Paying for the sins of our youth

There comes a time in every weekend warrior’s life when he suddenly realizes that all that good advice he had been ignoring for years — bend one’s legs when lifting heavy objects, stretch after exercise, exercise daily rather than in fits and starts — was all true. I for one have several body parts that can testify to the fact that I’ve taken the arrogance of youth to an unhealthy extreme, and they are now getting even with me. 

I am at the age when it is not the bartender who calls out my name whenever he sees me, but my physical therapist. It feels like I’ve hit my hundred thousand miles, the warranty’s expired, and every day is a new adventure, but not the good kind. 

This has several unwanted side effects. For example, increasingly conversations with my peers concern not what great feats of glory we’ve accomplished, but what we’ve had sutured, replaced or bandaged after attempting such feats. We are not yet at the stage where we are talking about the condition of our bowels, but unfortunately that stage does not seem so far away. 

I suppose my kind of “invincible ignorance” is part of the human condition. We ignore a perfectly good suggestion until at some point we realize that it really wasn’t a suggestion: Yes, smoking does kill you. No, your metabolism doesn’t allow you to gorge on Twinkies and bacon forever. Yes, posting pictures on Facebook of yourself enjoying a beer bong is never a good idea. 

Ignoring good advice has become something of a national sport itself, one at which baby boomers have been particularly adept. And after 40 some years of playing this sport, we are suddenly finding ourselves doing a lot of explaining — or denying. Some years ago, there was a series of public service announcements advising boomers “how to tell your kids to say no to drugs when you said yes.” We know we did stupid things in our youth. We probably knew they were stupid at the time, but we were young and immortal. Now we don’t want our kids to be as dumb as we were, but we are coming to the horrifying realization that stupid may be hereditary. 

My dad used to say that the most painful thing about parenting is seeing one’s own bad habits in one’s children. I’m at the age now when I understand exactly what he meant. 

My dad, however, didn’t have to worry about the remorseless ability of the Internet to remember all of our faults and failings, and share them instantly with others. We do. And if we need any reminder that the past never stays buried, nor is anything ever forgotten, we need only look at the travails of our politicians: I read recently about the wife of one presidential candidate who when she was much younger had a long relationship with a doctor/family friend four decades her senior. The doctor also happened to be a local abortion pioneer. This in no way discredits her pro-life husband, but can it get more embarrassing? 

As a matter of fact, yes: You could be a presidential candidate whose serial adultery — pre-conversion, of course — is the fodder for late-night comedians and the jibes of one’s opponents. We probably know more about his multiple marriages, and marriage failures, than we do about the lives of our next-door neighbors, or for that matter, our siblings. It is not a pretty sight. 

But this isn’t just a curse of politicians. The truth is, they reflect the values and the decision making of their generation. In recent decades, we have been a nation that thought it was exempt from all the rules. We rationalized our weaknesses and made virtues of our failings. Now we are reaping the fruits of our excesses. 

It’s enough to make one break out the beer bong. 

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.