The generation of Now (4): the luxury of choices
This is a picture of me (in my bleached blonde phase) and my Dad. In Adam’s brilliant and moving post the other week he talked about the birth of his daughter. Without any premeditated synchronisation, I also wanted to bring my thoughts to human specifics and talk about my experience of the generation gap with my father.
I’ve always had the feeling that my father and I approach life from very different perspectives and when I was younger I had a harder time accepting this than I do now. One of the sticking points as I was growing up was always materialism. My father tends to quantify things in terms of money and I have always been squeamish about doing so. He favours hard, tangible measures of value while I am more comfortable expressing softer, more emotive measures of value. He prefers to measure his own success by tangible fruits of his labours, which translates directly into a gathering of modern, stylish, expensive things into his home and life. (Incidentally, he owns a house with something like 8 bedrooms on two upper floors.)
I’ll be completely honest – when I was a teenager I had an ill disguised contempt for this aspect of his life and remember grumbling that I was treated as another asset, just an extension of my father’s showcase of his high standard of living. It wasn’t until I started thinking about it in terms of history – the difference between his past and childhood and my own that I found a more useful way to look at it.
Thinking about this last year, I realised that my Dad’s childhood was profoundly different to mine. He is one of 4 children whose father (my grandfather) died when they were all very young. My Dad knows a financial hardship that I have never even come close to experiencing, let alone understanding. As I think about it, for this to have not profoundly affected his outlook on life would be really strange. In fact, my Dad has worked his whole life to ensure that his children have a whole wealth of options for striking out into the world open to them. Indeed, he has always taken his duty as provider seriously both for his children and his siblings, despite being one of the youngest in his family.
So if I think about this from a generation gap perspective, I can see that Dad’s tendency towards materialism (as his way to measure his progress in life) is the very thing that has allowed me a freedom from it and the ability to turn my nose up at the pursuit of gathering financial markers of my own status in life. In the same way that my father is at least party responding to a formative urgency of financial comfort, my outlook is formed by my privileged experience of never having to worry about having the money to pursue the things I really want to.
So we’ve gone from instant gratification to materialism and also jumped back a generation. As I started thinking about it I liked the idea of levelling an accusation of materialism against an older generation. It certainly breaks up the burden of feeling that mine and younger generations are defending ourselves against charges of blindly pursuing instant gratification. I also wanted to make the point that we don’t come to our perspective on life and how we should live it in isolation. It is actually only by witnessing the results of my parents’ choices that I have the opportunity to challenge their underlying assumptions. Any smugness I may feel about making better choices than my parents is sure to evaporate as soon as I have children of my own and they are capable of challenging me …
Thank you Dad, for everything you’ve given me. Especially the option to choose my own values by opening up the world beyond your own experience for me.