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“It's not about entitlements, or privilege, it’s about responsibility stupid!" Make that the battle cry this year, for those of us who I consider members of the "Camelot Generation." The aging process has enabled me to realize how incompetent, inadequate, and inconsequential I am. I’m 60 now. I feel far behind many of my peers. As an older dad, I've become restless as I try to discover how I can help bring the generation we sired to understand how much better they can be than we were. Where does this start? In many cases it starts with the basics.
A couple of years ago we voted for hope, a hope and a legacy we will be leaving our grandchildren. Last November it seemed some of us felt hope had left the building as I think about the events that are shaping us even as I write this. There is no greater waste in our lives than our minds, and if you don’t read a book, see a decent movie, do something you have not done before, then you are denying yourselves the opportunity to grow. Think about that as you consider all the ramifications concerning what you will do this year. And if you want to see a good movie, go see ‘My Name is Khan,’ or ‘Gran Torino.’
I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot. Part of the Camelot generation. A significant emotional event marked my generation forever. This new generation is marked by similar events, You-tube, cellular phones, and 9/11. I think some of us have never forgiven our country for the loss of innocence that occurred on the 22nd of November, and similarly, the current generation felt a common loss when the Twin Towers fell. Just like we thought our innocence was stolen and our future crushed, we regrouped and went on. Today’s generation is learning how to do that, but need our help. We help them by allowing them to accept the responsibility for their own behavior, as we have to streamline our budget, get away from the ‘bubbletop bourgeoisie’ and rely less on others, and that includes our government.
One of the things the 60s should have taught us is the mistakes we made when we let the government be responsible. That's when many people became lazy and began to sap the government dry. The ‘Great Society’ began a war on poverty, and consequently, fewer people took responsibility for their behavior. That’s needs to stop as each of us should become president of our homes, insisting the buck stops with mom and dad, and our kids need to take on more responsibility and less handouts. A few people, who did take responsibility, are now inspirations to me. Talking with a colleague of mine, she told me how difficult it was for her and her husband to afford to send one of their two sons to Martin Luther King's alma mater. It was tight.
Nevertheless, they managed. Well, one day Morehouse College called her husband to inform him that their son had been awarded a full academic scholarship! The rest of the story?
Unbeknownst to the parents, their son (who had a 3.96 average) had written the college indicating he wanted to do something to help his parents. He'd fulfilled a large portion of that by making the grades he had. Now he’d asked the college if they would recognize them, by assisting him in his efforts to continue his education “on his own.” Because his parents were hard working middle-class people, he was not entitled to financial aid, but rather than letting someone else assume responsibility for his own education, he stepped forward. He’s now a field officer in the diplomatic corps with aspirations to be an ambassador.
His mom and dad are caring benefactors of parents of the "Greatest Generation," who emphasized pursuing your dream. Teach them to pursue it with fervor as if their life depended on it. After all, why do we have freedom if we don’t exercise it? When we teach them to think outside the box, sometimes we just have to sit back as they draw their own lines.
My own insignificant attempt to raise our boys with as much love and care as two parents can give pales next to the parents of this young man. The honor bestowed to his mom and dad is a testament any mother and father would relish. Regardless of whether it is at Morehouse, Harvard, or a local college, if we teach them to fish rather than give them the fish, they will learn to be on their own and not expect someone else to feed them. If we’ve taught them what to be responsible for, then they will get what they are entitled.
The last story concerns a little boy of nine. After hearing his dad and mom talk about getting a new vehicle, the young boy goes upstairs, takes some of his hard-earned money and writes a note that says simply "for the truck." A note his dad has saved, along with the five dollars that will never be spent. A father, grateful God selected him to be the father of this son.
Later the same year, mom went back to work. His sons saw less of her. One evening dad noticed his older son could not stop talking to his mom. Realizing his son missed his mom, he tells his wife, "Why don't you go out to eat with him? He misses you so much." So she decides to do that, and his son decided he wants to pay, and asks his dad if he could borrow $40, to take mom out to eat. This was humbling. This was true. This was our older son. As I read that now, I remember those moments too tender not to cherish, and as he struggles to make his own path, share that with him, the amount of respect his dad has that he’s thinking outside the box.
Certain things we are entitled to: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but we are responsible for taking the things we've been given; using our talents to raise children who will respect the values we teach them. We need to move forward, remembering the gifts we were given and ask ourselves: are we teaching our sons and daughters about responsibilities versus entitlement. Remember that as we remember being asked what we could do for our country and turn our boys into fathers.