He is a staple of our culture, equal parts annoying and hilarious. He rages against the dying of the light, fueled by the internal hunter to pursue good times, good booze, and good looking women. Laughter is his medicine, that and dollar longnecks. He has traveled through history under many names. He has been our chum, our pal, our buddy. In the eighties and nineties he was simply known as “dude”, a term so encompassing and versatile that by varying ones inflection it could be the only word spoken between two "dudes" in an entire conversation. In the new millennium our friend goes by another name, one that has certainly entrenched itself into the fabric of pop culture. Today he is “The Bro”.
The Bro loves to party. His priorities are hanging with other bros, getting drunk, and hooking up, usually in that order. His life is carefree. Not saddled with a mortgage, a wife, or kids, his income is expendable and his burdens are light. He lives for the good times, he lives for today, never putting much stock in the future. We tend to think of him at his worst, drunk and disorderly, misogynistic, self-centered and irresponsible. At his core, however, beats the heart of the restless wanderer, the nomadic warrior, the alpha dog fighting domestication. These are qualities that are important, even essential to manhood. In their proper context they are part of what equips us as leaders, husbands, and fathers. The problem is that in the massive value shift that is re-shaping our society, the bro no longer sees responsibility and relationship as an end goal to be achieved, rather they see them as looming monsters with yellow teeth, something to be avoided at all cost.
I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when watching the final episode of the CBS sit-com “How I Met Your Mother.” The show tells the tale of Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and his four friends as they navigate life, love, and New York City, growing from 20-somethings into 40-year olds. One of Ted’s friends, Barney Stinson (the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris), is the eternal bro. He lives by a “bro code”, a never ending list of rules about how a bro is to behave (e.g. “Article 2: "A Bro is always entitled to do something stupid, as long as the rest of his Bros are all doing it.”) He has a playbook for picking up women, and a “guy” for everything from securing VIP passes for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show after party to booking a castle in France. When the show began nine seasons ago, Barney was easily the breakout character. His schemes and tall tales were clever, absurd and reflected the legendary life many of us tried to live out in our twenties. As time went on, and Barney aged, the bit grew stale and a little sad. By the time we reach the end of the show and Barney is still “the bro” into his forties, it is just pathetic.
I think every man (and woman for that matter) should experience the unique freedom and fullness of life that is only available in your twenties. You’ve graduated, your making your own money, life is full of potential and possibilities and the world and all its spoils are yours for the taking. This is a great season of life, but it is just that, a season. The longer it goes on, the lonelier it becomes until you are left by yourself in the endless summer while everyone else has moved on to fall. At some point, you have to know when to let go of the bro.
I don’t blame the bro. Hollywood portrayals of marriage and family are very rarely glamorous or even appealing. The beaten down husband/father with the dead end job, the nagging wife and the obnoxious children is the standard for movies and television. Given that example, plus the fact that at least half of the young adults in our country come from broken homes, it’s not surprising that millenials reject the idea of settling down. This is sad to me because while I loved being a “dude” in my twenties, I am so grateful that I am not still clinging to that stage of life. Back then I never pictured myself as a husband or a dad but now I can’t imagine myself any other way. I think that young men would be missing out on so much if they turned their back on this life and its rewards. However, I have also seen too many guys get married and have kids, but never really change. They escape into man caves; they play in softball leagues, go to the gym or the sports bar and ignore their families in order to do their own thing. Those guys should just stay single; they haven’t left the bro behind.
I am not saying male bonding is not important, it is. Men should have friendships. Those friendships should grow with the man and support him through the various stages of life, not serve to keep him in a perpetual state of adolescence. If you feel like that is the state you are in, it’s time to let the bro go.