Angry, bitter, old people. Once it was my parents I occasionally thought of this way; but as I look around I am startled to see that now it is instead my peers, the fifty-something cohort that I experienced a childhood in the seventies with and slam danced through the eighties beside. Gone are the mohawks, safety pin piercings and leather jackets, but still there is the simmering anger of the suburban punk who had nothing more to protest than our parents imposing curfews and maybe expecting us to show up for supper once in a while.
And it seems a lot of our anger is directed at the generation us Gen-X types call the Millennials; and sometimes these offspring are in fact our own children who we tear down as we object to, well, pretty much everything about them.
They are entitled, we think, lazy and far too reliant on technology. They are too sensitive, they don’t understand what it is to REALLY have to struggle and they spend way too much time on social media. They are narcissists who do nothing but take selfies and they have no work ethic. After all, we work with them and we resent their attitude in the workplace. They don’t seem to care about anything, and frankly we find them completely inexplicable.
My friends, it has happened. We have become our parents.
I know, we all swore we never would. We would remember those crazy days of our teens and twenties, right? Back when our elder generation thought we were the problem and said we had lost our way (as well as our minds, what with that whole Sex Pistols thing). We were never going to be so critical of youth, because we had been there, man. We understood.
And then we started to grow older. Some of our youthful flamboyance and optimism ran straight into reality as we realized our mohawks weren’t helping us to secure jobs. We started paying rent and mortgages and taxes and car payments.
Then the next generation came along. And you know what? They grew up differently than us. Of course they don’t remember some of the shit we remember, and why should they? I don’t recall a world before indoor plumbing, but that doesn’t mean I am entitled; it just means I never experienced it.
If we had all this tech when we were in our teens and twenties you can bet your ass we would have enjoyed the hell out of it. Honestly though I am glad there are no Instagram photos of some of my exploits with bands like The Dead Kennedys or those rather drunken episodes at seedy bars in late night Toronto.
And speaking of the workplace, how my older coworkers back then must have despised my cavalier attitude, coming in late and reeking ever-so-slightly of old booze. How carefree I must have seemed, free of any real commitments and only needing enough cash to cover the rent and my next bar tab.
Sure, some of us went to university – but then again there was all those beer-soaked keggers and parties which we barely recall. And when we got “real jobs” it took us some time to settle into the concept of working life, too.
But here we are, a few decades later standing in judgement and finding the Millennials guilty of ALL THE SAME THINGS WE DID. And you know what? I bet our grandparents felt the same about the generation after them, the spoiled little jerks who lived a life far easier than their own.
Can we be honest for a moment? The real problem with Millennials is that we are seethingly jealous of them.
We want to be them, with their easy lives and carefree attitudes.
Dammit, we want to be young again.
And it is all so absurd, because the truth is the Millennials don’t have life any easier than we did; it’s just different. They face different challenges and opportunities than we did, and we might not understand theirs any more than an older generation understood ours.
At the age of 50, I find myself the parent of a Millennial. There are many things I find curious about her, like why watching Youtube videos of other people playing video games with a running commentary is so intriguing. And I know she is different from me, as she has grown up as a digital native with tech my parents could have never imagined at her fingertips her entire life.
But in so many ways she is EXACTLY the same as I was at her age, although she has an edge of cynicism I don’t quite recall. She is young and vibrant and opinionated and sassy. And just like I was, she is on occasion lazy, lacking in work ethic and without a care in the world.
Millennials are having kids now. I suspect they tell each other they won’t be as harsh on them as we were on them; they will remember being young and all the hardships they faced. They are likely deciding they will never be like Gen X.
And one day they will look at the kid next to them at work. and think “look at this entitled, spoiled lazy little bastard”.
And so it goes, as we grow up, grow old and become our parents.
But we do not have to become angry, bitter old people, my friends. We can choose instead to remember our own youth, whatever form it took. For me, I remember all the crazy, ridiculous stuff I did as a young adult, how I flew almost entirely by the seat of my pants, how I must have appeared to older adults who were likely appalled by everything about me, and how, in the end, I turned out pretty okay (I think) and managed to raise a Millennial kid who is brilliant and funny and sarcastic and flawed and frankly the best damn thing I have ever done in my entire life.
We can be adults and parents without becoming our parents; and we can remember what our own youth was like as we gaze on this next generation. They are, most simply, a new version of who we were decades ago; just with a few changes. And if we recognize that, maybe we can avoid becoming angry, bitter old people.
Okay, I will admit the “old” is unavoidable – but the rest of it? That is up to us.