On millennials and independence day

Opinion: Editorials

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Now that we've celebrated Independence Day, it's time for the millennials in our basements to achieve their own independence. In the 18-34 age group, one out of three is living with their parents. I didn't see this coming. When we were raising children, I assumed they would skedaddle on their 18th birthday and visit periodically to shower us with gifts. 

However, the new reality is that millennials are stuck because they're saddled with so much student debt. I feel sympathy for them, but it doesn't mean they should stop striving for freedom. 

In his book, The Vanishing American Adult, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse writes about what he calls "our coming of age crisis." He laments that these millennials were "raised by well-meaning but overprotective parents." He says, "Many coming-of-age rituals have vanished, like learning to work with your hands, leaving home to start a family and becoming financially self-reliant."

His solution is to raise our children the way he was reared on a Nebraska farm. Get them up early, give them tough chores and reinforce the Protestant work ethic. It worked for him, so it should work for everyone. 

Comedian Kevin Hart certainly absorbed these values but under slightly different circumstances. He grew up in Philadelphia — with a destructive dad and a mom who was so strict it was suffocating. In his book, I Can't Make This Up, though, Hart admits everything that infuriated him as a kid has served him well as an adult. 

Hart acknowledged he underachieved at school and sports and this left him with limited options for college or a career. The awards ceremony for his swim team gave him an unlikely opportunity to start his present job. When he took the mic to accept his "Best Participant" award, Hart mocked himself mercilessly. "Best Participant? That's like getting an award for being the team's Best Kevin." Hart held the stage for 15 minutes while the audience howled. He had discovered the magic of stand-up comedy. 

His book also offers some serious advice about the tests we face in life: "Can you fail and still be strong? Can you not fit in and still accept yourself? Can you lose everything and still keep searching?" I don't see much choice. We can either get discouraged and quit, or we can persist in pursuing our goals. 

In my case, I was motivated by adversity and obstacles to achieve my independence. Sure, I got down sometimes but nothing fired me up like someone telling me, "No." I asked a millennial recently if he was motivated by adversity. He said he hadn't yet faced adversity. 

Well, comedian Andy Boyle certainly faced adversity. He talks about it in his book Adulthood for Beginners. He intended the book as a guideline for millennials on how to avoid the pitfalls he had encountered.  

Like Hart, Boyle makes fun of himself but still offers some worthwhile wisdom. I especially liked the chapter titled, "Be Good to Whoever Raised You." He also gives practical advice like "Never do shots," "No good texts have ever been sent after 11 p.m.," and "Always be good to people in the service industry." 

My heart goes out to millennials who are stuck, but if they're determined, they too can escape the basement. For example, you can't start a family without meeting someone. So a millennial I know wants to start a co-ed flag football league in Forest Park. 

I'll give Ben Sasse the last word: "America needs responsible adults to function properly. Without them, America is vulnerable to populist demagogues."

 We certainly learned that the hard way. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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