My generation — the post-war baby boomers — had an unusually high percentage of dysfunctional relationships with parents. I thought it was a self-selecting sample. I had a pretty awful childhood. My father was a sociopath who should never have been allowed near children, much less to be a parent. Maybe I was just attracted to kids like me.
Blogging has given me a broader perspective. Younger generations have issues with parents, but they can talk, if both sides try. In my growing-up years, not so much.
“The Generation Gap” was a laugh line for comedians, a mantra for the young. Most people blew it off as media hype. It was not all hype. My parents, Garry’s parents, most parents of the boomer generation grew up during the world wars. With the Great Depression in between. They learned to be alert, to hoard goods, and food. You never knew what might happen. Be prepared for everything.
They believed in America. Righteousness would prevail. They were solid citizens, responsible soldiers, dedicated parents, dependable workers. They determined to pass these values to us. Working hard and doing the right thing would always pay off.
They didn’t talk about family values. They lived them. They believed. Even when they weren’t good at expressing their beliefs in positive ways — or expressing feelings at all. They wanted their kids — us — to be an expression of their lives. The work that never ended. The house they bought, even though both parents had to work two jobs each to keep it.
If they were religious, they went to church. Or synagogue. Or whatever else was their place of worship. Minorities taught their non-white and Jewish offspring to keep their heads down and fit in. Don’t be conspicuous. Talk the talk, walk the walk. Go to college. That was how to get ahead.
Racial mixing terrified parents on both sides. Terrible things happened to mixed race couples.
Our parents had formative experiences in the Depression and World War II. The emergence of my generation in the early 1960s coincided with a vast wave of change. It engulfed America. So great was the change our parents were left in the dust. Clueless, unable to understand what was happening to their country, their world, their children. War had been the ultimate righteous cause, and now there was Vietnam.
Rebellion? At home? How could that be? “We gave them everything! We worked our fingers to the bone to give them all the things we never had.” Except we didn’t want those things — not yet, not the way they wanted us to own them.
Many of us eschewed a safe, job. We wanted freedom to find our way. To discover values based our experiences. The world was flying by at warp speed. We boomers didn’t agree that America was on the side of the angels. We weren’t sure there were any angels.
Our music was strange. Clothing, haircuts were aggravating or worse. But the culture was the bridge they could not cross. The willingness of a generation to experiment with sex and drugs. To “try anything once” when they had been largely unwilling to try anything at all.
Some parents found a way to communicate with their kids. My mother got there eventually though by then I was an adult. A dollar short and a decade late. To her credit, she never stopped trying. If she had lived a few more years, she might have discovered she liked the new world.
I always told Mom I was more her daughter than she would ever understand. She was no wimp. Dutiful insofar as she gave up the education she wanted to get a job and contribute to the family. Otherwise? She did her thing. Joined the Communist Party, but the boys were cuter at the Socialist club. So she dumped Communism for a better social life.
She was an atheist and a cynic. She didn’t think much of the human race and even less of my father — the one thing on which we always agreed. She loved me, in her way. It wasn’t what I wanted or needed. She didn’t give me appropriate advice or protect me.
Eventually, as an adult, she supported me. I wish that support had been available when I was young and fragile.
Being a parent to adult children today is easier. We understand where they’re coming from. We may not think they’re on a productive path. It’s hard to watch them make mistakes they’ll pay for later. Nonetheless, we “get” the world they live in because we live in it too.
There are generational disagreements (assuming there are no religious issues), but not unbridgeable chasms. I get my granddaughter even if I think she’s behaving badly. I figure we all behaved like jerks, and it’s her turn. I hope she’ll skip the worst things I did. Save herself some pain and agony, but it’s her life.
My mother didn’t understand “it’s my life” as a concept. Most parents of her generation never got it. They disapproved of us. Their faces were wreathed in permanent frowns. We couldn’t do anything right. Whatever we were doing was wrong by their standards.
We couldn’t bridge that gap. Couldn’t yell across it. Love wasn’t enough to break the barrier. Not all, but most parents did the best they knew how. They were flawed, damaged, believed stuff we find peculiar in 2015, but they meant well.
I think I finally understand. It only took a lifetime.
When I was growing up, you wouldn't discuss anything with a member of an older generation. Nothing was safe. We lived in different universes and had no common language.
“It’s never a good idea to discuss religion or politics with people you don’t really know.” Agree or disagree?