Yesterday we celebrated my son’s 8th birthday and my dad’s 81st. That it also was Thanksgiving Day was appropriate, since we’re so thankful for both! Jack and dad represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways, one growing up in the middle of the last century, the other a product of the 2000’s.
The way Jack learns and plays and sees the world is vastly different than my dad, who grew up in the Netherlands during the Great Depression and WWII. Jack got a Nintendo DS Lite for his birthday and travelled more than 250 miles to visit relatives in Wisconsin. My dad’s birthday gifts were quite simple, I”m sure, and I am guessing he never traveled a hundred miles from his home until he joined the army after the war in the late ’40s. Jack’s a bright kid who will likely finish college 15 years from now, while my dad basically finished elementary school.
It’s hard to imagine what challenges Jack will need to overcome in his lifetime, or how well prepared he will be for those tests. My dad, meanwhile, made it through a depression where his dad put food on the table that he grew himself or earned by making wooden shoes. Yes, really. He made it through a great war that literally rolled over his family’s farm — the Germans chopped down their young orchard to camouflage the guns trying to hold back allied advances. He and his brothers and sister sold the farm and everything on it to fund their ocean voyage to Canada. He became a carpenter by learning the craft on his own, often through trial and error.
What will Jack do with his life? With the best education and technology, with a “recession” that hasn’t really made him feel hungry or deprived in any way. With no great conflict rolling over his dad’s backyard. With the ability to connect to people and cultures across the world from a laptop on the dining room table. With the ability to have a dialog that creates understanding and maybe even prevent wars like the one my dad saw as an adolescent from ground zero.
Last year my dad remarried. My mom passed away five years ago and, after receiving a heart valve transplant and a new lease on life, my dad was looking for someone to share his life with. So was Frances. In years past, they never would have connected, since he lives in Ontario, Canada, and she was living in Washington State. Techonology didn’t leave my dad behind because he learned to use it. Despite limited keyboard skills, he was able to communicate via social media with a woman a couple thousand miles away and, eventually, meet and get married.
So, my dad didn’t entirely miss out on the wonders of the connected age. Today, he and Frances can check up on their children and grandchildren hundreds of miles away. What will Jack be able to do when he is 81? What kind of technology will exist to allow him to be connected and engaged in the lives of others?