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Thursday, January 29

"I can't do anything!" Chad Dukes delivers the Radio Rant of the Decade, and a look at Yukon Men's lessons about adulthood

Roaring or perhaps wailing of truth, pound-the-table funny, some middle-aged guy I never heard of before hosting at a radio station I never heard of before, recounting a horrifying day in his life when he discovered that just about the only thing he knew how to do was yap into a radio microphone.

He described in vivid detail that over the course of serial incidents earlier that day, he'd been forced to realize that to save his life he couldn't make the simplest household repairs, couldn't keep track of his important personal papers, didn't know anything about the insurance policy he paid into every month.  He wasn't even capable of keeping track of his bank card -- having lost it something like four times during the previous six months. 

"I can't do anything!  ... Looking down at my big gut and enormous man-boobs, I realized I can't take care of my body. I can't even take control of my own teeth ... I realized I have no skills!  I have no backup plan!" 
By backup plan he meant that if he lost his job in radio he wouldn't know how to do anything else except maybe get a job in retail sales.

When he got to the radio station that day he confessed his realizations to male coworkers and asked if they, too, ever felt they couldn't do anything.  The confessions tumbled out; one coworker said he actually knew how to change a tire but "... I can't point out more than three things in a car," and that he couldn't hook up a TV, couldn't spackle or put up drywall.

This, then, decided the host to put the same question to (male) members of his radio audience.  The phone lines lit up with men calling to confess the simple things they had no idea how to do.

One caller said, "What happened to us?  My dad could do all these things."

Someone pointed out that during the eras in the USA when 'shop' courses were routinely available in schools, at least boys learned how to build a table.

Another caller told the host that he should organize one of those retreats where men gather in the wilderness and dance and sing around a campfire to reaffirm their manliness, and discuss the problem of not knowing how to do anything. 

The host burst out that this wasn't a good idea because they'd all die when they had to search for water and build a campfire.
Of course there are many American men who do know how to build a campfire and can build a table and even an entire house. They even know how to read a compass.  And dedicated Survivalists have learned to build just about everything from scratch, repair just about anything, and know how to live off the land.  But the host was clearly speaking for many people, females as well as males, although he excluded women from the call-in segment, I think on grounds that men have high expectations regarding their ability to excel at survival.

The radio host's name is Chad Dukes and his show is called "Chad Dukes Versus the World".  The radio station call letters, at least here in the District of Columbia are WJFK (106.7 FM).  There is a podcast of the show's segment; I don't have the link but it would be worth your while to find it.  The show was aired on Friday, January 23 and the rant launched at about 5:40 PM ET.

Yukon Men

Dukes's rant reminded me of a reality show called "Yukon Men."  I watched the 2013 season; haven't checked to see if it's still on the air.  Yukon Men followed the fathers and sons in a few families in a native tribe in Alaska's Yukon that survives by hunting and fishing rather than farming.  One learns from the show that the Yukon wilderness is not only harsh, its weather is deadly tricky in that the onset of winter can happen earlier than expected and with no warning.

So there is a huge amount of lore that has to be transmitted from father to son about surviving in such an environment.  One of the show's lessons is that there's a big difference between doing it yourself and figuring it out for yourself.  Trying to wing it in the Yukon with winter closing in is an easy way to die.
The survival lore and its transmission are also the basis for the tribe's rite of passage for males. Before a son can marry and start his own family, he must live on his own in a house he's built and equipped under his father's tutelage -- and survive a winter in the house in a climate of steep subzero temperatures and heavy snows that can cut off help for months.
Chad Dukes recounted with wit and honesty the experience of confronting, all at once, one's vulnerabilities. Yet before we can increase our do it yourself survival skills, there has to be an understanding of the need for this.  The Yukon teaches such understanding every winter.  In the absence of such a graphic lesson, Chad Dukes hurtled through the busy hours of his adult life with no awareness of how vulnerable he was.

How to translate that observation into an action path?

The most poignant episode I saw in Yukon Men concerned a very young man from an urban environment in the "Lower 48" who went to the Yukon and sought out the tribe specifically to immerse himself in a more 'grounded' lifestyle. He went to work for one of the fathers in the tribe but it was quickly obvious he wasn't cut out for the work and that the father would have to fire him.

Yet I suspect the young man was trying to immerse himself not so much in a traditional tribal way of life as one where the rite of passage into adulthood was clear for him. Graduation from high school and college and even procuring an income are not clear enough.

In this era a sharp distinction should be made between the education to qualify a child for an income-producing job and the education that prepares a child for adulthood. 

So prospective parents need to hash out the necessary skills for adulthood, codify them, learn to teach them, and work out a rite of passage that demonstrates the child has learned the skills.

Some of the teaching can be done as a cooperative effort, but a striking aspect of "Yukon Men" is that while these men belong to a bona fide tribe, it was the individual father who was responsible for bringing his son across the bridge that separates childhood from adulthood.  (From the little shown about the females, it was the mother who was similarly responsible for the daughter.)

This is very definitely a teaching responsibility as distinct from a provider one.  And while the tribe has communal responsibilities it is the parents who are tasked with bringing their children into adulthood. Mastery of particular survival skills is the visible symbol of a successful rite of passage.  But if mastery is divorced from the symbolism, knowing even all the world's survival skills won't necessarily create an adult. 

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