they don't call it a generation gap for nothing. when i think about my father, and then i think about my son, the image that pops to mind is three sailing ships, each miles distant from the other, just barely visible on the horizon on a clear day. at night, or during the passage of a stormy low pressure system, or during certain phases of the moon, or on tuesdays and alternate saturdays, they cannot see each other. even if they're within a few hundred yards.
i guess it's not all that surprising. consider our respective formative years. my father's childhood was in the 1920s and 1930s. the great depression. baggy clothes, slang with the taste of metal to it, big band music, and world war II looming. he was abused and disrespected by his teachers for being a bartender's son. and he was loved and cared for by six siblings, until he left both school and home at an early age to serve his country.
my own childhood was in the 1940s and 1950s. the post-war recovery, rampant consumerism, the birth of rock 'n roll, and the vietnam war on the horizon. i was a mostly-A student, loved school, tried hard to please, and joined all sorts of school activities to hide my essential loneliness, having moved around a lot and been an only child until i was eight. emotionally ill-prepared for college, i dropped out after two years to serve my country.
my son's childhood was in the 1970s and 1980s. national post-vietnam nausea and uncertainty, hippies and disco, the rise of fundamentalist conservatism, and all too soon divorce and child custody disputes. he was torn between two homes, two sets of rules, two parents who ultimately didn't succeed in placing his interests first. a survivor, he learned to navigate those treacherous waters on his own, and i admire him for it.
three such different lives. and yet, so much shared history, memory, laughter and dispute and tenderness. even when we try, we often don't understand each other as we wish we did. but our saving grace is in the trying, isn't it? reaching out with our minds, scanning that horizon, searching for what is in the other person's mind and heart. we try.