GROWING UP BOOMER

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.

1963. I'm in the front, in the middle, arm on my knee.
1963. I’m in the front, in the middle, arm on my knee.

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.

75-edited-GarryMomDad-WW2-300

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.

Marilyn 6th Grade class

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.

96-Me Young in MaineI 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.

1972
1972

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.

75-edited-wedding-2

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.

96-Mom-May1944

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.

Grandpa-Samuel-Seiden-web

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 2018, but they meant well.

I think I finally understand. It only took a lifetime.

10 thoughts on “GROWING UP BOOMER”

  1. Beautiful assessment of the times and life in general Marilyn. I think our parents did the best the could with the knowledge and experience of the their times. It was up to us to figure things out for our times. My father would have been overwhelmed the way things are today. My mother would have found it fascinating.
    Leslie

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    1. I think my mother might have liked it too, once she got used to it. My father was … well … whatever he was. I think we all need to live longer so we have time to get used to the changes. We grow up with one set of expectations, but then everything changes and not all of us are so fast on our feet that we can deal with it. I deal with parts of it and mostly, ignore the rest because it really no longer concerns me. If I was working, I’d have to deal with it a lot more.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think one of the bigger problems today is the tenuousness of work. It’s very difficult to get a position where one has some security. A lot of people need more than one job just to get by. There’s such a disparity between the rich and the poor. People don’t want charity, they just want decent pay for their work and to know that their job hasn’t been relocated off shore.
        Leslie

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  2. My parents both lived through the Depression and the second World War, but were born too late to see WWI. However, Mormons had their own set of built in issues around ‘the generation gap.’ My grandparents on both sides were the children of pioneers. People say “and so??”…Pioneers (from what I know of them, being their progeny down the line, but never having known any personally) were rather like the Puritans who landed on Plymouth Rock all those years before. Religion was the THING, communication or showing affection or love to their children was not. Therefore (IMHO) the children of the Pioneers did not learn how to communicate with their children and so forth. My parents had a horrible time trying to relate to us, their children. Add a little mental health blip to the mix and you’ve got quite a situation. My father died just before I turned 43 and my mother two years later. At the end they both seemed to regret a lot of what they did raising us; but my siblings and I think they did a pretty good job given their trials and obstacles. None of us ended up addicted to drugs or alcohol, nor turned to a life of crime…which many of our peers in somewhat better circumstances than we had; did. We look at each other when we talk (which is rare…the communication thing becomes a trait in my opinion – my brothers and I aren’t close at all..never learned how to be) and we are all surprised and a little bit smug about the fact that we all came through adulthood without many challenges.

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    1. I agree. My mother wasn’t huggy and fuzzy. She had a strong sense of right and wrong, had powerful political beliefs … and if she had faith in anything outside herself, it was in the power of words and books and ideas. She believed we could move the universe if we used our brains. She didn’t teach me how to cuddle — I learned that much later and slowly — but she taught me that first and foremost, life is about thought, ideas and that you should never stop learning.

      Maybe we all expect too much of parents. They are, after all, just people with all the flaws and weaknesses. They do what they know how to do. The rest, we need to get elsewhere.

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  3. I think there are individual problems, too. They grew up in families, too, and godnose how those families worked during those very hard times. It’s easy to paint them in large brush strokes — Depression, WW II — but I think it’s even more complex than that now that I’m older and can look back on the waves of complexity in my own life and lifetime. My mother was a monster, but her sisters were not — to me anyway. I imagine my cousins might say the same thing of THEIR mothers. Now I think there are personalities involved and just because they gave birth to us doesn’t mean they had to like us, understand us, want to be around us, anything. I don’t know. I believe they — and we — were probably differently self-conscious than any previous generations had the luxury to have been. Again, I don’t know. But for myself, I always liked them, in general. They interested me. They knew things I didn’t know. I wanted in on it. 🙂

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    1. I know it’s more complex. Every family has its own stuff. My mother loved her family, every one of them, even the weirdos. They were a good family that way, but they weren’t kissy huggy people. None of them were. They were kind, generous, polite … and standoffish.

      When I was a parent, I really began to realize how helpless we are as parents. How little we know, how little we understand. How long it takes for us to get good at parenting and some of us are never great parents — not because we don’t WANT to be, but because we lack the tools.

      I think the wars and depression had a HUGE effect on that generation just as what is happening now will have a huge effect on the kids growing up now.

      I never intended to describe everyone as somehow the same, but generations do carry generational markers. The Depression Era kids had a pretty specific set of fears that seemed weird to their children. The survivors of concentration camps produced a crop of very fucked up kids, too — what a surprise, eh? My first husband was a prison camp survivor, as were his parents and they all had some strange attitudes that are probably make sense only to others with similar experiences. Of course my husband was a child while his parents were adults trying to raise a kid in a Japanese prison camp — different effects, same bottom-line experience.

      I liked my mother’s family and always regretted they died before I got to know them better. They were much older than most parents, including my mother. I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I regret not getting to know them while I could.

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  4. Leslie, ditto with my parents, but less dramatically. Dad would’ve shook his head in disbelief and grumbled about lack of work discipline, shoddy products. Mom would absolutely be fascinated by the “new stuff”, but wonder if might be the work of the devil.

    They were very clear about good and evil with their 3 sons. It takes a lifetime to absorb.

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