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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

A shared day but very different lives

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today is an important day in my small world. Today my father turns 82 and my son turns 30. We've always taken some level of pride in these shared birthdays. You can never truly plan such a coincidence so that makes it all the more special when it occurs.

So naturally, my mind turns to the twin birthdays and I am at once struck by how remarkably different a world these two men share.

My father is a true child of the Great Depression. Dirt poor like so many others, he lacked opportunities but never really knew it. His world was filled with sacrifices and simple pleasures just as countless others of that time. He knows the Depression not from a history book but from struggling. Yet everyone made the same sacrifices so the basics of life were the only constant for everyone.

My son, on the other hand, never faced those circumstances. His "sacrifices" would pale by comparison to that earlier generation. I hesitate to even use the word sacrifice. Let's face it, choosing between which video game to purchase would hardly fall into the definition of sacrifice.

But what really concerns me is not today but tomorrow. I cringe when I imagine the world that will greet my 30-year-old son should he enjoy the long and rich life of his grandfather. In 50 years or so, when my son matches his grandfather's age, I shudder to think of what is ahead on that distant horizon. I so want to remain optimistic but day-by-day, that task becomes all the more difficult.

The prospects for that future date don't come from me - they come from the "experts" who can forecast trends and make learned predictions. If they are to be believed, then we should all worry about our children and grandchildren and, God forbid, their children.

I watched an interesting discussion last week on the impact of the environment that this planet's growing population will bring. And the impact comes from China and India. Even if you assume that the United States will someday successfully address a host of concerns on the environment, race relations, limited resources and far too many people, China and India may never fully address those very same problems. Just like the weather, some things are just beyond our control.

My father has surely known sacrifice but he has also known peace and prosperity. But my son does not have that same promise. What amazes me more than anything, is that this shift in world outlooks has occurred in just two short generations. Again not being pessimistic, I would honestly have assumed that a civilization's decline would have taken a much longer period of time. And I would have been wrong.

Does this mean all is lost? Of course not! Hope and promise are gifts to all generations.

Here's my final note on this festive day for my family. I think when history is written, we Baby Boomers blew it. We of the generation between the Greatest Generation (credit Tom Brokaw) and Generation X - for whatever reason in whatever way, managed to screw up more than our share. Speaking in generalities, I think we Baby Boomers were greedy, selfish and paid little attention to what was given to us and what we would in turn give to our future generations. I'd like to think on a personal note that I was not among that selfish herd but I can't escape my date of birth any more than my father or son.

Those in my father's generation are clearly in their sunset years. But my son is just now entering that wonderful, productive time of accomplishments and family and finding his way through the forest. I just wish my generation had cleared a bit more of that forest than we did. It would surely have made the path ahead easier.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen