The most upset my dad ever got with me was when I dropped out of college after my sophomore year. I knew that I would return to school in a semester or two, but he was sure that I was destined for a lousy job and a life of could-have-beens. The second most mad my dad got with me was nine years later when I told him, with a master’s degree already in hand, that I was returning to school for a Ph.D. In his opinion, I was wasting three or four good earning years and educating myself out of most entry-level jobs.
My dad died at the age of 51. The spring he died I was a 30-year old graduate student going through a divorce. I hitchhiked from Minneapolis to Green Bay to visit him in the hospital. Other than worrying about my dad’s health, I was fairly happy – but from his perspective, I was a perpetual student in a failed marriage who couldn’t afford a car. He never lived to see me with a normal job after years of blissful meandering.
I thought about my dad as I saw my daughter off for a semester studying abroad. Mostly I thought about how differently we saw our children and their futures. My dad was of a generation when most parents wanted to see their children with normal, even if mundane, middle class lives. I am of a generation, or at least a segment of a generation, who hopes our kids put off that life for as long as they can, possibly forever.
Also (and this is the key to everything) I am among a huge number of older adults who do not worry about the talents and the personal drive of their children, but about the messed up world their baby boomer parents are leaving for them. My dad believed that the United States was the best place in the world to live. He was neither an isolationist nor a nationalist, but America was on the upswing, and his kids had a chance to thrive here. I, on the other hand, am relieved that my half American/half Taiwanese daughter is already a world traveler. Maybe she will find her better life somewhere else. Other than the United States, Clare is most comfortable in Taiwan and China, but those places have their own serious problems. She, however, is studying abroad in New Zealand. How would I feel if she left and never came back?