Generation B for Blame: Waiting on the World to Change

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A Millennial friend of mine whose empathetic perspective I admire and never tire of recently posted this:

“Hi, millennials! We don’t like being judged and having older generations throwing their crap at us. So idea: Let’s not do that to future younger generations. Break the cycle. Next idea: Stop blaming older generations for our current problems. Yeah, maybe they messed things up, but hey we’re gonna mess stuff up, too. And I know I certainly don’t want to be judged and blamed by future generations for the election of that monster we call Trump. Because you know that very well could be our legacy, right? RIGHT?”

As an (older) dad of a Gen Z eleven-year-old girl, having essentially skipped a generation, (god, I hope that “Z” classification doesn’t mean she’ll be the last generation on the planet!) I feel generational blame rather keenly.  And so I offer my perspective to that of my friend, and for her friends.

Every generation
Blames the one before,
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door.
-Mike & the Mechanics

Those that came of age in the 60’s and 70’s are the worst critics of those who came of age in the 00’s and 10’s, but their reasons may surprise you.

The ’60/’70 Gen, the children of the post-WWII generation were the “hippies and radicals” that would ruin society.  Judged more by the length of their hair and their music than their race or economic background, they were not just criticized by their elder generation, they were reviled and even hated–blamed for the destruction of all that they and their parents worked for.  It was far more than disapproval, it was war.  And it was ugly.  And think of the WWII Generation, they literally just saved the world and now these damn kids are going to ruin it!

Trump is most compared now to Nixon and for good reason.  For Gen ’60/’70, they killed Kennedy (their Obama) and gave them Nixon.  The parallels from then to now are truly astounding, and it looks for all the world that we haven’t gone anywhere.

Gen ’60/’70 fought, rebelled, and even died for their convictions for a free society and for open loving.  They accomplished quite a lot (more than they give themselves credit for), but not all.

They imagined a future for their children; a bright, caring, peaceful, (hairy) and loving future.  Those children are Gen ’00/’10, our Millennials.  I want you to know that you, my millennial friends, are their golden children.  The special ones who would live the beautiful lives that they dreamed for you.  (Unfortunately, they told you that a little too often.)

When they blame you, it’s not because they see you as failures, it’s because they saw you as their hope, one they blithely embraced and never stopped to doubt.  They look at you and say, “Why aren’t you living that life we wanted for you, what’s wrong with you?!”

You can’t be blamed for the life you have any more than they can be blamed for reaching too high for you.  The world is a tough place.

When your elders criticize you, [minus the perennial assholes of every generation] it is not the criticism of hate and derision that they once endured. No, and you must realize this; it is the criticism reserved for those we love and cherish and want the best for.  It isn’t right, but it’s human.

At the bottom of their anger and disappointment, is the fear that THEY have failed YOU.

Maybe the world still has Trumps and Nixons, maybe we still hate and kill each other.  But, what I wish I could tell your critical elders is that they did NOT fail their golden children.  Boomers, though they didn’t inherit the perfect world you promised to bring them, you did bring to the earth and rear a generation who believe in equality, who value peace, and who trust in love, just the way you hoped they would.  You persevered, and so will they.  Ease up.

I also harbor a hope that you, millennials, can reconsider your pre-contempt and distrust of your elders, who like you, took a naive shot at utopia and missed.  You are SO MUCH more alike than not.  I wish you could see yourselves from my eyes.  Anyone who is really paying attention knows, you already have what is most important.

And when the time comes, take my friend’s advice and cut the Gen Z a break.

PART VII: Father/Daughter Stories–Proving Santa.

Santa petrogliph“Daddy guess what, there is no Santa Claus, my friends at school told me!” Two years ago December, my then seven-year-old daughter Madi came home from school to start Christmas break with the inevitable story of how her friends at school said that there really was no Santa Claus. “Their Mom and Dad said so too.” I was caught off-guard and didn’t expect to hear this quite so soon.

Too many parents these days are careless or apathetic about Santa, and it shows. The statistical age of a child losing their belief in Santa Claus has dropped in the last 30 years from 11-12 years old to 8-9 years old. We are losing something here; our information age is missing some important information.

The question parents should be asking is not whether we believe in Santa Claus, but why we believe in Santa Claus. Some of you may know my view of the importance of childhood wonder, (see PART V: Father/Daughter Stories October 23), the ability to be inspired by the unseen and unknowable is a cornerstone of a happy adult life. The knowledge that there is a benevolence in the world that knows, cares, and provides for us no matter who we are is a basic human necessity. How some parents can be so attached to their rationality that they are willing to rattle the wonder and magic out of a child’s head is beyond me.

Thus confronted however, I had to think fast. I fell back on my improv training. First rule of improv, agree with the premise. I answered without hesitation.

“Well of course there isn’t.”

“There’s not??” She was surprised and a little alarmed.

“Not for them anyway. The reality is that if you don’t believe in Santa Claus then he doesn’t exist. And, he won’t leave you presents. These kids who don’t believe in Santa anymore, do they get presents from him?”

“I don’t think so, they say it’s their parents are doing it.”

“Exactly! Presents from parents pretending to be Santa, but not really from Santa, because he doesn’t come to their house, because they don’t believe.”

“Ooh.”

“You get presents from Santa, because you believe in Santa, right?”

“Right!”

Success for now, but it was only triage, doubts still lingered with her. If Madi stopped believing in Santa Claus, then Santa would stop visiting our house, and that would be sad. I needed a longer-term solution, something that would stick, but how do you fight the kids-at-school, the modern, empirical, verifiable, sensible, rational, mundane of the world. Ironic isn’t it? How readily some give up the Santa myth, but not the merch.? –Black Friday indeed.

Christmas Eve came, Madi was snug in her bed, Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” read, and visions of sugar plumbs already dancing in her head. I went downstairs to put out MY presents to her.

I had found no solution. Upset and bereft, I stood staring at the tree puzzling like the anti-Grinch with his finger to his chin.

“I must save Santa, but how…?”

When in doubt, follow the premise, if this then what?   Improv had spoken, it was clear that what I needed was PROOF, but how can you prove the un-provable?

“Screw this, I’ve got work to do.”

I had unfinished business at my computer. I didn’t have the resources, the program, or the technical expertise to finish my work, so it took me another four grueling hours before I was satisfied. I went to bed near three am.

At five thirty Madi bounds into my room, ready to go downstairs.

“Hang on a minute, let me check my iphone first.” I thumbed through my phone as her impatience roiled.

“C’mon Dad!!!”

“Okay, let’s… What the f**k is that!! Wait…! Holy sh*t! I can’t f**kin’ believe this!!”

DADDY!

“Oh, sorry sweet pea, pardon my French. (still staring at my phone) You just won’t believe this picture!”

“Lemme see!” she reached for the phone, and I yanked it away.

“Wait, I’m looking!”

“Daddy lemme see lemme see!!!”

“Okay, let me tell you first… Last night I was finishing up some work on my computer, it was a huge pain in the butt you would not believe… but anyway, I heard this thumping from upstairs. I thought maybe you fell out of bed, but when I checked on you, you were fine. So I went down stairs to set out my presents to you, and stopped to take a picture of the tree. You know that ornament that your aunt and I used to say was our favorite that belonged to your great grandmother? I took a shot of that, and here’s the picture.” I handed her the phone. She stared intently at the photo.

“So?”

“Look carefully.”

“I don’t see it”

“Look at the window behind the tree.”

“I don’t see it!”

“Look in the lower right hand corner of the window, what do you see there?” Suddenly her eyes snapped wide and she inhaled like she had just come up from deep underwater.

Santa window pic

This cropped version doesn’t have Great grandma’s ornament in it.

“WHO IS THAT!”

“Whom does it look like?”

“Oh my gosh it’s SANTA! It’s Santa, it’s Santa daddy, you got a real picture of the REAL Santa, an actual picture of the actual Santa!”

“It sure looks like it.”

“Did you do that?”

“Hell no, I’m as surprised as you are. (I enlarged the picture.) Look at the glare on his face from the reflection of the tree lights. They are in front of his face. Whatever is there was outside the window. Let’s go down and see what he brought.”

“I can’t believe you got a picture of the real Santa, daddy you have to send this to the Smifso… Smifisonio…”

“Smithsonian Museum?”

“Yes!”

“I’ll email the curator tomorrow, they’re closed today. We must be the only ones Madi.”Santa Window close p

When we got downstairs we looked from the same position I took the photo. I went outside to stand in the garden to judge his height, and then came back in.

“From the look of it, he is between four and five feet tall, and has a pretty big head; the only tracks where right by the window, so it couldn’t be somebody else. He must have just come down from the roof, and that thumping sound I heard was probably him landing on the roof.”

I checked the NORAD map of Santa’s flight we track and concluded that the photo was taken at roughly the same time that Santa hit North America. After we examined the milk and cookies, and read the note from Santa wishing us a merry Christmas, telling Madi that she was a good girl this year, and suggesting that her dad get to bed earlier, we ransacked the presents under the tree.

Later we sat on the couch and mused over the photo again.

“You know what I think Madi? I think that nobody sees Santa unless he wants to be seen. I think he meant to be in that picture, came down from the roof for just that purpose, because he wanted us to know that he is real.”

“That must be true Dad.”

The next Christmas Madi used that photo to make her own Christmas cards to her Mom and Dad.  When this question comes up again, I will be prepared, I am saving this…Virginia clipping

It’s also for you, dear blog reader, a Christmas present from me, and here it is…

If you have never actually read, in its entirety, the September 21, 1897 editorial in The New York Sun, by Francis Pharcellus Church, here it is for you.

This is a photo of the actual clipping. In it, Church answers an important question from an eight-year-old girl by the name of Virginia O’Hanlon. She wrote to the newspaper at the suggestion of her father who assured her that, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”

Church’s answer to this ubiquitous childhood question is the most profound and enduring answer to a “skeptical age”, which you or I or anyone since can come close to.

For our children, Santa is real; for us he is a metaphor for something that is as real as you or I.

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Virginia O’Hanlon’s home at 115 West 95th Street as it appears today. Notice the plaque out front.

Have a very merry Christmas everyone!

Beginner’s Eyes: What My Daughter Taught Me About Perspective

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I am fifty-six years old, and the number makes me laugh. I still can’t wrap my brain around it. When people ask me how old I am, I tell them I am twenty-three, then they laugh. It’s a joke of course, but only sort of, because I still feel twenty-three, and I actually do think of myself as that age, less the angst, plus the life experience. Perhaps “thinking young” is the reason why people still guess my age as low as forty. Even at forty, the number sounded so ridiculous to me that I began a practice of counting down in years each birthday thereafter. Next year I’ll be “twenty-three” and the timing is just right.

Why twenty-three? Because that was the age I just began to know myself well enough to know what I really wanted. It was when I best recall having all the energy, vision, and time I needed to take my life wherever I desired, a time when everything was possible. I feel that way today, but it hasn’t always been that way.

DSC_0115I have somehow always known that I would have a daughter. I was first married at twenty-six, but was in no hurry to have a child. I wanted to wait until my thirties to raise a child, because I wanted to have the life experience to do it properly, and not while I was still so absorbed with starting my own life. It took a little longer than I expected, but that’s another story. I was forty-seven when Madi finally came along. By then, I was hoping that raising a child would keep me thinking young.

It worked.

I remember the moment I heard that my fifteen-year quest for progeny was finally realized. It was over the phone, I was sitting alone in the dark, in a garden. Suddenly magic, beauty and wonder that I hardly knew was missing seeped back in to the world. The dark garden filled with colors I hadn’t noticed, and I decided then that I would not let them fade again.DSC_0192.JPG - Version 2

I set my intention to seeing the world through my child’s eyes, to reengage life as I had originally found it when I began it myself. I wanted to reach back, if only in fractured moments, to life in its newest, purest form. I wanted to touch, if I could, original innocence, trust, play, bliss, and above all wonder. Of course we can’t go back to being a child, nor should we want to, but if these things can be brought forward to where we are now, how much more potent would our lives be? Seeing through my daughter’s eyes became a practice of mine, one I came to call seeing with “beginners eyes.”

What does that look like? Let me ask you, do you remember a time when you walked down the street in the middle of the road because it just made natural sense? Do you remember the feeling of an open space needing to be filled, or a time when there was never a question of trust? Do you remember when colors had no name? Do you remember when your only concept of time was dusk in the sky and your mother’s voice calling you in for dinner? Do you remember when a woods or open pasture was a choir of adventures calling your name? Do you remember nature? Do you remember what it was like when the word future had no meaning? Can you recall when understanding the world around you was more important than understanding yourself and your place in it? These are the things you see with beginner’s eyes.DSC_0171 - Version 2

If we had this view, if we found the practice of it in our daily lives, we could see past the thought-forms and constructs we adhere to in order to survive in an orderly world; how the clock and the agreements we make segment our life. We could see from a greater vantage the way we steep ourselves in a complex game of achievement. How we barter and compromise ourselves in relationships, and the way we run the race to the future, and overlook the present.

We choose this game of life, and so far as I can determine, we are here to know ourselves within its context, to find and actualize ourselves as best we can for some secret purpose that must somehow include growth. It’s a great game, a wonderful game, but we invariably get bogged down in it and lose our bearings, like a war we fight until we forget what we are fighting for and the battle becomes all that matters. My daughter taught me to keep stopping, stopping to look at things I knew well, as if they where brand new.

One dewy Spring morning Madi and I leave the front door in a rush to get into the car.

“Daddy wait! Look at the flowers!”

“Aww, Madi don’t run through the wet grass with your good shoes, come on we’ll be late!”

She turns and gives me a curious, almost sympathetic look as though I must be thick or something, “But Daddy, it’s the first flower.”

“Of course, right. My bad. They’re called crocuses…” They were white with purple and looked like little girls bent over with their long hair thrown over their heads, feet in the dirt like my daughter. We were late to wherever it was we were going, with wet shoes, but we had marveled over our garden’s first flowers and had given them their due. It is amazing what you will see when you stop to look.DSC_0319

Winter. We’re in the school parking lot for a morning drop off at school, there is a light snow, and it’s cold.

“Daddy look, snowflakes!!”

“Yeah, yeah sweetie it’s snow, let’s go, come on now.”

“No… Look!

She was staring at the car window. The temperature was just right for each snowflake to fall unspoiled and perfect on the darkened window.

“Wow! Cool Madi!”

“How do they do that?”

“When water in the air freezes, nature turns them to crystals, they say that no two snowflakes ever look the same. Imagine how many snowflakes have fallen and each one is completely different.”

“Awesome. Daddy can we save them?”

“No, but I’ll take a picture of them for you, so you can look at them later.” After I dropped her off, I spent fifteen minutes in the cold staring at them.

DSC_0116 - Version 2Summer evening. There’s a new moon and the sky is brilliant with stars.

“Daddy, what are all those lights up there?”

Stars, some planets, and Galaxies, which are huge groups of stars, but mostly it’s stars.”

“What are stars?”

“You know the sun, the sun is a star. Imagine the sun so far away that it looks like those tiny points of light.”

“Whoa, there are so many. How far away are they?”

“Well, they are so far away that the light we see from them takes millions of years to get to us. In fact, the light we see is so old, that the stars we are looking at may not even be there anymore.”

“Then what is behind the sky??”

“What indeed Miss Madi, what indeed?photo inchworm

I take great comfort in the fact that even though she takes as commonplace the stunning visual effects in movies and dazzling electronic toys that would have blown my mind as a child; she is still in rapture over a caterpillar on a stick.

I have incorporated “beginner’s eyes” into my work, in the form of exercises I use in my creativity and improvisation workshops. Participants might begin by pointing to and naming objects using anything but the name we all agree upon for them. They will be asked to find and hold an object in their hands and look closely at it, then they are tasked with forgetting its name, color, shape, purpose, until every cognitive construct we use to associate it into our understanding disappears. Then they are asked to see everything around them without any artificial symbol or association, and finally to see themselves in that way. The way the world comes alive for them, and the realizations they come to about themselves is often quite moving.

DSC_0119The practice of this gives you the ability to break tightly held mental patterns, and to broaden your perspective. We walk a maze of our own creation, following arbitrary and self-imposed rules. So what shall we do when our life’s maze offers us a dead-end? We climb over the damn wall!

The gift of a child’s experience, installed in an adult life grants us a nimble perspective. When we lose our job, instead of feeling trapped and failed, we may see a new career beckon. When we lose love, instead of feeling lost and alone, we may see a fresh new page turn. If we have a dream, we may run to fill it. When we run out of time, we may learn to let go of time. When we find ourselves directionless, we may listen for what calls us next. We may learn to stop throwing our happiness into the future, and learn to accept it now. We may even learn to stop searching so hard for ourselves that we forget who we are, or fail to see others.

My daughter will grow up, and she will fall prey to all of these things, as we all do, as we all must at some point. She will forget her beginner’s eyes someday, but I will never lose her gift. When she needs it most, her father, still twenty-three years old, will be there with these eyes, the ones she gave me.

And I will return the favor.

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