We were watching an episode of The Wonder Years the other night. Like so many other TV programs – we never saw them when they aired. So, when we find a good one, we have to play catch up. Thank you, Netflix.
If you are a baby boomer The Wonder Years is for you!
As we discussed the show afterward, my wife said, “That’s just exactly the way the fathers of that generation behaved.” She was referring, of course, to the demeanor best described as (1) grumpy, (2) worried about money, and (3) uncomfortable for an adolescent child to be with for any length of time. Especially alone.
That was certainly my experience, too. And . . . like it or not (and I don’t) . . . I inherited a tendency toward those very same traits. I have been working to eradicate them for years now. And making some progress.
I don’t know if it’s just the Depression Generation (Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”) http://www.amazon.com/The-Greatest-Generation-Tom-Brokaw/dp/0812975294, or if it reaches much further back; and I don’t know if it’s just a phenomenon particular to this part of the world. But Dan Lauria’s depiction of The Wonder Years’ Jack Arnold appears to have a ubiquitous quality.
Depression era folks had a lot to be depressed about, no doubt. And in many cases the struggle to survive made them stronger, more resilient, more tenacious than those of us that followed them. They fought in WWII against a foe that the history we inherited remembers as something akin to the Ultimate Evil. My generation? Well, we fought in Vietnam.
They came back heroes in a parade down main street. We came back addicted to pot, and with no parade whatsoever. Now I know this is a generalization, and does not portray all the facts accurately. But does it not represent a mainstream view of the history of the times?
Nevertheless, there was an impasse of epidemic proportions that existed between fathers and sons; it was almost impossible for a boy to “measure up.” The rebellion of the 1960s contributed to the impasse (it may have been exacerbated by the impasse, too, so that a back-and-forth reaction occurred). But what we were left with was a tension, a chasm, a gulf that neither side would dare venture to cross.
And so, my father would talk to us about our hair, and assure us that he had had “sideboards” (as he called sideburns) before we were even in panties. A competition ensued, and musical groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and others of the day became the fodder for our emotional cannons.
I know the struggle for independence and manhood is a strong one in our culture. Possibly other societies surpass us in their traditions honoring the passage into manhood. But I think it is important for modern day fathers to remember the following things:
(1) Once upon a time you, too, were a son (with all that that entails).
(2) A father should never seriously enter into a competition with his son (only playfully is this allowed).
(3) Learn how to be with your child in a way that brings him/her comfort, challenge, and affirmation, all at once.
The episode of The Wonder Years we were watching ends with the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young classic, Teach Your Children, playing in the background. “How appropriate,” I thought. It depicts the struggles of parenting and being parented (in that era) quite well.
But, of course, we are not in that era, today. And lest we repeat the mistakes of the past . . . we must learn to carve out a new parenting style. One that is untiring in its efforts to unite fathers and sons.