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Boomers - the generous generation? (11/14/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

The thirty-third president of the U.S., Harry S. Truman kept a plaque on his White House desk with the maxim "The buck stops here," announcing his responsibility for the situation at hand.

Are today's children and grandchildren getting more than we did as kids? Fox trotting along, from the Boomer generation, grandpas and grandmas are smothering their beloved grandkiddies with unceasing hugs and kisses, inhibitions smooched away.

There is a troubling situation in the "giving department." We all know who we are, hitting the big-name stores, spending money we don't have. As time goes on, and "the kids" are no longer kids, it is often expected of us to keep digging in deep pockets until we may truly "give until it hurts." "Something for nothing" ignites no incentive to earn, or to appreciate what we have.

"For those to whom much is given, much is required." President John F. Kennedy, in a 1961 speech to the Massachusetts State Legislature, quoted that Bible verse. Spoken frequently by his mother Rose, she sought to instill in her children the obligations that come with family wealth and power.

Are many of us Boomers allowing ourselves to be led astray, from our safety net of family ties and marital devotion, by an "anything goes" attitude? We have, it appears, flip-flopped between "old school" morality and a "divorce culture."

Rationalizations have become an accepted way of reasoning, especially where ethics are lax. With the bored and restless, there seems to be this careless, wishy-washy tendency to create a god to suit personal criteria, and to seek instant gratification.

A movin', groovin' Boomer, seeking a younger, more vivacious "main squeeze," is expected to be more than generous with each particle of his or her being, just at a time when personal freedom is desired.

Marriage an occupation? "Superrelationships" is today's warped and demanding notion of "marital bliss," heightened expectations of love and intimacy. So writes Craig Cox, Utne's contributing editor, in an article entitled "Soul-Mate Mania."

"Head-over-heels," or a "teenage crush" led to early marriages, back when we were on earth for the first go-round. Those comfortable unions of the 1960s and 1970s are leading to, "I gave you the best years of my life. Now I want a separation to go off and find myself."

I remember well the gob of white tape wound around a guy's class ring, the shared sweet talk at high school lockers, "going steady" at fifteen or sixteen. Often, before going off to college or moving from the family homestead, giddy girls were flashing diamond rings, purchased on-time.

Cox writes, "We approached the altar as boyfriends and girlfriends." "Most of us were playing house." These are what author Barbara Whitehead has dubbed "good-enough marriages," relationships built more on expedience and adolescent lust than on the thoughtful and energetic pursuit of a soul mate, that increasingly characterizes American mating rituals today."

Communication professor Laura Kipnis cautions that these "new superrelationships prevent people from living their lives to the fullest." "When monogamy becomes labor, when desire is organized contractually...is this really what we mean by a good relationship?"

"That's why what passes for a courtship these days often includes an almost obsessive need to share one's innermost emotions," Whitehead explains. She relates, "People are looking for a mate who ‘gets' them." That reminds me of the Toby Keith hit "I want to talk about me - I want to talk about I." No more "his" and "her" bath towels?

Talk about pressure! Ask me to pop the corn and sit through a Bonanza rerun with you, but don't expect me to recite my every thought and to reveal secret passions...gorging on Rocky Road ice cream after you go to sleep.

The buck did stop at many, early Boomer marriages, which have endured the smooth and the bumpy, and have nurtured individuals who remain self-satisfied and bonded as one. Countless survivors out there can attest to that.

When puzzled over what to get the grandchild this year...remember, giving of yourself will be the gift remembered most fondly. Share the wealth! Carpe diem. 


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