I’m hurt and disappointed. I’m not disappointed about me. I’m disappointed about them. Four important people in my life are blowing me off. Apparently I have little value for them and they’re not thinking about what that means. Yet two of the four tell me they love me and I get hugs and kisses when we meet. The other two have no interest in me whatsoever and exchange the minimal words needed to keep up the pretense of a family relationship.
These four young adults range in age from 16 to 25. The older two are my sister’s kids, my one niece and one nephew. When Mom dies, my immediate family will be my sister and her two children. We’re not talking. That’s sad.
The other two young people are the children of my oldest nephew in Berlin. My wife is German so I have a European family and I’m much closer to them than I am to my own. So getting forgotten again is an unwelcomed occurrence. I had hoped these two young people would be different than their American generation. I have an assumption about that age group. I’m probably prejudice. It’s probably natural for me to feel that way too. And it’s probably natural for young people to disregard the Old Ones.
Did I feel the same way about age differences when I was twenty? For the most part, yes. But mainly because I can’t remember any adult my parent’s age (except for a few teachers and one special aunt) really caring about my ideas. I’m still friends with that aunt. She’s 83 and we have lots to talk about over shots of Putinka Russian vodka.
Maybe I’m deluding myself. Maybe being friends with certain young family members has little to do with the difference in years. Maybe I’m not tight with them because we wouldn’t be friends even if our age matched. Still, a casual connection doesn’t call for downgrading each other’s significance. We should still reach out. In four cases, I am, they’re not. And yes, this matters to me.
Are we pulling apart because they KNOW me and don’t like what they know? Or are we distant because they DON’T know me and they think they do?
My dictionary gives a definition of prejudice as: “a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”
Humm… What exactly is reason? The same dictionary says: (reason is) “the power of the mind to think, understand and form judgments by a process of logic”
Okay, a reasonable personal is a logical person. So a non-prejudiced person comes to logical conclusions about people based on ENOUGH personal experiences to actually UNDERSTAND that person (or group). Only then can one make accurate assumptions.
Does anyone really know anyone else? We think we do, like our spouse, until we find out he/she has been cheating on us or that early alcohol non-issue before marriage was really a serious problem going way back. And our kids, we think they’re predictable until we find the pot, condoms and birth-control pills hidden in the back of their drawers. And our parents? How much did they really tell us? Were those snatches of history reshaped? What did they do when we weren’t around?
As for cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, aunts, uncles, work buddies, teachers, grandparents, ministers, our doctors…what we know about these people comes from what they tell us and the observational time we spend with them. We don’t know everything so we fill in the blanks. Then we make assumptions based on filtered and limited information. We hope all those assumptions are positive but when they’re not, we hold back final judgment until we’re disappointed and hurt for the last time. Then it’s time to resolve it. If we don’t, we pretend to get along with excuses like: she’s just sixteen, or he’s going through some lousy shit at work, or that’s how wives are, or that’s what men do.
Everyday we subconsciously rationalize cuts of betrayal and disappointments by telling ourselves nobody is perfect, we’re not perfect or that we never know what’s going on inside the private lives of our friends, family and associates. We don’t want to be prejudice. We don’t want to have preconceived opinions based on a smidgen of reason or direct experience. But we carry those resentments anyway, especially when people we love don’t return it the way we need it. Silence hurts. Getting ignored takes us down. Still, we don’t want to be demanding and judgmental, so we just deal with the bruises until we can’t anymore. Then explosions go wild and people get burned.
I don’t want anyone I care about to get emotionally scorched by my retaliations. I want information about Uncle Irv and Aunt Janni sinking into my young German family so they’ll stop assuming people our age don’t care about call backs and returned emails. I want them to realize that someday they’ll be older and hoping their grand kids care about them too. I want my young family to expand out of their All-About-Me universe and get past the rush of immediate sparkling discoveries.
I know life is rich when you’re young. So is introspection. I’d like to see more of that. I’d like to help with that, but it’s unrealistic.
If you’re moving on in years like me, you already know that the generations behind us don’t believe our world is especially awesome, nor do they want to take our advice or share our experiences. If they listen at all, it’s because they work for us, they’re students in our classrooms, it’s a family directive or they need something from us. Otherwise, like I do, they hold a Generation Prejudice. They figure the older bunch just doesn’t “get it” and we Oldies feel the same about them.
Sure, there are exceptions. Younger people do find older mentors. And up to the age of twelve, Grandpa and Grandma can be really fun and both young and old look forward to each other’s company. But once teenagers discover sex and cigarettes, the young/old party is over. Then it’s Us and Them.
I wish that weren’t so. There is so much to learn from the co-mingled perspectives of naive but fearless enthusiasm contrasted with seasoned and cautious wisdom. I wrote a past blog about this.
Frankly, I didn’t care about the generation gap until a few years ago when I hit sixty and started writing novels and this blog. I just tootled along, comfortably nestled in my own age group and now and then spent summer weeks with my wife’s sibling’s kids as they grew up to become adults and have kids of their own. Back in the day, before the internet and instant photo sharing, letters took ten days to cross the Atlantic and by then, any news was history. So family communication was far less than it can be today. And consequently less important. What we didn’t have, we didn’t miss.
Today, reaching out IS important because we can do it effortlessly, in seconds, with one finger on a touch screen. Eleven days ago I texted my German grand niece (20) and her brother (16). The young man had just spent three weeks with my wife and me and he brought his best friend too. We entertained the boys like nobody’s business. As they left we got Thank-you’s and I-love-you’s. Once back home, nothing. I wrote this text to Alex and his sister, who has also stayed with us many times.
Did you get this text? Checking connection. Please reply. Irv.
No response. Zip. I called the boy’s father, my nephew. An hour later I got this text from his son:
Hey Irv, Sorry for my late reply, i had a awful busy week. i miss you both so much. Thanks again for everything. Love You. Alex.
When Alex and his friend were camped out in our family room for three weeks I watched them both text their friends back in Germany every ten minutes. Busy is no longer an excuse. His sister didn’t even try using one. My wife sent her a present. No texted or emailed acknowledgement. We feel taken for granted.
Should I let them get away with this? Or should I just carry a lingering resentment that chips away the respect I once had for them.
How would you deal with this? If you’re thirty and you texted your favorite aunt or uncle and got nothing back, would you care? Would you follow up? Or would you decide you couldn’t trust that old lady anymore and let her drift out of your life?
Three years ago I got a first-time email from my sister’s son. It simply said: Hi Uncle Irv. What’s happening?
I wrote back: What’s happening? So much is happening and I’d like to share it with you. But this is a conversation, not a five sentence letter. I want to get to know you and I want you to know me. You may learn some things you won’t want to hear but you’ll also discover new and surprising thoughts. How about a call when you get some time.
When I was twenty-two in 1970, I had a one-time deep conversation Aunt Alice. We talked about Eastern philosophy and a week later I mailed her a book by Alan Watts, The Way of Zen. (Here’s what Alan looked like then) Aunt Alice didn’t read his book but she never stopped talking about my gift. Through the years I never understood why that paperback meant so much to her. Now I do.
Her nephew cared about her and showed it beyond just saying it. It seems I mattered to Aunt Alice.
I never knew it.