First time I really looked at my 401k statement and did math caused me pain. It was not the number. It was that I even cared. It was that I discussed raising the contribution level with my wife. I told myself it was about comfort, not greed. I had to repeat that to myself to beat back the feeling I was becoming a Boomer.
Much is written about the Boomers, their rise, their dominance and their decline embodied by the gerontocracy reigning and ruling America in our current year. They were the first television generation, and will likely be the last. Gen X was too exposed to the Net to be purely TV kids, and Millenials and beyond are products of the Internet. A supreme irony for the Boomers is their young adulthood was built around defying their parents and shouting about the generation gap, only to see them age into an elderly population with a generation gap within every niche of society. They don’t get anything because everything changed.
It is up to us later generations to be aware of time passing us by, the changing circumstances of society, the morphing of culture, and how our preconceived notions of time, people and situations become useless as the circumstances change. If we want to become the elder statesmen that we desperately wish Boomers would grow into being, we have to think and act differently.
Millenials turn forty next year. Generations are blurry boundaries, so Gen X who have more shared experiences with Millenials have already hit middle age. If you think Boomers still rebelling against their parents who rot in nursing homes are bad, whining about hating your parents at 45 like you are still in high school is even worse. You’re also going to look like an infantile loser to children you are trying to raise and claim to be an authority over. You need to learn from those Boomers that dropped the teenage rebel crap. Not all Boomers are like that. It’s true!
You also need to learn that Gen Z isn’t really going to care about your stuff, and you are not going to understand their stuff. I haven’t met a neurotypical parent who understands the appeal of Minecraft to their Zoomer kids. Does this mean you need to denigrate it in front of them? That’s a Boomer move. Remember when they called grunge whiny and all mocked Kurt Cobain’s suicide? A stand-up comic joked he couldn’t understand it because Kurt’s balls were empty and his bank account was full. Why end it all?
It’s a dumb pop culture reference but in it lies the nugget of worldview difference. Boomers wanted to be rock stars. That would solve everything. They dismissed the train of deaths in the ‘70s of their rock heroes as outliers, and focused on the sex, drugs and money. Grunge was depressing music. They never noticed that many of the big names leading grunge music bands were products of divorce (Cobain, Staley, Vedder, Alexakis, Cornell). Fame wasn’t going to fix their personal problems, and with three of them dead, it likely exacerbated them. It might have been more appropriate to call grunge divorce rock.
I remember my dad listening to Offspring’s “Self Esteem” and questioning why the song’s protagonist would be a depressed guy upset about the advances of a young woman lookin’ to score. I was a college student and knew guys like that while my dad considered it unthinkable. He never heard their later song “The Kids Aren’t Alright” that described the human wreckage of SoCal’s increasing dysfunction. One would think Boomers would embrace music not just about wanting to have sex or falling in love for their kids, but no, they called it depressing, whiny rock. There were grunge songs that were eye openers for my circle of friends who would share beers or joints, and suddenly someone would say “that song’s about abuse”, and the kids who were abused would nod their head. Some were explicit like “Down With the Sickness” or “Father of Mine” or less overt like “Rearview Mirror”. Boomers were oblivious.
It didn’t stop there. If you grew up as a teen in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that was the peak for teenage sex and teenage pregnancy. Your parents might react with shock that a classmate was pregnant at 17. You’d sit there wondering if they forgot that your classmate blossomed into womanhood at 15, practiced on you or your friends, and then at 16 graduated to late night dates with the 19 year old fifth year seniors. Where did they think it was going? Who let her out of the house? It was laissez-faire parenting bequeathing predictable consequences. They mocked their sons wearing the clothing from ‘90s rap videos, but it was their money that bought their sons those clothes. They learned the wrong lesson from the stern parents they rebelled against. That parenting kept them steady enough to only later divorce and destroy their homes, not start off with single parenthood. That was the Gen X special contribution to social dysfunction.
That’s where you are now as a 37 year old Millenial mom or 44 year old Gen X dad. You’re not going to fully understand your kids’ lives, but you cannot be dismissive. You need to understand the situation you grew up in is nowhere near today’s culture. You’re not going to be able to be laissez-faire because you saw the outcomes from your peers. Those threats have only grown as our culture has taken a nosedive. Bewildered surprise cannot be the reaction. We have to be proactive. Boomers remarried after divorces, some even formed new families like McDonald’s franchises. Boomers look shocked when you say a 32 year old divorcee is looking at a lifetime alone with her kids, forget their struggle to grasp why an attractive unwed mom might still be single in her thirties.
I thank the Sun for posting this because it’s the ramblings of a reader who had it all hit him on a drive back from a soccer practice. My older teenage son is a rock guy, while my younger son is a country listener. We had the radio on for the drive back, and after an Imagine Dragons song, “Father of Mine” came on. I could hear the 14 year old mumbling along to it. My 9 year old was rocking back and forth to it. I waited for the finale and cranked it. I didn’t just crank it, but belted along to it, drowning out my eldest’s mumbling.
“I will never be safe, I will never be sane, I will always be weird inside. I will always be lame. Now I’m a grown man with a child of my own and I swear I’m not going to let him know all the pain I have known.”
I turned the volume back down. My youngest rocked his head to the drums in the outro. My oldest asked, “Dad, what was that?” I looked in the rearview mirror and said “Just feelin’ it.” I was not lying. Like the many Gen X and Millenial kids who had the sit down with mom and dad to explain the reasons for their divorce when they assured me they were going to put me first, like the others who wondered why no teacher or doctor ever asked about bruises, it was my silly identification with a pop rock song from a whiny alt rock band hitting me all at once. My Gen Z boys may never know everything I know, but they won’t suffer for it.
That is what we really have to do for the next generation. We have to move on and recognize the responsibility we have before us. Boomers are oblivious, and some of it is not their fault. My mom scoffs at me unplugging the tv, setting up strict internet controls or homeschooling. She doesn’t get it, but the world passed her by. It doesn’t matter if it is her fault. It doesn’t matter right now to the families we are building and raising. We’re going to have to be the adults in the room. Some of us might have experience as we’ve been playing that role since the marriages or relationships that spawned us fell apart. It’s a job we’ve been practicing for decades now.