Posted on

Generations—Trying to Get Them Straight

February 8, 2017

For years now, I’ve heard generation labels tossed about electronically, on paper, and in conversations, but rarely does anyone try to define them. As a historian of ideas, finally I’d had enough of this murkiness, and decided to do some sleuthing myself.

One of the first things I discovered was that there is sometimes little consensus in terms of what to call a given generation, or even when a certain generation begins and when it ends. It’s sort of like epiphanies: rarely are you aware that you are experiencing one—only in retrospect can you look back at certain days and conclude: “You know, if that day had never been, how different my life would have been!” The same is true of generations: you can only define them in retrospect, when the dust settles and you can see the time period clearly.

My wife Connie and I discovered two sources: Philip Bump’s article, “Here Is When Each Generation Begins and Ends, According to Facts,” in the March 25, 2014 issue of The Atlantic; and “Why Advertisers Ignore You,” in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of AARP, the Magazine.

According to Philip Bump, the Census Department does not generally even attempt to label a time period. And it took a running battle between The New York Times and Slate to sort out the Millennials.

Let’s see what we’ve found out:


It was so labeled by Tom Brokaw, and the name stuck—but not how to define it. These are the people who fought and died in World War II. Bump postulates that the generation’s dates should be 1926-1946, ending when the war ended. AARP muddies the water considerably by splitting the period in two:

The Greatest Generation: 1907 – 1927
The Silent Generation: 1027 – 1946

I believe that here Bump has the edge in terms of consensus: the Greatest Generation time period ought to conclude with the end of World War II.


The Census Department does define this period date-wise: 1946-1964. It gets its name from the return to civilian life of millions of soldiers after the war’s end in 1945. The servicemen and servicewomen married, went to college on the G.I. Bill and had babies. My personal preference would have been to call this time period The Norman Rockwell Generation. Reason being, it was the last time period we’ve had that was mostly peaceful. It was also the last period characterized by a general acceptance of marriage, Judeo-Christian religion, and patriotism as the prevailing societal building blocks. Famed artist Norman Rockwell chronicled this peaceful time period in his 322 Saturday Evening Post covers (though Rockwell covers began earlier in the Twentieth Century, the real flowering impact-wise came in the 1950’s). Also, during this period, the U.S. was undeniably the strongest power in the world (morally, economically, politically, and militarily). It represents in history the high tide of Pax Americana—and its centerpiece was the Eisenhower administration.


This time period has never yet been clearly defined, but its time-frame is generally agreed upon as 1964-1983. I would submit that the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963, slammed the door on the Rockwell Era. All hell broke loose after that terrible date: the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, the March to Montgomery, the Watts riots, the March on the Pentagon, Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, the Vietnam War, Ford surviving two assassination attempts—and family-wise,, divorce soaring 69% in but ten years, marriages now becoming an endangered species . . . lasting only 6.6 years. It also includes the Hippy Era, with its explosion of substance abuse and indiscriminate sex. It makes sense that no one has yet been able to successfully label this time period. Some try to insert a Generation Y into this time period, but really can’t seem to figure out how.


Generally, the time frame for this generation haws been pegged at 1984 – 2004. As time passes, this generation may be relabeled in terms of the rise of nano-technology, the social media, cyber warfare, etc. This time period also fascinates me because historians of ideas are well aware that all century-turning of the zeros are turbulent. During the last decade (fin-de-siecle) of each one, it seems as if all the mores by which that society lives by are thrown into the sky in one cosmic Hail Mary pass—and no one knows what will come down on the other side. 500-year-turns are even more seismic. And millennial turns even more so. The last thousand-year turn was followed by the Crusades and the so-called Dark Ages or Age of Faith. The last 500-year-turn was preceded by the Renaissance and followed by the Reformation.


No one knows yet what this 2005-2025 period will be called. But we do know that it began with an ideological shift left away from Christianity and, in 2016-2017, a wrenching polarizing shift back towards the right which is bound to result in turmoil. And America, in withdrawing its Pax America umbrella of stabilization from the rest of the world and retreating into a narcissistic It’s All About Me mindset—no one has any idea as to where all this will end up. No one yet knows where and when the dust will settle on the ideological Hail Mary Pass….but whatever happens, historians of ideas will have a field day trying to figure out its trajectory. Ominously, AARP editors tentatively label this Generation Z. So what will follow Z? Some are already calling this the Hook-up Generation because there appears to be no commitment tying in to the sexual act for millions of young people. Or the Suicide Generation—for suicides have reached epidemic levels. Or even the Opiod Generation or Social Media Generation.

Posted on

The CDC Weighs In

July 27, 2016

In the April 20, 2016 Denver Post there was this strange headline: “Until death do we part, but let’s cohabitate first.” It was written by the Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell, and begins with this paradoxical statement:

“Contrary to popular belief, marriage isn’t dead. It’s not even dying.

“The institution is probably more respected and admired than ever before – just not in a way that encourages millennials to partake in it.

“You can see this in national survey data, recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about Americans’ views of various family arrangements. At first glance the report suggests that Americans may indeed be less devoted to the sacrosanctity of marriage – or at least that we’ve become more tolerant of once-stigmatized nonmarital sexual behaviors. In 2002, for example, slightly more than 6 in 10 Americans said they thought it was OK for a young couple to live together without being married. By 2011-13, the period of the most recent survey, the share had jumped to more than 7 in 10.

“Similarly, the report finds that Americans have gotten more accepting of women who bear and raise children out of wedlock, of unmarried 18-year-old couples who decide to have sex and of same-sex couples who adopt children.

“On these and other familial and procreative arrangements, Americans have become measurably more liberal. But on one crucial measure, they have become much more conservative.

“That measure is divorce.

“Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that ‘Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.’ In 2002, about half of Americans disagreed. Within a decade, the share had risen to more than 60 percent. In the most recent data, younger Americans were especially likely to perceive divorce as an unacceptable response to marital strain.”

* * * * *

So what gives here? It just doesn’t seem to make sense. Or does it?

Rampell goes back in time to gain a historical perception of marriage in America, noting that earlier in our history, when life expectancy was much shorter than it is today, and girls generally married when only 14 to 16, and boys 15 to 18, marriage served as a “foundational milestone,” validating the establishment of a new home.

That is no longer true today: “Today, it is seen more as a crowning achievement, appropriate and available only after lots of other boxes are ticked off first. And this brass ring ought to be indestructible by the time it graces your left hand. . . . Marriage has, in other words, gone from being a cornerstone achievement to a capstone one.”

Rampell notes that though marriage rates have plummeted in recent decades, “the vast majority of never-married millennials still say they aspire to get hitched someday. They just want to get their ducks in a row first.”

Some of the ducks include such obstacles as mounting student loan debt, stagnant or declining job opportunities, and falling home ownership. These factors were not present in the extended family world of the frontier.

According to Rampell, “Wedlock is a luxury good that young Americans want, but view themselves as too poor or otherwise unprepared to buy.”

It is significant that the reason marriage was delayed earlier in the twentieth century – especially for the male – was that many males didn’t feel they could honorably propose marriage until they were financially able to provide a home for her to move into.

Summing up the problem, Rampell declares that “It is the layering of these two concurrent forces – the idealization of marriage, plus the declining marriageability of so many would-be participants – that has ground down marriage rates, especially for lower-skilled Americans. And so young people put off marriage, though not necessarily the other milestones that used to almost exclusively follow marriage (such as childbearing).

“It is unclear why marriage has been elevated to such a high pedestal. Perhaps it’s the traumatic legacy of earlier decades of high divorce rates, which makes young people fear creating their own broken homes. . . . Chances are they’re dragging their feet not because they don’t take marriage seriously, but because they do.”

* * * * *

This is a remarkable take on the current state of marriage and divorce in America. Glaringly absent from the study, however, is any perception that marriage has traditionally been a sacred institution. That only as God blesses such a relationship between a man and a woman is it likely to long endure. Take God out of the equation, as millions are doing today, and even delayed marriages might not stand the test of time either. Of course, the fact that so many declared Christians divorce as casually as do non-Christians, really muddies the water!

Nevertheless – especially in light of our June 29, July 13, and July 20 blogs – I think the most telling sentence in Rampell’s insightful column is this one: “Perhaps it’s the traumatic legacy of earlier decades of high divorce rates, which makes young people fear creating their own broken homes.” [Italics mine].

Posted on

Life Without Father

June 22, 2016

“Life Without Father” – that was the title of David Popenoe’s disturbing article in the February 1997 Reader’s Digest. Since that was published 19 years ago, the state of fatherhood in America has worsened every year.

So how bad was it back in 1997? Here is how Popenoe (Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University) began his study:

“The decline of fatherhood is one of the most unexpected and extraordinary social trends of our time. In just three decades—1960-1990—the percentage of children living apart from their biological fathers roughly doubled to 36 percent. By the turn of the century [2000] nearly 50 percent of American children may be going to sleep each evening without being able to say good-night to their dads.”

Popenoe goes on to say that most of today’s fatherless children have fathers who are perfectly capable of shouldering their responsibilities: “Who would ever have thought that so many of them would choose to relinquish those responsibilities?”

So what are the results? Most of the parents who opt out of their marriages blithely maintain that their kids are resilient—they’ll be able to get along fine without them. Not so, declares Popenoe: “A surprising suggestion emerging from recent social science research is that it is decidedly worse for a child to lose a father in the modern, voluntary way than through death. The children of divorced and never-married mothers are less successful by almost every measure than the children of widowed mothers.

“Out-of-wedlock births are expected to surpass divorce as a cause of fatherlessness later in the 1990’s [they did]. . . . And there is reason to believe that having an unmarried father is even worse for a child than having a divorced father.”

Popenoe then points out that men are not biologically attuned to being committed fathers. “Left culturally unregulated, men’s sexual behavior can be promiscuous, their paternity casual, their commitment to families weak. In recognition of this, cultures have used sanctions [and shotguns] to bind men to their children, and of course the institution of marriage has been culture’s chief vehicle.”

And as we know, no society devoid of strong families has been able to long flourish down through human history.

Popenoe then points out that without strong societal sanctions mandating fatherhood responsibilities, terrible things happen—and are happening with ever greater frequency today: teenage sexual promiscuity, teen suicide [epidemic today], rampant substance abuse, and early dropping out of school.

Next, Popenoe turns to what fathers bring to family life: bringing up children by two parents is stressful enough, but alone it can be devastating. Fathers are also protectors, protectors of both the mother and the children. They are also role models (without them, boys find it difficult to internalize what it means to be a husband or a father; girls find it difficult to learn how to be a wife. Or in Popenoe’s words: Girls “still must learn from their fathers, in ways they cannot learn from their mothers, how to relate to men. They learn from their fathers about heterosexual trust, intimacy and difference. They learn to appreciate their femininity from the one male who is most special in their lives. Most important, through loving and being loved by their fathers, they learn that they are love-worthy.

And then there’s play: “From their children’s birth through adolescence, fathers tend to emphasize play more than caretaking. The father’s style of play is likely to be both physically stimulating and exciting. With older children it involves more teamwork, requiring competitive testing of physical and mental skills. It frequently resembles a teaching relationship: come on, let me show you how. The way fathers play has effects on everything from the management of emotions to intelligence and academic achievement. It is particularly important in promoting self-control. . . . At play and in other realms, fathers tend to stress competition, challenge, initiative, risk-taking and independence. Mothers, as caretakers, stress emotional security and personal safety. On the playground fathers often try to get the child to swing ever higher, while mothers are cautious, worrying about an accident.”

“We know, too, that fathers’ involvement seems to be linked to improved verbal and problem-solving skills and higher academic achievement. Several studies found that the presence of the father is one of the determinants of girls’ proficiency in mathematics . . . and the amount of time fathers spent reading with them was a strong predictor of their daughters’ verbal ability.” The same is true with boys.

One finding in Popenoe’s study really surprised me. It has to do with empathy, “a character trait essential to an ordered society of law-abiding, cooperative and compassionate adults. . . . At the end of a 26-year study, a trio of researchers reached a ‘quite astonishing’ conclusion: of those they examined, the most important childhood factor in developing empathy was paternal involvement in child care.”

Surprisingly, studies also reveal that, as more and more fathers bail out of their paternal responsibilities, child neglect and abuse has skyrocketed. “One of the greatest risk factors in child abuse, investigations found, is family disruption, especially living in a female-headed, single-parent household.”

Popenoe minces no words in his powerful conclusion:

“In order to reinstate fathers in the lives of their children, we must undo the cultural shift of the last few decades toward radical individualism. Marriage must be re-established as a strong social institution.

“Many practical steps can be taken. Employers, for example, can provide generous parental leave and experiment with more flexible work hours. Religious leaders can reclaim moral ground from the culture of divorce and nonmarriage by resisting the temptation to equate ‘committed relationships’ with marriage.

“Marriage counselors can begin with a bias in favor of marriage, stressing the needs of the family at least as much as the needs of the client. As for the entertainment industry, pressure already is being brought to curtail the glamorization of unwed motherhood, marital infidelity and sexual promiscuity.

“We should consider a two-tier system of divorce law: marriages without minor children would be relatively easy to dissolve, but marriages with children would be subject to stricter guidelines. Longer waiting periods for divorcing couples with children might be called for, combined with mandatory marriage counseling.

“If we are to progress toward a more just and humane society, we must reverse the tide that is pulling fathers apart from their families. Nothing is more important for our children or for our future as a nation.”

Posted on


May 25, 2016

Many years university in Texas, we experienced a change in presidents. Naturally, I was more than a little curious about what my new boss might be like. Would I like him? Respect him? And would he like, respect, and appreciate me?

Having heard that he’d already moved into his office, I wandered over to the administration building to see what I could find out. The office was open, and the presidential secretary was absent from her office. Timidly, I walked into the president’s office, hoping I’d be able to learn a lot about the new CEO by what was hanging on the walls and positioned on his desk or on cabinets and tables.

I could find nothing! Not even the usual diplomas validating academic expertise. Couldn’t believe it: must have been just a rumor that he’d moved in. But then . . . I spied something underneath the clear plexiglass on his desk. I had to sidle around the desk to the presidential chair before I could identify what was on that small piece of paper.

As close as I can remember, this is about what it said: “The man who hires me will find a lot done after a year, a great deal in two years, and everything in three.” – Confucius

I was still trying to digest its significance when the new president walked in and caught me snooping. Smiling, he said, “Oh, I can see you found it!”

And that started our friendship and mutual involvements. He was easily the most exciting and motivating administrator I have ever worked for. Because of the climate he created, the seven years of his tenure there resulted in the seven most significant years of my own academic career.

But back to the quotation by Confucius. Miraculously, still alive after 2,500 years [he lived from 551-479 B.C. in ancient China].

So how did Confucius know, way back then, that man’s maximum achievement potential has such a short life-span? It’s true, for ever since I first read that small piece of paper, I’ve been wondering why it is that human beings tend to exhaust their growth potential in but three years. In western culture, about the only related aphorism I can think of is, “A new broom sweeps clean” —but it doesn’t tell us how long it will sweep clean.

In my own life, I’ve found that change (especially when it is also geographical) dramatically increases my store of adrenaline, the euphoria that produces such a high. But I’ve also noted that such adrenalin boosts only last so long before they cease to be much of a factor.

Which presupposes a grave danger to employers. If indeed, employees exhaust their maximum creativity in three short years, why keep them on afterwards? Of course, one reason for doing so is that an institution would quickly burn out if all its employees were simultaneously racing in the red zone. This is why the ideal organization contains about one-third young Turks, one-third those who provide thoughtful balance, and one-third corporate memory. The eager beavers can tank an institution virtually overnight; the middle employees are still strong contributors to growth but refuse to be pushed into decisions before their consequences are well thought out. But the veterans, cynical though they may be about success odds, roll their eyes as they will as they mutter, “Oh, not this again! It’ll never work!,” still are needed for their corporate memory prevents the institution from forgetting what brought them this far in the first place.

Interestingly enough, marriage too is subject to the same law of diminishing returns: honeymoon-highs burn at fever-pitch for a year, not so high the second year, and by the following year, spawn what we call “the three-year itch.”

Being aware of this three-year phenomenon helps us mitigate their effects some, especially if we come up with our own three-year-plans after one triad has passed. But rare is the Leonardo da Vinci whose creative thrust abates but little even late in life.

But why is Confucianism so alive and well today, not only in China but also in the West as well, 2500 years after the sage lived?

Stay tuned.

Posted on

Marriage and Family — Then and Now

May 11, 2016

During the last few weeks as I have been leafing through thousands of old magazines, gradually, just as is true with photographic negatives developing in a tray, an image has been evolving of the American family during the first half of the twentieth century. A number of things contribute to it: magazine cover art, story illustrations, advertising illustrations, story plots, cartoons, quotations, articles, essays, etc.

The century began with an almost stereotypical template of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Initially, there was a very clear line of demarcation between male roles and female roles. Boys were expected to be strong, somewhat reluctant to exhibit emotion, masculine, competitive, work-driven, and dominant. Girls were expected to be soft, loving, emotional, dependant, homemakers-in-training, spiritual, care-givers, and appreciators of fine arts.

As I read or scanned through stories, again and again I was jolted by teenage and young adult women who were motivated to flower and achieve . . . up until a certain point: when the male has made good in the job world, has enough money to invest in a home, and proposes, the female is expected to surrender the rest of her life to him. “Love, honor, and obey” were wedding vows. In most cases, the male would assume almost total control over the purse. The jolt, for me, came in reading love stories in which the male would often threaten to spank, or actually spank, the female. Once married, women were regularly ridiculed, demeaned, and (in jokes and cartoons) depicted as being inferior to the male in judgment and decision-making.

Then came 1914-1918; during World War I, women filled many of the roles heretofore filled by males (now serving in the Armed Forces). After the war, women were more than a little reluctant to be pushed back into their boxes. World War II (1939-1945) accelerated the change in roles. I could see it changing in the fiction carried in popular magazines.

The major shifts came later, no small thanks to birth-control. Thanks to it, women had a say in whether or not they were to remain in thrall by almost perpetual pregnancies. All this was followed by Women’s Lib, the gay movement, deconstructionism, secularization, cohabitation out of wedlock, substance abuse, and a resulting major shift in male self-worth.

Which brings me to Frank Bruni’s April 10, 2016 New York Times column: “Building a Better Father.” Here are some of his observations:

“As a child I was schooled constantly in how different mothers and fathers were. TV shows spelled it out. . . . A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.

“And while mothers felt pressured to lavish time and affection on their children, fathers could come and go. As long as they did their part as providers, the rest was negotiable.”

Then Bruni references a new book, Ron Fournier’s Love That Boy. In it, Fournier admits that it took his wife’s command (tougher than a request) that he spend more time with his twelve-year-old son who was battling autism and Aspergers. . . . Fournier’s narrative, however, ends up addressing fatherhood, then and now.

“He examines his paternal feelings and failings with a nakedness that was rare in fathers of a previous generation. He wrestles soulfully with what kind of father he is and means to be. He weeps. He trembles.

“And he mirrors many of today’s dads, who are so changed from yesterday’s. In Fournier I saw my two brothers, who don’t adore their children any more than our father adored us but who do it with a gentler, tenderer touch, unafraid to broach discussions and display emotions that most men once shrank from. . . .”

“According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, men spend almost three times the number of hours a week with their children than they did half a century ago. And they feel conflicted about not devoting more. While 23 percent of mothers said they shortchanged their kids on time, 46 percent of fathers did.”


I know that one of my own biggest regrets, in terms of my involvement with our two children during their growing-up years, was that I let my wife carry a disproportional percentage of the load—especially time-wise. In a homily I recently gave to parents of third-grade students in six area elementary schools in our Colorado mountain community, here are some thoughts I shared with them.

Friends, up to now, everything we’ve said and done today has had to do with your kids; but now, I’d like to share some thoughts and concerns with you:

As I look back through the years to the time our children were young like yours, I can’t help but realize I failed to take full advantage of those crucial years. I had other priorities that seemed more important at the time. In the process, I let my wife bear a disproportionate share of the load at home.

But there came the day when I was shocked by the discovery that our children were already bridging to mentors other than us. If the speed of child growth could be accelerated and shown on a screen, we’d realize that our children were changing all the time—there are no plateaus in a child’s life. So I can tell you, from personal experience, that the sobering day will come all too soon to you too, and you will look at your spouse and say,’We’re all but through; whatever they are now, our children are likely to be as adults. Our window of opportunity to make a significant difference in the trajectory of their lives is closing.

So I urge each of you, in the time you have left, to make your children your #1 priority. Institute a daily story hour and spend that precious time moulding their characters while you still have time to do so. May God bless each of you and the children entrusted to you.

Posted on

Living to Be 100 Years Old!

April 8, 2015


The cover story in the April 5, 2015 Parade was titled “Living to 100.” The author, Ginny Graves, notes that there are 53,364 centenarians in the U.S. today; however, experts predict that number will skyrocket to 600,000 by 2050.

There has been much publicity recently about the so-called Blue Zones (areas with the highest concentration of centenarians). Most prominent are Sardinia; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and, in the U.S., Loma Linda, California.

Graves notes that journalist Dan Buettner has become a longevity guru, thanks to books such as his new one, The Blue Zone Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People (National Geographic Books).

Here are some of Buettner’s conclusions about Blue Zones:

●   They tend to hang out with individuals who share their healthy living philosophies. A Brigham Young University study confirms this: those with strong connections were twice as likely to outlive those who do not.
●   They exercise regularly, often choose to walk with friends three, four miles a day at least four times a week. Their lifestyles encourage physical activities rather than sedentary ones.
●   The world’s most robust centenarians stick with diets that are 95% plant-based; eating some fish but little meat. In a major study, British researchers found that those who ate seven or more portions of vegetables and fruits every day, lowered their risk of dying from cancer by 25%, and from cardiovascular disease by 31%. Many drink a glass of wine each day. They eat smaller portions.
●   They generally belong to a faith-based community. Buettner notes that attending services four times a month can extend life span by 14 years.
●   Marital commitment alone can add up to three years to one’s life.
●   Extended family interaction significantly extends life.
●   Crucial to longevity is having a purpose, reasons for facing and living each day.

* * * * *

My own research confirms all this:

1.   Studies confirm that there is an extremely strong relationship between mind and body. If the mind tells the body, I’m retired now; so I can just loaf and veg out each day, the brain sends out a mandate to the body’s defense armies (the white blood cells): Dismantle the defense system for there are no longer any dreams or goals to protect. And you die. Often in a short time-period. Only those retirees who establish new goals, create new passions, find new hobbies, and dream new dreams, are likely to live long.

2.   There are no plateaus where health is concerned. One is either getting stronger (the body essentially rebuilds itself every 100 days) each 100 days, or one is getting weaker. Consistent daily exercise is absolutely essential.

3.   Vibrant Blue Zoners work hard each day to remain relevant intellectually. By continued study and voracious reading, they stay current with the Zeitgeist; thus their writing and speaking can have a profound effect on society. This is why aging luminaries such as Warren Buffett remain so iconic, and their wisdom is sought after.

4.   Blue Zoners never feel old. For them “old” remains a long way off. When my great aunt, Lois Wheeler Berry was 105 years old, she continued to maintain that “Old is fifteen years older than you are.” She was right: age is a state of mind; some are old at 10 and others remain young at 110!

So each of us has the potential (short of unforeseen calamaties or diseases) to live long vibrant lives, on past 100 years. But no one can slide or veg into it. It demands daily VIBRANT LIVING and perpetual joie du vivre.