A longtime acquaintance of mine — we’ll call him Sam — recently announced that he’d joined an adult kickball league. Now the important thing to know about Sam is that he is the 48-year-old twice-married father of three adult children.
I once played kickball with Sam. That would have been in the early seventies at St. Mary’s Grade School. After fifth grade, I hung up my sneakers for good. This, apparently, makes me a bit of an oddball.
I say that because kickball is the latest big thing, the newest fad. And fads are not just for children anymore. They’re for grown-ups too. Or at least those people in their twenties, thirties, and forties we used to think of as grown-up.
Naturally, my first question was why kickball?
As near as I can tell so many so-called adults are obsessed with kickball because it is the most elementary of children’s games. It is the one activity that unmistakably shouts: “Hey, look at me! I refuse to act my age!”
For an increasing number of adults acting one’s age — at least outside work hours — would be a terrible faux pas, akin to asking a fat woman when she is due.
This stands on its head the manners and mores of my grandfather’s time. Once grown men and women were chastised if they behaved like children, or refused to take on the responsibilities associated with adulthood. Today it is the men and women who undertake careers, marry, and start families in their twenties whose behavior is called into question. Why would anyone put himself in such a position when you can live a little first?
Living a little, means, among other things, playing kickball.
In a way, this is understandable. Adulthood is, after all, a grim time. It is a time of duties, drudgery, and divorce. Or so the thinking goes. How much better it is to remain a permanent adolescent. Perhaps not biologically, but emotionally.
TRUTH BE TOLD, kickball alone isn’t much fun, not even for the participants. That’s why most of us lost interest by fifth grade. And that’s why when adults play kickball there is always plenty of beer and vulgarity on tap.
In my hometown, the 2,500-member “BigBalls” kickball league was recently banned from St. Louis’ Tower Grove Park after numerous complaints from neighbors. According to the park director, the teams, all with good, clean names like “TITS,” “Gang Bang All Stars,” and “Here for the Gang Bang” displayed a “consistent pattern of abusive language, public urination, nudity, and disrespect for park rangers.” How bad was it? So bad, a video showing the “horny, drunk idiots” in all their glory was taken down from YouTube by the “horny, drunk idiots” who had made it.
Doubtless some readers will say, “Don’t be an old sourpuss. Let the kids, I mean, the adults, have their fun.”
A moment’s reflection, however, makes plain that the issue is more than kickball. Indeed, kickball is just another symptom of the on-going depreciation of adulthood, that 40-year cultural shift of tectonic proportions that has been steadily obliterating the line between adolescence and adulthood.
What’s more, it’s an example of the continuing vulgarization of society spurred by a self-esteem generation brought up to believe everything they do merits praise. The young vulgarians believe their raunchy, drunken antics deserve the same attention they received when daddy filmed their first time on the potty.
And because few people take these warning signs seriously, no one bothers to ask: “What happens when we are left with an entire society of permanent adolescents, a majority unwilling — or unable — to take on the roles and responsibilities of adulthood?”
Already we can see the results of the abdication of adulthood in the near total breakdown of underclass families, in the shirking of male responsibility, and in the coarseness of popular culture. As usual, poor women and their children bear the brunt of this neglect. Because of this, the worst instances are largely hidden from view in the urban ghettos. At least for now.
Albert Jay Nock, one of the forefathers of American conservatism, believed childhood was something to be gotten over as quickly as possible, for only then could one begin the life of the mind. The idea that adulthood had to be a negative experience would have been as foreign to Nock as the idea of sexting.
Incredible as it may seem, there are great joys to be had post-adolescence, in adult conversation, in adult games (golf, bowling, bocce ball), in fulfilling work, and in raising a family, for which, in the lines of Russell Kirk, “duty, discipline, and sacrifice are required and where the reward is that love which passeth all understanding.”
But who needs that, when you can play kickball?