Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the baby boomer generation is swarming with children who never quite broke through.
I come to this belief through my work with older clients (75 years-old+). They talk to me about their estates, and how they want to dispose of their assets when they are gone. We talk about their lives, their values, and their family members. If I do my job well, they open up to me, and I learn about the children, where they are, and what they are doing. I learn so much from these meetings, about life, about people. It is far and away the best part of my job.
A common concern that comes up in these conversations are those children, 50 years-old+, who are wallowing in mid-level jobs, or long-term unemployed – lacking the financial wherewithal to take care of themselves as they enter their retirement years. Many times the story begins with a recitation of how promising this person was in their youth, that, as a young person, they set their sights high, but never had the follow through to get where they wanted to go. Now these adult children are embarrassed, angry, humbled by life, often divorced, often using drugs and alcohol, often relying on their parents for financial assistance just to get by. You would be surprised, or maybe not, but I was, to learn how many adult men are smoking dope and playing video games all day.
It brings to mind something Hunter S. Thompson said in his famous work: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
“We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled that 60’s. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously… All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody… or at least some force – is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.”
I imagine these 50+ year old children are the generation of cripples he was talking about.
They were all going to do great things. They were all going to be important. But for many of them, actually applying themselves, studying math, science, medicine, the law, was more than they were willing to do. Many dropped out of college, or skated through with mediocre grades and earned degrees with limited marketability.
Part of this is the fault of their parents. They gave them everything except an appreciation for the reality (which the parents had in spades) that nothing comes easy and that personal struggle is the source of life’s most valuable rewards. These adult children wanted to be important and influential, but they didn’t want to do the work to get there. I understand: who wants their children to have to struggle? And especially in America back then, one could have believed that struggling wasn’t necessary any more. Life was so easy. The U.S. was the only game in town. Everyone could make a good living. Everyone could have two cars and a cottage up north. Not any more.
All of that and they (the children) bought into the primary flaw of the 60’s thinking: that achievement can be a group endeavor. In the 60’s, a march on the nation’s capital could end an unjust war and defeat racism. They came to believe that participation in the right social movements could serve as a replacement for personal effort and achievement. And so, as adults, they buy into any and every social movement that sounds evenly remotely righteous, and they recite NPRisms believing, it seems, that by doing so they will somehow vanquish their demons, offset their failures, and magically return, even if momentarily, to the golden age of their youth when the world was right and they were on their way to something great.
It’s all sad. Very sad really.
And so, I talk to my clients about their estates. Although these parents would never use this phrase to describe their children, it seems to fit, and together we ponder what to do with these ne’er do wells.