On this 4th of July, I am thinking of my parents and their generation of Americans. My mother and father were born in the 1920s in the American South and grew up poor, during the Great Depression. My father served overseas in World War II, came home and married my mother, moved to the suburbs and raised a family, and worked the same blue-collar job all his days. My mother partnered with my father to bring us up (my siblings and me) in a stable home. Love, Kindness, civility, discipline, and morals were the natural ambient environment. No one ever thought to question this foundation, only how to implement the details, occasionally. The foundation remained secure and so did we.
My parents and their generation had a very different experience and worldview from ours today. Their values were simple and solid, built on decency, goodness, civility, fairness, compassion, and the common good. They had a “can do” attitude, no matter how tough times got. You might lose everything but you never lost your values, and you never lost yourself. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family where these values were the common currency of all our days.
By the time my generation came along (the 1960s), things had begun to change. Fast forward to today. I sit here in my home in the country, in a small Midwestern town that I sought out consciously, to forge a life based on the values I had from my beginning; for my child’s sake, for my own sake, and for the good of us all. I am not an anachronism but I am certainly not mainstream anymore. It is not I who have navigated to the periphery; the center has disintegrated during my lifetime. What would my father think of what our society has become? My elderly mother has trouble making sense of any of it. So do I. I am concerned for my child’s future.
For me, because of a fortunate personal history, there is hope. The murky waters and turbulent seas of our current relativistic and fractured society would easily drag me under if not for the solid ground my parents gave me. I feel sorry for some of the younger (and not so younger) people out there now who seem to have missed out on a solid foundation for their lives. A misinterpretation of individual liberty has done them no favors. Many of them (not all) are indeed adrift and unhappy. The results speak volumes. Their lives are in chaos and it spills over into society.
What can I do? What is my part? It is my personal responsibility to live out the values my parents gave me, while constantly refining them and securing them, passing them along to my son, not so much in words as in the way I live and who I am. It is the best and the most I can do. I reach out to young people wherever I go, just as I saw my father and mother do all of their lives. Now, as I slide into old age and prepare to hand the reigns over to younger people, I am constantly wondering: What can our common future, our common good, be if we have no meaningful and coherent worldview or solid moral foundation? It would be the end of human freedom.
I am so grateful for my parents and their generation.