My father just passed away yesterday. He had a long and hard three-and-a-half year struggle with metastatic Lung Cancer. Although many people might not have considered him a “great” man, I do, and it is only recently that I have come to this conclusion. He never had an enemy, I never heard anybody say a bad thing about him – maybe that was because I was his eldest son and it is rude to talk disaparagingly about the kids’ parents in front of their kids, but still you overhear things, which I never did. He had a good number of trusted friends even though he was not all that extroverted, and he got along with all of his immediate family. When you grow up in a setting like that, you believe that all of the other families have the same loving and friendly environment – and you take it for granted. You can’t see how any family could be dysfunctional, and because of this, maybe one is less compassionate about people who live in those environments. It is the people who experience true pain who are more compassionate and empathetic to others, particularly to those also experiencing a similar situation, especially when their experience is very recent. (But as time passes, this compassion is not as strong or even disappears.) But I digress.
My father never went to college, he worked hard to help get all three of us kids to get into college (He didn’t actually pay for college, he didn’t have the money). Yet, I never heard him complain about his work, not once. One summer, I worked for his same company- the job was terribly, terribly awful – “Dirty Jobs” had nothing on me. (Of course, I didn’t do the same job, mine was outdoor manual labor), but still the place was loud, dusty and dirty. I know I couldn’t have worked in that environment, just to support my family. But then that was a different time – the sixties/seventies – it was a good time for the middle class, unions were strong, only one parent had to work (take home pay went further), loyalty for working at a company for a long time was rewarded, and company bosses were embarrassed if their salary was revealed and it was found to be too high. Then, I think about some of the other changes my father must have lived through.
My father was born in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. We, too have just survived a Depression, (by all accounts it was a Depression, but we like to use the words “The Great Recession”, because the word “Depression” spooks us (the media is afraid that people will sell off their stocks), where in the 1930s, they liked the word Depression, better than the word before it, which was “bank-run”. So, what happened in 2007-2010 “The Great Recession?” Well, millions of Americans lost their jobs, millions declared bankruptcy and some banks failed. Tragedy! But if you compare it to The Great Depression, this Great Recession was a walk in the park: 1) Millions lost their jobs – in the 1930s, no job = no food, and no ability to any pay bills, in the Great Recession (the 2000’s), loss of jobs usually meant going on unemployment and collecting money for up to three years and cutting back on Botox injections; 2) Millions declared bankruptcy – in 1930’s that meant you were turned out into the street, in the 2000s, declaring bankruptcy usually meant you could still live in your house and have shelter; or if you didn’t actually declare bankruptcy and didn’t pay your mortgage – you could still live their for many months if not longer; 3) Banks failed – in the 1930s, if the bank failed, the money you deposited there was gone forever, in the 2000s, that money is insured, and then the Federal government subsidized the other banks so they wouldn’t fail too. So, now, here we are in the post Great Recession economy, which is a growing economy, and all of us “entitled” Americans – all we do is complain. I could see why our grandparents and parents would just like to backhand all of us complainers – but that would no longer be socially acceptable. We have survived a “mamby pamby” depression with very little pride and constitution. What happened to attributes of my father’s generation, like being forthright,steadfast, honest, and charitable? We have all become victims of the “ME-ME-ME-It’s all about ME” generation. How big of a house can I live in? Should I stand in line now for the latest IPhone? How many cheap Old Navy shirts can I collect made by actual Bangladeshi children? And should I care that we no longer have a middle class because we are sending all of our jobs overseas? Of course not, as long as we are the Baby Boom Generation – our hedonistic consumerism needs unending appeasement. The Baby Boom Generation while having all of its needs met growing up, and with its considerable potential, has been the proverbial spoiled child. The previous generations,like the one that fought in World War II was considered the Greatest generation, my father’s generation was considered the greatest generation for equality and U.S. economic stability. The Baby Boom generation should be considered the Most Disappointing Generation. And each successive generation after the Baby Boom generation has been put in an increasingly worse position to get ahead.
I love the national motto of France: Liberte, Equalite and Fraternite, meaning: Freedom, equality and Brotherhood. The Baby Boom Generation motto: what is mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine including your future.
My father’s generation was weary of big banks, the stock market and corporations. They knew the value of hard work, they knew to help their fellow man, they drew up plans to protect American jobs. They knew about brotherhood due to the hardships of the Depression and World War II. On the polar opposite is The Baby Boom Generation. It is weary of “government”, it, also, believes what is good for corporate America is good for the rest of us. They have been dead wrong. The middle class is fast approaching extinction and the income inequality is higher than anytime in US history.
When I was a teenager, I thought I knew it all, and that my Father knew nothing. “Like, when did he last go to high school? Right? His mind must be in an advanced state of atrophy, correct?” As I grew older, I found that my father was much more intelligent than I had realized. Experience, more time to put different seemingly unrelated concepts together, seeing the same patterns/plots in music, literature and entertainment, and learning why and how things are the way they are (the history) – all of these things make up “Wisdom”. This is what he had. And this is what his generation had. But the Baby Boom generation threw it all out, everything has to be new, even if it is untested. Get rid of “protectionism”, they say. Get rid of import taxes and quotas, they say. And now it is: “Who cares about billion dollar deficits with China every month anyway?” What a bunch of fools we have been. We knew all these previous lessons, yet we dumped them. (What we need to do is to build a strong middle class, we need to stop outsourcing and we need to create more manufacturing. What is with those Washington bozos? Oh yes, that’s right, they are corporate shills, I forgot. Not only are corporations “people”, now corporations have religious rights, too. Do they feelings too? Can they sue us if we hurt their feelings? If corporations are people, why can’t we send these corporations, I mean the whole board of directors, to prison for wrongdoing? I have digressed again.)
I shall greatly miss my father and will be quite emotional at different times for a while. I will miss his kind words, his great sense of humor, his solid character, his unending love of his family and his gentle mocking: “Don’t let that ground ball roll under your dress, Jack” (To be clear I did not wear a dress when practicing baseball). I will try harder to live by being of even more sound character, and to avoid the wanton wastefulness of pure consumerism. I shall reassess my blessings which are many: good health, the best wife ever – my true soul mate, a good paying job that I am good at and up until recently with enough time to write a blog, lucky to be living in a free country, lucky to to have lived at a time when economic advancement was still possible, lucky enough to look like I am part of the majority, lucky to be free of major disease, major illnesses or terrible accidents, lucky to have come from a great family, lucky to have great friends and co-workers and lucky enough for not having to go to war and killing someone. And I will spend some extra time contemplating the greatest blessing placed upon me – the love of family.