When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a pop culture term called the generation gap. It sort of is still in use today, but not really. The main premise is pretty self-explanatory. I have a 16 year old son and find myself on the other side of it.
I was raised by World War II vet (both of them), Irish-Scottish Catholics parents. For their generation, they were on the older side when they had their four children, of which I was the youngest. Classic baby-boomer profile, home in the ‘burbs in Connecticut and Dad commuted by train to New York City for work.
My son was born when I was 32, about the same age as my dad was when I was born. This generational spread (32+ years per generation) puts the 1800’s easily within two generations from me and three from my son. That’s somewhat of an anomaly.
Some changes seem to take generations to manifest. The longer the space between generations, the fewer chances of change and, maybe more importantly, more change has to take place between generations. Socially, the big change between my father (and his generation) and me is how to deal with people who are different. I really don’t know the specifics about how he felt about different ethic groups, because he knew that things had changed during the civil rights movement, but he couldn’t get a true handle on what it meant. This is a classic first generational reaction to change.
Every generation has touchstone dates. With my parents, most were related to WWII (Pearl Harbor, VE day, VJ day.) There is one more, that is the transitional date between me and them – the assassination of JFK. I was in Kindergarten, but I remember the reactions of everyone around me as my mom and I went to pick up my older sisters at school. I knew something was going on and it meant something. I don’t know if there were anymore true “dates of importance” for them.
The next one for me was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember clearly when, when and how I heard the news and how things were different after hearing it than before. I getting a ride home with mom driving from swim lessons / award ceremonies for reaching some level of proficiency at the local Boy’s Club. We were on Glenville Rd between Valley Road and Sherwood Place in a 1964 green Ford Country Squire station wagon (I even remember the license plate and what month the registration tag expired – but that’s just more Tom craziness) when I heard the coverage on the radio.
Now, this event could have passed in my life very quickly. I grew up in a very rich suburb (we weren’t, but the town was.) Pretty darn white, great schools. Until 1962 (just a few years before we moved there,) the town I grew up in had the highest per capita income in the United States. Beverly Hills was #2. This is not a place where race relations needed to be a day-to day issue. It is where people hid from it. Some thought that was one of the things that they were paying for by living in this town.
Not sure what that was all about.
Anne asked me once about how I would feel if my son ended up dating someone from a different ethnic group or whatever. I thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion that it mattered, but only in regards to making something that was hard – having a good relationship – even harder. I couldn’t care less about race, color, creed, gender, whatever. It’s not the issue.
The problem is that he is going to have to live with that relationship in the world. Anything out of the ordinary for society is going to cause some grief. As long as he knows this going into the relationship and is willing to still move forward with the relationship, who am I to care about appearances? The only thing I have to care about is that the relationship is emotionally good for him.
Without going into details, with all the struggles that we have been through with my son, the appearance of who he chooses to date is far down the list of things that I need to worry about.