying to love each other for life. Sometimes, he noted, a marriage is effectively destroyed before death does them part. For that reason, not all couples will, or should, remain together.

But, marriage is a struggle, and he suggested, we as a society need to be more candid about that struggle. He suggested that in the not-so-distant past, we did have a strong marriage culture that upheld the obligations of marriage–but that did a poor job of honoring the struggle of marriage. Just as a teacher sets high standards for his students ,and then seeks to help them meet those high standards, so we as a society need high standards for marriage, and we need to help people to meet those standards. (I’m not sure what that looks like–but the idea sounds promising.) We need to be open as a society about the difficulties of marriage. Larry suggested that we need biographies of married couples that show the struggle and the reward. I would add that we also  need movies that show this.

Finally, Larry said, in addition to honoring the struggle of marriage, it’s important to “remember the reward” of marriage, ”the pearl of great price”: enduring love–and I would add, an enduring family. This, Larry suggested, is “the good news about marriage”: it really is possible for love to endure. And, again, I would add, it really is possible for a family to remain intact and endure as a touchstone down through the generations as a rock of love and stability.

As Larry noted, the good fruit that comes from marriage is not magical. You don’t automatically get it as a result of getting married. Marriage is not magic. Marriage is a “school of love,” to use a favorite phrase of Catholic theologians.

But in order to get the fruit, you have to participate in marriage.

I would add that participating in marriage also requires confidence; confidence in the character of the other person, and confidence that, if two people of good will and character give it a shot, love can endure.

This confidence is what many poor and working class people, for good reason, lack. There is a low stock of trust capital. Helping people to fulfill the obligation of marriage will require helping young adults to rebuild trust in each other, and in marriage as a capable guide to enduring love, and to an enduring family.

Thanks, David and Larry, for a thought-provoking conversation.


MTV, Seek Redemption

David Lapp 04.15.2013 9:59 AM

MTV announced last week that it won’t air the second season of the popular reality TV show Buckwild, after the most popular cast member, Shain Gandee, died in a mudding accident. As you may know, Buckwild followed the exploits of a group of 20-somethings in a small West Virginia town. The idea is that it’s Jersey Shore West Virginia style.

Amber and I watched a few episodes, and found the whole thing terribly exploitative — but a fairly accurate indicator of how “emerging adulthood” is playing out in working-class America. With no real courtship script and few norms to guide young adults’ sexual behaviors, everybody is a free sexual agent — and everyone seems to realize it. Hooking up and cheating and mistrust abound.

Although Amber and I have heard many working class young adults say that their bad experiences with sex and relationships were valuable learning experiences,  it is difficult to see how the “Buckwild“ script helps working class young adults to reach the good marriage that most working class young adults want — particularly because many of them already have the disadvantage of a low stock of “trust capital” because of their families’ fragmentation.

Good for MTV for cancelling the show. It was a disgrace that they ever ran it. Instead of gawking and profiting from the deterioration of trust in working-class America, Big Media should create television that helps working class young adults to rebuild trust, and that supports their aspirations for a good marriage and family life.

The Case for Early Marriage is a Case for Courtship

David Lapp 04.04.2013 10:32 AM

I appeared on HuffPost Live last night to talk about delayed marriage and its consequences. One thing that I didn’t get to say, but that is extremely important to say, is that there is no such thing as a right age to marry for everyone. However, there is such a thing as a right way to go about courtship (if I may use that ancient and beautiful word): to be intentional in relationships, and specifically, to court with a view toward marriage. And if young adults do this, more young adults will get married in their early-mid 20’s.

Also, Amanda Marcotte, who wrote the Slate article, “The Case Against Marrying Young,”  noted that many young adults are wary of getting married young because they saw their parents get married young and get divorced. This is a legitimate concern.

However, as I noted, what many working class young adults are instead doing isn’t any better: they are still forming intimate relationships and starting families – the only thing that’s missing, as they say, is “the piece of paper.” And when these young couples break up – and many of them do break up – they experience something like an invisible divorce. For instance, consider the emotional state and family situation of Ricky, the four-times engaged but never married father I wrote about recently.

So many working class young adults find themselves in a predicament: get married and make themselves vulnerable to divorce, or delay marriage and make themselves vulnerable to a string of broken relationships, and if they have children, a fragmented family.

The way out of this predicament, I would suggest, is for communities to come alongside young adults and encourage them to embrace intentional relationships and to embrace “the marriage idea”: the commitment to love and sacrifice for your spouse and family until death. In other words, for communities to rebuild marriage as a formative institution that guides young, passionate lovers to becoming old, mature lovers.

And I emphasize the role of communities here, because it really does take a village to build and sustain a good marriage.

Looking for Marriage in Middle America

David Lapp 03.27.2013 11:20 AM

The new issue of the Institute for American Values’ quarterly newsletter, Propositions, is now out. This latest issue tells the story of Stephanie and Seth, one of the cohabiting couples with children that Amber and I interviewed for our Love and Marriage in Middle America project. As you’ll see, Stephanie and Seth’s story reflects the quandary that many young working class couples find themseves in: sharing a family and at least a remnant of love, but lacking the confidence and means to establish their family and love upon marriage. Read on here.


Why One Middle American Guy is Delaying Marriage

David Lapp 03.26.2013 9:35 AM

Why are Middle Americans delaying marriage?

I come at this question as a person who, along with my wife, Amber Lapp, has been interviewing high school-educated and college-educated young adults, ages 19-35, about marriage and forming families in one Ohio town, as part of the Love and Marriage in Middle Americaproject at the Institute for American Values. We talked to over 100 young adults, about two-thirds of whom were Middle Americans. We’re now writing our findings in a book, tentatively titled Love Like Crazy: Looking for Marriage in Middle America.

I’d like to reflect on this question, “Why are Middle Americans delaying marriage?” by reflecting on the story of a 27 year-old young man I met, Ricky.

Read More

New Report on Delayed Marriage Out Today

David Lapp 03.15.2013 5:17 PM

Out today is a new report, Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America, by the National Marriage Project, RELATE Institute,  and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  It’s an intriguing report, full of informative data about how delayed marriage is playing out differently in college educated America, and everywhere else.

Among the findings that stand out to me:

  • Fifty eight percent of first births to high school educated mothers are outside of marriage. (Compared to 12 percent of births college educated mothers.)
  • Eighty three percent of first births to mothers without a high school education are outside of marriage.
  • By age 25, 44 percent of all women have had a baby. Thirty eight percent have been married.
  • 35 percent of 20-something single men and cohabiting men report that they are “highly satisfied” with their life, compared to 52 percent of 20-something married men. (The stats are very comparable for women.)
  • Sixty three percent of 25 year-old women have either been married or wish they were already married. The same is true for 48 percent of 25 year-old men

I’ll be responding to the report on a panel at Brookings on March 20 — come if you can, or watch live.



Brookings Event: “Knot Yet: The Future of Marriage in the U.S.”

David Lapp 03.07.2013 5:10 PM

Those of you in the Washington, DC, area  might be interested in a March 20 discussion at  Brookings about the upcoming report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America.  Report co-author Kay  Hymowitz will deliver the keynote address, followed by a discussion with New  York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Johns Hopkins scholar Andrew Cherlin, and American Prospect writer Jamelle Bouie.  A panel (including yours truly) will also give responses to the report.

See here to register. 

One of the major demographic and social changes of the last four decades has been the dramatic increase in the average age at which Americans first marry, from the early twenties in 1970 to the late twenties today. Delayed marriage in America has helped to bring the divorce rate down since 1980 and increased the economic fortunes of educated women, according to “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” a new report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and the RELATE Institute.

But another important consequence of this change is that a majority of young adults under 30 now have their first child before they marry. “Knot Yet” explores the causes and consequences of this revolution in family composition and explains why premarital childbearing is associated with dramatically different family formation strategies. The great crossover in childbearing and marriage is concentrated among the 60 percent of young adults who have a high school degree but not a college degree.

On March 20, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings will host a discussion to explore the policy and cultural responses that may help reconnect marriage and parenthood. One of the report’s authors will summarize the findings and recommendations; several authors and critics, representing an array of political viewpoints, will then provide their reactions. This event will be live webcast. Participants can submit questions for the panel prior to the event and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #knotyet.

Does Playboy Target Working Class Men?

David Lapp 03.04.2013 10:31 AM

At Slate, Amanda Hess comments upon a recent article published in the journal Sex Roles. The journal article, “An Analysis of Hyper-Masculinity in Magazine Advertisements,” addresses the question of to what extent magazine advertisements help construct “hyper-masculine” attitudes — which the authors of the study define as including “toughness as emotional self-control, violence as manly, danger as exciting, and calloused attitudes toward women and sex.”

What do the authors find? Among other things, that depictions of hyper-masculinity were “presented more often in advertisements targeting young, less educated, and less affluent men.” I don’t have access to the full journal article, but according to Amanda Hess, “The magazines pushing this image most aggressively are Playboy and Game Informer, whose ads play on hyper-masculine tropes about 95 percent of the time. (Compare that to magazines like Golf Digest and Fortune, which rely on those images for about 20 percent of ads).”

Hess then notes the following:

These advertising trends speak to the latest development in Hugh Hefner’s sexual revolution. When Playboy launched in 1953, it was billed as a liberating, sophisticated, and intellectual response to conservative sexual norms. It featured icons like Marilyn Monroe and Ray Bradbury. It was not, in fact, inconceivable to read it for the articles. Sixty years later, the magazine’s advertisers are chasing a readership of middle-aged men who are undereducated and underpaid.

In other words, Playboy is targeting its messages of deformed masculinty to young men like Shane, the troubled young man who is the subject of the TIME Magazine photo essay about domestic violence that Barry Deutsch linked to last week.

This wh0le thing reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a group of college students in New York City. We were talking about the role of culture in forming young adults’ attitudes about sex and marriage. One of the students is interning at MTV. When she went into the internship, she wondered if she would be expected to actually like and enjoy the TV shows that MTV produces — specifically, reality TV shows, such as Buckwild. To her surprise, she discovered that her colleagues don’t even pretend to like what they are producing. She said it’s just kind of known that they’re producing bad television.

So who’s watching MTV? I don’t doubt that a lot of well educated folks watch MTV. But I wonder what their demographic surveys show.

Who’s reading Playboy? Apparently the less educated and underpaid.


A Gay Man, and Dan Cathy, in Search for Solidarity

David Lapp 01.29.2013 8:20 PM

On this, the day that the Institute releases the “New Conversation on Marriage,” I found this story by LGBT leader Shane Windmeyer about his unlikely friendship with Chik-fil-A president Dan Cathty truly remarkable.

Some things that struck me.

“We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could — or would — change.  It was not possible.  We were different but in dialogue.  That was progress.”

“Dan sought first to understand, not to be understood.”

“ I will not change my views, and Dan will likely not change his, but we can continue to listen, learn and appreciate “the blessing of growth” that happens when we know each other better.”

“In the end, it is not about eating (or eating a certain chicken sandwich). It is about sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue.  Dan would probably call this act the biblical definition of hospitality. I would call it human decency.  So long as we are all at the same table and talking, does it matter what we call it or what we eat?”

They are not ignoring their serious moral differences. They are not pretending that they don’t exist. But they are also refusing to let those moral differences polarize them, and they appear to be trying to find those things that bind them together.  They appear to be seeking solidarity.


Marriage: Do People Really Think it’s Just a Piece of Paper?

David Lapp 11.16.2012 10:18 PM

In our interviews with working class young adults, Amber and I heard a lot of people throw out the line, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.” But for as often as I heard it, I’m beginning to doubt that it reflects people’s considered judgment about marriage.

Take Myron, who is only 23, but is already divorced, and has a two-year old child by his ex-wife. When I talked with him, he was engaged to Christa, 22, who was pregnant with their first child.

Myron knows that he wants to marry Christa eventually. But they have other things they want to do first — Christa wants to finish her college degree, they want to have the baby.

But some people in his family – “the older ones,” like his grandpa – believe that “you’re married once, you’re married for life, and you don’t have kids out of wedlock.” Even though most of his people in his family have warmed up to the idea that Christa is having a baby before they are married, he still catches some flak from some relatives who think that they need to be married.

In response to their nagging, Myron defends himself, saying that they will get married “in due time,” they just don’t wanna rush it. Besides, he says, it’s not like anything will change after they get married. “We know we wanna be together forever, and I don’t feel like that little piece of paper changes anything.” Nothing would change for better or worse in their relationship, he thinks. “I mean, I consider myself married.” After all, he wakes up to her every morning. The guys at his workplace call Christa his “wife.” She’s in his phone as “future wife.”  His mom even introduces Christa in public as “my daughter-in-law.”

And unlike Christa, who thinks that marriage will increase the level of commitment in their relationship, Myron thinks that if you’re with someone you care about – and he knows he cares deeply about Christa – “you can’t just walk out. You have the same stake, just like if you’re married.”

“The only thing that would change,” he says, “is I’d have a ring on my finger.  That’s the only difference, and we would have a piece of paper saying we were married.”

So does all this mean that he would be fine staying in a long-term, unmarried relationship with Christa? Far from it. Read More

A Question for My Fellow Travelers

David Lapp 11.02.2012 3:45 PM

When you were looking/do look for a person to commit to for better or worse, for richer or poorer, until death do you part – did you/do you clearly think about your choice as a decision to pick a father or mother?

A young woman that my wife interviewed for the Love and Marriage in Middle America project told her that,“Even though at the time I really hadn’t picked him [her now husband] as a father, he just kind of became the father. Now looking at things, he would be the type of person I’d pick to father my kids.”

It got me to thinking back to my courting years, and the degree to which that question was clearly on my mind.

It’s all kind of fuzzy, but I think I mostly thought about it as choosing a spouse with whom I would enjoy the rest of my days. I remember when I learned that Amber was looking forward to be a mother, and how much of a positive impression that made on me (that she wanted to raise a family was something important for me).

But mostly, I think, what was on the forefront of my mind was Amber as she appeared to me in 2008, how beautiful she was, her character, and how much I hoped to marry her. I don’t think I was clearly thinking about my decision as “picking a mother” for any future children that should come. Or if I did, I never articulated those words to myself.


Pastor Anderson, You’re Wrong

David Lapp 10.25.2012 11:34 PM

I saw David Blankenhorn’s post below reporting the Maryland pastor’s comments about supporters of same-sex marriage being “worthy of death.”

As a Catholic Christian who supports the conception of marriage as between one man and one woman, I find Pastor Anderson’s abuse of Sacred Scripture appalling and his words gravely irresponsible. And I find it equally appalling and gravely irresponsible that the main director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance did not call out Pastor Anderson for his gravely irresponsible comments.

I was one of the people who urged David to reconsider his statement about animus. Of course there are some people who use violent rhetoric against gays and lesbians. I don’t know how many people there are.

But, right now, that’s beside the point. The fact that there are some people, like Pastor Anderson, making such suggestively violent comments is deeply troubling, and deserves condemnation.

Pastor Anderson, you should know that taking Sacred Scripture and wielding it as a weapon in a way that could very well incite violence is an utter betrayal of your position as a minister of God’s Word.

And when it comes to sin, I urge you to remember Jesus’ words about the Pharisee and the tax collector.

And Mr. McCoy, I urge you to remember you duty as a public leader to defend the dignity of all persons. You know (or should know) that Pastor Anderson’s words, whatever their intention, are deeply misguided and irresponsible; that they encourage the demonic idea that violence against one group of people is justified in the name of God.  Your failure to act as  an instrument of peace in this forum is scandalous.

I would remind everyone that Pastor Anderson does not speak for Jesus. Read the Gospels and read his own words, and see how he lived, and how he commanded his followers to live.

And for an indication of how many of the people I know who are trying to follow Jesus today see it, please read this statement, Always Our Children, from the U.S. Catholic bishops.

The bishops state emphatically that, “Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teachings of the Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them (cf. The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, no. 10). It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. Homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358).”


On Marrying at 21

David Lapp 10.24.2012 3:07 PM

Over at the new Verily Magazine blog, my wife, Amber — who got married at the insane age of 21! I would never let my kids do that (ha,ha) — asks “What makes early marriage so frightening?” today. She reflects on her own story of getting married young, remembering that seeing other young couples getting married made it easier.

In her essay “‘There but for the Grace’: The Ethics of Bystanders to Divorce,” scholar M. Christian Green reflects on how divorce affects not only divorcées, but everyone else, too. But in my experience, the inverse is also true. Good marriages have a way of sharing some of their strength with the rest of us.

You should read the whole thing, here.

And then – perhaps  for your bedtime story with your little ones – you can dust off from the archives this little whopper, from yours truly, “Did I Get Married Too Young?”

Symposium: Fragmented Families and Splintered Classes

David Lapp 10.12.2012 6:11 PM

The Center of the American Experiment published a report, Fragmented Families and Splintered Classes, that addresses growing class divisions in America. The report asked thirty-six writers — including Brad Wilcox and yours truly — to respond to the following questions:

  • How might abridged mobility and starker class divisions play out for lower-income and minority men, women, and, in particular, children?  What will it mean for their prospects?
  • What about the commonweal itself?  In what centrifugal ways might all this play out in the nation?  In Minnesota?
  • And getting to the core, what can be done to reduce out-of-wedlock births and divorce measurably in the first place?

Here is the essay that Brad and I wrote, in which we suggest that in order to stop the splintering of classes, ”we will need  to improve—and in some cases, revive—institutions that serve the 70  percent of non-college-educated Americans, particularly those that direct them toward steady work, thrift, and marital commitment.”

I haven’t read the full report yet, but according to the prologue by Mitch Pearlstein, it includes contributions from a philosophically and politically diverse group of people. I look forward to reading it.

On a related note, one of the things that Brad and I did not mention in our essay are early childhood education programs, which are touted by some people as essential for strengthening low-income families. I confess I’ve never really given that much thought to these programs – but perhaps I should. There’s an early childhood education center just a two minute walk from Amber and I’s home here in Maytown, which provides preschool, daycare, and Head Start programs. Amber and I just talked to young married couple with three children that love it because it allows their children (all under the age of 4 ) a head start in eduaction, and it gives the parents flexibility to work. I recall David Brooks writing one time that early childhood education programs have proven results. If anyone knows of these studies, I’d be interested in looking at them.

Are Hipsters Bourgeois?

David Lapp 08.22.2012 5:14 PM

I’ve always kind of assumed that that elusive class of young adults known as hipsters — don’t grill me for exact definitions, I say you know ‘em when you see ‘em — are rebelling against, among other things, the conventional middle class script, the main chapters of which script are college, career, marriage, children.

But maybe not.

I was reading through a transcript of a conversation with Adam, a 30-year old graphic designer, originally from a wealthy Detroit suburb. Adam went to college to study art — “which, like, I had to deal with everybody telling me that that’s just, like, a copout, stupid” — and describes himself as “an aesthetic person” who grew up performing music “and all that stuff, being artsy and drawing.” After college, he had an offer to work with an advertising agency in Michigan. But after spending two months depressed and in agony about whether to follow his childhood dream of going to Los Angeles or take the job with the ad agency, he moved to California.

Read More

More on Institutions and Traditions

David Lapp 08.17.2012 3:36 PM

I’m reading the transcript of my conversation with Tim, 26, a practicing Mormon and married father of one child, who lives in one of the new Maytown subdivisions. Typically, when I ask men how they would meet girls when they were single, they often say “through a mutual friend,” or in high school, or college, or through work,  (Almost everyone, it seems, says something like “I know people who meet in bars, but that’s now how I do/did it.” One wonders why I never talked to those people!)

But Tim was the first person, I think, who mentioned “church dances.”

Well, a lot of my friends were from church. And so we had a lot of church activities. We’d have church dances. And way we [my wife and I] met was like a singles activity in Indiana. And so it’s just a bunch of singles from the area — the region that gets together — and they have activities planned and you kind of hang out and meet each other.

Read More

An Instance of Tradition

David Lapp 08.15.2012 11:35 AM

In an interview with a lapsed Catholic, college-educated salesman from a new subdivision in Maytown, I was asking him why, when he was finished with college and thinking about proposing to his girlfriend, he did not want to simply live together with his girlfriend in a long-term relationship. Why did he want to get married?

I mean, coming from a Catholic faith, you look at the way that we’re kinda raised. It is kind of a — p-dum, p-dum [imitating drum beating sound]. It’s kind of like that program thing. You go to school. You go to Mass. You find a nice, Catholic girl. You get married. You buy a house. You have a kid. Boom, boom, boom, boom, you know? And I find myself living my life on the next step. I was thinking like that.

To me, his answer is an example of how traditions and institutions help to simplify what are otherwise extraordinarly complex decisions. It is also an example of how culture orients a person toward certain decisions — “I was thinking like that,” he says.

Sometimes tradition is overbearing and stifling, and leads a person down the wrong path. Or because tradition is tradition, the danger is that the person fails to own what the tradition teaches. But when traditions, or institutions, are working as they ought to work, the “p-dum, p-dum” of tradition’s drum help a person to internalize accumulated wisdom, march confidently into the future, and to a certain extent, “predict” the future.


David Lapp 08.15.2012 10:25 AM

Remember Robert Oscar Lopez, the assistant professor of English at a California state school who wrote an essay for Public Discourse telling his own story of growing up with a lesbian mother, and defending the Regnerus study? He says that his job is now at risk.

Since  my article came out, I have been through far worse than I ever thought would  happen.  My job is at risk, and worst of all, my coworkers received an  e-mail from a gay rights organization with the title “COMPLAINT AGAINST CSUN’S  ROBERT LOPEZ: GAY BASHER.”  Soon I got e-mails from administrators.  People really investigate claims like this.

Whatever one thinks about Lopez’s essay, this is outrageous. Because someone’s personal story doesn’t align with my views about gay families, I denounce him as a gay basher to his colleagues?



Dispatches from Amish Country

David Lapp 08.03.2012 10:37 AM

Amber and I are at my parent’s house in supposedly idyllic Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for the weekend. While drinking my morning coffee, I scanned today’s headline in the local morning paper: “Police accuse man, 33, of killing his girlfriend.” The subhead says, “3 children in house at the time.” It’s not clear if any of the children are related to the boyfriend, but we do know that the 12-year old girl who ran screaming hysterically to the next door neighbors for help is the now-dead girlfriend’s daughter. Before killing his girlfriend, the boyfriend, who the police believe was drunk, punched the 12-year old girl and kicked her in the mouth. The couple lived in southern Lancaster County, which is known as a heavily working class area.

Then on the back page I found the headline, “Ohio teen played major role in high school drug ring.” The story, by the AP, says that the 17-year old boy from an affluent suburb outside of Cincinnati, was “one of the biggest drug dealers in the Cincinnati area.” He had been dealing drugs since at least 15, but managed to stay under the radar for a long time by selling pot out of his house. Where were the parents? The story doesn’t tell us if anyone else in his family knew about it, but we do learn that he was living with his single mother. Apparently, he had no dad around to look out for him.

Then, I opened the paper to the front page of the local section, where I read about a 36-year old area man who pleaded guilty to the shooting death of his then-estranged wife’s boyfriend. His 28-year old ex-wife said that “It was almost like if he couldn’t have me, nobody could.”

After telling my mother about the story of the boyfriend who killed his girlfriend, she told me that Ron, the biological father of my younger brother and sister  — my parents adopted them last year — has been on a drinking binge since getting out of prison. His wife, Gloria — who is also the mother of my adopted brother – called my  mom last night to tell her about it; she is worried about her husband. Gloria doesn’t live together with Ron all the time, because she has a one-year old daughter, Madison, by another man, and she is not allowed to be with Ron when she has Madison (which is every other week). But Gloria sees her husband as often she can. And of course, there’s no way to know whether Gloria is acutally obeying the state’s orders by not living with Ron when she has Madison. You can imagine that Madison’s grandma (the father’s mother, and incidentally, a long-time friend of my mother) must be worried sick for the safety of her grandchild, knowing that her grandchild could be in contact with an unrelated boyfriend who just got out of prison for drug possesssion and theft, lost his kids, and is drinking heavily.

Then, as I was getting ready to go downstairs to the basement and begin work, my adopted brother, Justin (Ron and Gloria’s biological son), pulled me aside, saying that he needed to warn me about something. He said that Ron has threatened to kill Gloria, and to stalk my brother and kidnap him. (My brother wasn’t being dramatic; the police actually found a letter from him saying just that). “I just wanted to let you know in case you see him,” he said.

That was my  morning. All sobering reminders of the worst that can happen, and often does happen, when families break down. And the interesting thing to me is that, for all the debates about the “good divorce” and “evolving family structures,” or the reminders about the majority of children who turn out just fine, that I hear about from elite sociologists and journalists, I rarely (if ever) hear family breakdown talked about in those terms among the ordinary people that I know in Lancaster. Instead, they talk about it in terms of … well, family breakdown. They tend to see it as a tragedy that calls for healing, not a new family structure that requires normalization. And, of course, we shouldn’t pretend that all instances of family breakdown lead to an egregious problem like murder, violence, etc. — but we would be naive to pretend that these things are unrelated in way too many instances.

*All names in my family’s story have been changed to protect their identity.