From the Book
RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War
Published by Trine Day 2010
A Granny for Peace told of finding young allies in the struggle against military recruiting. Due to the Patriot Act, she wishes to remain nameless.
It's never easy being a parent or a child. The generations always have friction between them, a conflict between the elders' need to give guidance and youths' need to find their own way. I grew up in the 1950s, when the USA was very conservative and bound by traditions. My parents' generation had grown up in the Depression amid poverty and then struggled through World War Two with its threat of death and destruction. By the time they were ready to start families, they were fixated on stability and security. They measured their progress by their possessions: buying their first car, first television, first house. Their morality centered on controlling sexuality and protecting private property. Their religion was a death cult of stern patriarchs, obedient virgins, innocent babies, and threats of eternal torture. Their deepest philosophy was, "There is no free lunch." The peak of their scientific achievement was the hydrogen bomb. Fear was their strongest emotion.
I was raised in an ethos of striving for money. My parents were landlords. With the help of a small inheritance to my mother and my father's unionized factory job, they'd bought a duplex house on a long mortgage. They rented the other half out, scrimped and saved, and were able to get another mortgage on a rundown four-unit apartment building. They worked every weekend fixing it up and in a few years had enough equity to buy another building. My dad was able to quit his factory job and devote full time to property management. The more money he made, the harder he worked -- it was a drug. He and my mother were always fixing places up, showing them to prospective tenants, shopping for new properties, and fighting with tenants over rent raises. They ran on coffee and tranquilizers and were always exhausted. Dad had ulcers and mom psoriasis. By the time I was in high school, we lived in a great big house and they owned a dozen buildings filled with factory workers like he'd started out as. He said they could all have what we had if they weren't so lazy. Conveniently forgetting the inheritance that had given us the initial advantage, he was now the American dream of the self-made man.
That's when my parents and I started getting into fights. I couldn't articulate my feelings about it, so they came out as sullenness, but what I sensed was that dad and mom had sacrificed everything for money and now that was all they had and it wasn't worth it. The money itself came from the tenants -- where else? The high rent those people paid kept them poor, locked them onto the proletarian treadmill with their labor generating prosperity for my parents and the factory owners. I didn't think the tenants were lazy. I thought they wanted to do something else besides work all the time. When they saw what wrecks my parents were, who could blame them for not wanting to scramble all their lives to build a real estate empire?
My friends too were having lots of fights with their parents. We were alienated from their values and determined not to end up like them. We'd grown up with financial security, so it meant little to us. We could see how our parents' obsession with material objects, their sexual repression, and their constant anxiety had warped them. We didn't want to pay such a high psychic price for security, so we rebelled. We rejected their morality, their culture, their racism, and their wars. And they fought back bitterly, accusing us of scorning their sacrifices, of trying to destroy the institutions they'd worked so hard to sustain.
And it was true. Destruction was my generation's greatest talent, and we were surrounded by a society that needed destroying. We arrogantly defied their attempts to make us obey and disdained their efforts to preserve the old ways. We dismantled as much as we could: segregation, the draft, chastity, gender roles. In our rage to change, we kicked holes in the walls of a constrictive environment. We didn't break out of this dungeon, but we let fresh air into the stagnant atmosphere we'd inherited.
My parents hoped I would marry a guy with good business sense, and we would take over and expand their properties into a dynasty. They were disappointed when I married a sociology student, but they gave him all sorts of unwanted advice about how once he had a job he could buy and fix up properties in his spare time and rent them out. Chris, my husband, explained how a compulsive drive for money squelches the human psyche and how landlords are a parasitic class in society. They reacted as if they'd been insulted, and I guess they had been. Disappointed that we were rejecting what they most valued, they predicted a life of deprivation for me, a sinking down to the level of their tenants, from which they had worked so hard to escape.
Chris and I became professors (anthropology for me), and although our income isn't high, we have enough.
My parents were delighted when we had a child. They doted on Josh, and he liked being with them. They even put a bumper sticker on their Cadillac: "If we'd known grandchildren were so much fun, we would've had them first!"
My generation expected our kids would finish the job we had started and tear down the social walls, breaking on through to liberation. But our expectations met with as much disappointment as our parents' had. The new generation enjoyed the fresh air we'd provided: creativity, sexual permissiveness, tolerance of diversity, self-expression. They took these values for granted, just as we had with the material security we'd grown up with. Of course some kids weren't this docile and did oppose established power, but they were the exceptions. Most didn't protest. Their main goal was something we paid lip service to but deep-down distrusted: enjoying life. Many things displeased them -- lower wages, expensive education, shrinking opportunities -- but the hard battles needed to overthrow corporate rulership didn't appeal to them. Rather than rebelling, they accepted the well-ventilated dungeon they found themselves in.
Josh is sensitive and caring, a much more easy-going person than I was growing up. But changing the world isn't his priority. In high school he started working for his grandfather, painting and doing odd jobs on the properties. The two of them got along great.
Although Josh is bright, he didn't study particularly hard and stopped his education with a junior college degree, then went to work full-time for his grandfather, moving up into the business side of it. He met a nice girl, and they got married. He didn't have his grandfather's energy and ambition, but he was making a decent salary and had a free place to live, so he was content. He and his wife became gourmet cooks.
I have to admit I was disappointed by his complacency, but I was also thankful that he and his wife were wholesome, not into drugs or self-destructiveness. They were a pleasant, stable family. Their son, Mark, was a delightful boy, and then they had a daughter, Linda, a real dear. I didn't mind baby-sitting at all.