Why the long face?

Why the long face? A tough act to follow for Baby Boomers.

I’m not so sure I like being a Baby Boomer, but I can’t do much about it. Considering that the age group preceding us is known collectively as the Greatest Generation, it seems to me that, by comparison at least, the Baby Boomer moniker is not flattering. This is a subject I pursued in a previous decade as a newspaper column, and I’m returning to the topic with a few upgrades.

It’s a bit demeaning, isn’t it, that my age group is named after the “boom” —make that bada-boom—emanating from the flood of heroes who returned from saving the world from the Nazis and the Nipponese? Our enemies, at that time, believed they were the superior race and that some of us were disposable, subhuman and chaff for extermination. If you think Nazis were nasty, with their death camps and obsession with world domination, the Japanese war machine gave them a run for their yen. The death toll of American POWs under Japanese captors was about 37 percent, and many who survived torture and starvation would never feel the bloom of good health again.

The Nazis killed millions of their own people, mostly Jews, gypsies and undesirables, but the death rate of captive American soldiers in their prison camps was just over one percent of almost 93,500 U.S. military personnel held captive. In some respects, it was safer for an American combatant to be captured than take his chances on the battlefield against Hitler’s legions.

All I’m saying is that this was serious stuff, the likes of which we have yet to face again. So I’m not resentful that they are regarded as great and we the spoiled fruit of their loins upon returning from the war. Yes, Boomers are the products of another generation and not even regarded as worthy enough to claim our own accomplishments. It’s like always living in the shadow of an accomplished older sibling or as a preacher’s kid. Now both of our former archenemies are regarded as allies and Russia, once an ally as part of the now disbanded Soviet Union, had become our appointed archenemy with China as a backup.

Baby Boomer is cute and non-threatening, I suppose, but it is also insipid. It was my peers who fostered political correctness and formed a governmental system that can’t get anything accomplished because we haven’t the character to work together and treat each other with respect. Both old guys who are likely to be running for President next November are Boomers or beyond. Technically, Biden is almost four years too old to be counted as a Boomer and Trump, born in June 1946 and now 77, was among the first Boomer batch born barely nine months after our troops returned from World War II.  Biden is 80 until November, about three-and-a-half years older than Trump.  Some worry about the solvency of Biden’s aging brain with the sometimes stumbling rhetoric of a childhood stutterer. Others wonder if Trump has a brain at all as he continues to hallucinate about how he won the last election. Then again, a lot of his followers —many of them quite young—suffer from similar illusions.

The Greatest Generation returned from saving the world and went about making us the world leader in commerce, science, statesmanship and just about any other attribute of consequence that you can think of. The one bad thing they did was spoiling we, the Baby Boomers, and we, in turn spoiled our progeny, Gen X, as they did their progeny, Gen Y, and Gen Y-nots or whatever age groups came after that. Baby Boomers range in age from 58 to 77 and yet, despite our advanced ages, almost three-fourths of the U.S. Senate is 58 or older. Baby Boomers remain the reigning age group in the House of Representatives. More than 100 of them—105 at last count— are between the ages of 65 and 80, and, believe it or not, a dozen of them are in their eighties. So, it looks like my peers, mostly old white guys, are still calling the shots.

Most people in small town and rural America where I grew up had never been to college, and one thing they wanted for their children, with postwar prosperity seemingly endless, was that we would have it better than they did. We got to vie for college diplomas and were often, as was my case, the first in the family to do so. There were all kinds of good jobs, comfortable salaries and access to the American Dream when we became adults. One black mark was our big war—the last one subject to a draft. That didn’t turn out so well, but we could apparently afford to lose that one, though the cost was almost 60,000 lives and five times that number wounded. Turns out it was good for the economy, if not our self-esteem.

Our parents got to work 40-hour weeks, collecting overtime if they toiled beyond; take several weeks of vacation annually, and retire in comfort while they were still young enough to enjoy a few years of rest and rehabilitation.  We, their offspring, not only expected that kind of lifestyle—life had apparently become about style, not substance—but felt we were entitled to it.

Following in Our Footsteps

Of course, our kids got to go to college and become homeowners just a few years out of high school. My generation, despite our advantages, had to work our way up to owning the home of our dreams. A typical scenario was get married, rent an apartment and then, after a few years, buy a starter home with affordable payments. We’d live in that for a while, fix it up and maybe sell it for considerably more than we paid for it. By that time, with our families started and with a few breaks, we were in the house we would live in until we were consigned to the proverbial old folks home.

When I was in my forties and fifties, I began to notice that young people were buying or building homes that we, the Baby Boomers, hadn’t been able to afford until much later in our adult lives. But that was good, because, like our parents before us, we saw that our kids had it better than we did. Successive generations were having it all and having it right away.

Then something happened. Those college degrees were putting people in debt for decades, and those plentiful houses were becoming unaffordable. We’re fighting more wars with no victories and our enemies are lurking among us as both domestic and foreign terrorists.

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut reminded us. The Greatest Generation is dying off at a dizzying rate, as my father did more than a decade ago, and we, the Boomers they brought forth for a better life, have been marching with some trepidation into retirement—our entitlement— and our twilight years for more than a decade now.  Some of us pause to wonder what we have left behind for our children and grandchildren, other than not needing a job based on the number of unfilled job openings these days.

Some might say we have become the Babied Boomers and the X’s, Y’s and Z’s are following our lead. I say it’s at least one thing we can blame it on the Greatest Generation.