We had Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, and Willis Reed. My grandchildren have A-Rod, Ryan Braun, and Lance Armstrong.
We had Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK. Today, we have David Petraeus and Jesse Jackson, Jr. Not to mention Anthony Wiener and Elliot Spitzer.
We had Golda Meir, Gloria Steinem, and Bella Abzug. Today’s young women have Sarah Palin and Sheryl Sandberg.
No more heroes, no more larger-than-life figures. Now everyone’s clay feet (or entire clay bodies) are revealed. (Unlike the miscreants during my youth, who didn’t necessarily keep it in their pants, but were protected by a less intrusive fourth estate. Come to think of it, I’m grateful for that.)
We (figuratively and literally) looked up to the brave astronauts hurtling into space. Now, we don’t even know the names of who is going where, when, or for how long.
We had honorable (fictional) TV characters like the families on Bonanza, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver, and defenders of justice like Superman, Batman, Andy Griffith, even Lassie. Now we have scary terrorists, morally corrupt ad men, and materialistic celebrities famous for being materialistic celebrities.
We had Walter Cronkite. You have Rush Limbaugh.
We looked up to the police as our protectors. They visited our schools to talk about how they could help us if there was trouble. Now, we know that they are often the trouble–especially if you are a young African-American male or the mother of one.
We were told to venerate our teachers and rabbis, to listen to their teachings as if each were Moses himself. Now, we teach kids to be on guard, suspicious. The innocent Friday afternoon kiss for which we second graders lined up to wish our childless teacher, Mrs. G., good Shabbos would be considered highly inappropriate today. No one would work on Model U.N. alone in a room with a male high school teacher as my kids did.
We Baby Boomers were, certainly in our early years, proud Americans. The world loved and envied us. Now–not so much. We are often ashamed of the actions of our government and we are the “ugly Americans” in many countries abroad.
In 1967, the world cheered as Israel was the national equivalent of The Little Engine That Could. Today, even many of its ardent supporters are deeply uncomfortable with some of its policies.
No, today there are no heroes. So to whom can we look as role models for our children and grandchildren?
The easiest answer is–to ourselves. Well, that may have worked for the “Greatest Generation,” those who fought in, and lived through, World War II and who practiced an authoritarian form of parenting we, their children, rejected. But I doubt that we aging hippies, and you Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers, are secure enough in our own righteousness, in our own right-ness, to claim Mickey’s mantle.
So parents today have the difficult task of parsing every news report about yet another doping scandal. Of explaining the moronic, illegal and unethical behavior of today’s politicians, of cautioning kids about the appropriate behavior of the people who are supposed to be teaching them appropriate behavior. We have to instruct children to approach authority figures with wariness, rather than confidence. We have to deprive our children and grandchildren of their innocence, of their innate confidence in the goodness of others to keep them safe, to teach them right from wrong.
That not only sucks. It is incredibly sad.