This past weekend was Grandpa Gordy’s funeral. The contrast was so stark—between the loss of Tj at thirty-one and my grandfather at ninety-four. What two different lives they lived. Unfortunately, they are somewhat products of their generations.
My grandfather’s generation, The Greatest Generation, truly were rough, tough, Ford-like individuals. They didn’t quit. When things broke, they fixed them. My brother’s generation, and mine, have a different mentality.
We have the mentality that life will be smooth as the butter our grandparents spent hours churning.
We didn’t know the work it took for them. My brother experienced something that was extremely scary, a mental confusion, dystopia, or illness, that I have never seen nor experienced. But he was done with it. On with it. Buy a new one. Send this Spirit back to its Maker.
Grandpa molded, crafted, re-worked, made up, broke down, and patiently waited while watching the seed he planted grow into a young sapling and then a respectable tree. Tj wanted the tree to thrive without watering it. He thought he’d just sit there, drink in hand and sunhat on, and watch it grow and grow and grow.
Isn’t that what all the other kids his age were doing? The twenty-six-year-old with the million-dollar e-commerce store? The thirty-year-olds that started social media companies and ended up on Oprah? These weren’t outlandish ideas, they were simple. Shouldn’t he be able to do the same?
The struggle was hidden from the Millennial Generation. The Greatest Generation was the struggle.
They embodied the struggle. They lived it, fought it, became it, rose above it, and then they had kids: The Baby Boomer Generation. They were the first ones to have some sort of luxury with fancy cars and late-night movie drive-ins. They drank shakes and ate burgers and somehow stayed thinner in their twenties than today’s teenagers. They got married young and carried on the tradition of what it looks like to live the American Dream: to have a family.
They wanted to provide their children with the life they didn’t have growing up. They wanted their kids to have new socks and dresses more than just on Christmas day. They wanted dishwashers and daycare. They grew up with the generation that embodied the struggle, so wouldn’t they want to take away that struggle for their own children? They did. Man, they succeeded. They provided.
They were hard-working both as mothers and fathers and as workers. They went on family trips that were, albeit not luxurious, they were the epidemy of family memories: camping, hiking through state parks, staying in hotels for their children’s sports tournaments, canoeing, boating… they did things that cost money. And that is how the Millennial children came to be—the generation that expected money without the struggle.
This is nobody’s fault.
These are just the facts of the situation. By providing and providing, we thought, as a pack of evolved humans, that life would get better by making it easier. But by making life easier, we lost some of our toughness. The Millennial Generation knows a completely different sort of struggle—a mental illness that can no longer be hidden. They struggle to feel enough, to feel worthy, to be seen, to feel heard, to deserve good things, to be the object of our parents’ affection.
In America, we are the object of the entire world’s affection. It’s like we all came out little tiny baby celebrities. With great expectations. But there’s only so much room for celebrities, and they take up a lot of air space. They take up a lot of T.V. time. And that’s what we see—that we’re supposed to be that successful by twenty-two too. And if we aren’t? How could you? You were given the greatest starting block. How could you not be yards ahead of the others? It’s comparison and competition.
The Baby Boomer Generation is smack-dab in the middle of all of it. Not removed from struggle, for they experienced great wars of their own. They were the generation that gave without requesting anything in return. They likely lacked sufficient love from their parents, who were working so hard to give them a better life. They fought for freedom too, and like so many men in Vietnam, returned home to a thankless country.
And this is the image I'll always have in my mind:
My father, a Vietnam veteran, at his father’s funeral, a WWII veteran, being handed a folded American flag inside a clear case after a three-volley salute. The shots, bang, bang, bang, went off, and he stood strong as a tower staring forward at the old WWII veterans in uniform firing off their rifles. On top of the flag, he was handed a pack of bullets. He has a whole gun case of bullets. The very bullets that his son used to load his father’s gun and point it to his own head and pull the trigger. Just one month apart, his father’s glory and his son’s fall. And he is handed this American flag and a pack of bullets to try to make sense of it all.
They saluted one another and tears dripped down my father’s face.
I hadn’t cried like that since Tj’s funeral. I was holding my cousin’s daughter and she was scared because I was crying so hard. She asked to be let down and found my cousin and said, “Is Emmy okay?”