When I’m not playing golf, I spend a lot of time rummaging. It’s what old people do.
A week or so ago, rummaging through some old speeches, I happened upon one I gave in Battle Creek, Michigan on September 28, 1968. It started out like this:
“Tonight, I have the honor of escorting my little princess – my daughter, Peggy.
I enjoy these periodic chances to be alone with my children – one at a time.
The long, pleasant drive along the freeway is a time to get better acquainted, to catch up on what’s happening, to answer questions and to listen.
Listen to what they think. Listen to their hopes and their dreams. Learn a little about what puzzles them, what frightens them, what worries them.
We hear a lot these days about the generation gap.
I suppose there is no way to prevent the gap between parents and children. The rushing of the years between us has carved out a natural gulf. We are on this side, and they are on that side.
But it is possible, I think, to build bridges across that chasm.
Not mighty, four lane highways, perhaps. Not like the Big Mac or the Ambassador Bridge.
But we can build simple homemade foot bridges. They will be tenuous and shaky. They will rock perilously in the wind. But if they are fastened securely at both ends with clamps of love, they will be strong enough for people to cross – one at a time.
It seems to me that the job of parents is to test that bridge, show that it can be crossed, and then, through our encouragement and by our example, see that our children cross over, bravely and safely to the other side of the ravine – the side reserved for adults, only.”
The rest of the speech was about the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and the generation gap between the adults who were there to nominate candidates for President and Vice President, and the riotous young people in the streets who wanted, among other things, an end to the Viet Nam War.
I wondered aloud whether the young people were disillusioned with the establishment because their parents had told them, “you can’t fight City Hall.”
Or if they had lost faith in the democratic process because their parents had told them that “politics is a dirty business.”
Those young protesters talked about a sinister conspiracy they called the “power structure,” and I wondered if it was because their parents left government to the experts, thought that government could create wealth out of thin air and that the ineptitude and corruption of public officials could somehow be corrected by the newspapers or the TV, and they didn’t have to get involved.
That was 42 years ago.
The pot smoking students of 1968 are now in their sixties, fretting about their social security, bouncing between Keith Olbermann and Glen Beck, and hoping that somehow they can get out of Iraq and Afganistan, avoid a nuclear confrontation with Iran or North Korea, prevent economic domination by the Chinese, and convince their children to get married and spawn some grandchildren.
That twelve year old girl who went to Battle Creek with me so long ago came visiting with her husband last week end.
We had seventy two hours of titillating conversation, debating, laughing, catching up and just listening to the voices of people we love very much.
Peggy is now a lovely, grown up lady married to a great guy. They have four beautiful, college educated daughters, who seem to be crossing the bridge to maturity just as surely as their mother did.
Maybe, just maybe, we old timers shouldn’t worry so much about the future.