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Why GenX Cried Over That Happy Fishing Video
A dad and his daughter, a dream come true
Before you read this little
rant essay, take a moment to watch this incredible dad and his daughter.
I cried actual tears of joy when I heard her yell “Daddy!!!” It’s just one of those raw, rare moments when you recognize a child’s identity taking shape — and that it’s going to be lovely.
These two will enter my story (below) in a minute, I promise.
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First, I want to talk about our generation — Generation X.
At first we were invisible, totally forgotten about, but recently we have started getting the recognition we deserve, mostly thanks to social media. We raised ourselves, we essentially built the internet, and we managed to live the first 25 years (or so) of our lives without cell phones. True heroes.
The downside is, nobody survived a Generation X childhood without dealing with an attachment disorder in some way or another. If you didn’t have one, you had relationships with people who had them and things got fraught.
The way we grew up also profoundly affected the way we raised our kids, and as a testament to our true badass-ness, our parenting style managed to enrage both the Millennials and the Boomers. We’ve got skills!
Before we get to the lessons Millennial parents can learn from our mistakes, let’s talk for a moment about why we are the way we are.
How Gen-X became a self-aware dumpster fire
We were only allowed to be children until first grade.
By the time you were eight years old, you walked home from school alone, unlocked the door with a key on a string around your neck and cooked some macaroni and cheese on the electric stove. You probably added butter to the pot, and maybe even ate it with a fork. If you had cable, you watched Mtv until you heard your mom’s car in the driveway, at which point you switched over to Mr. Ed or Leave it to Beaver reruns, which is what everyone without cable was watching anyway.
Your mom, who was probably divorced or married to a man who drove a long-haul truck or worked second (or third) shift, came into the house, plopped her purse down, kicked off her sensible shoes, and pretended to believe you weren’t just watching something you shouldn’t be. Together, you made dinner that came from another box, but wasn’t macaroni and cheese, and ate it in front of the TV.
We ran wild.
If it was the weekend or your mom was home for any reason, you were expected to run wild in the neighborhood and not return home until dinner time. Unlike your Boomer parents, nobody in your neighborhood was looking out for you and the band of feral children you ran with, so if you had a problem, you solved it yourself, only coming home if you needed an ambulance or a cop. Maybe not even then.
Case in point: As a child, my husband made the decision to lie down and fly face-first down the hill in the Palisades Highlands on a skateboard (as the name implies, it was very steep). When he was going 35 or 40 miles per hour, one of the back wheels flew off, sending him face-first into the asphalt. When he finally skidded to a stop, he had road rash all over his arms, shoulders and part of his face. As the story goes, he looked like walking hamburger and was dripping blood. Still, he didn’t return home for hours.
We figured out how be grown-ups on our own.
You managed your homework assignments, friendships and mental health all on your own. You learned how to insert a tampon by looking at the little line drawing on the paper in the box, which still doesn’t make sense to me. Where is that girl’s other leg? Is that one thing an octopus? I don’t know, but somehow I figured it out (I think).
If you went to a Phish concert the night before the SATs and got home at 1am and overslept the next morning, that’s just too bad, Joanna, you should’ve set an alarm. The good news is, your parents probably didn’t even know the SATs were happening.
You probably learned how sex worked by watching Cinemax at your rich friend’s house or looking at a dirty magazine from your friend’s dad’s stash. And consent? What’s consent? GenX was taught nothing about it.
My mother went above-and-beyond by leaving a book about how sex works on my bed in a brown paper bag. We never spoke of it. This was significantly more than anyone else I knew was given, and she was considered a hero to the ten or twelve friends of mine who read it.
We were utterly unprotected.
As Boomers, your parents were too controlled and constrained. Your mom had to wear long skirts and dresses to school, even in the winter. Your dad’s hair had to be cropped close or his dad would slap him or something else terrible but common.
That’s how they ended up becoming dirty Hippies in low-slung pants and wild beards. They wanted to create a peaceful future with more freedom, less judgement and true equality. They did more in their generation to reach those goals than almost any generation before or since. The birth control pill didn’t become legal for unmarried women until my mom was out of college (1972) and abortion was a crime until one year later — rights their generation fought hard for, fights that left them extremely maligned by the older generations.
As a result, Generation X was offered a type of sexual freedom never before seen in this country. But there were no mainstream, established standards for ethical sexual behavior outside of marriage, and so sexual morality was basically a free-for-all. There were church girls publicly committing to marriage and wearing promise rings from their dads (weird and gross) and 8th and 9th graders going to court to be allowed underage abortions (also not an ideal situation for a child too young to drive). Aside from “no means no” (a startlingly insufficient slogan), there was no sense of how to make healthy sexual choices, and in turn, many teens didn’t.
Yes, we had the freedom they’d craved, but with that came the opportunity for predators to hide in plain sight — often in the form of popular boys and trusted Youth Group Leaders or PE teachers who called girls “mature” and who wanted to “mentor” the gay boys, and offering the guidance they weren’t getting from parents.
It was a perfect opportunity for dangerous men to do their work in public. Rape culture thrived, but hadn’t yet been named or defined, so there was no language for what had developed between our generations. Without the right words to explain things that didn’t feel quite right, we kept it quiet and became pros at keeping secrets like little ghosts wearing floral overalls and Esprit bags.
In addition, drinking went from a social activity to a competitive sport, and drugs got harder. Herb.com says, “Reports show that pot in the 1970s had THC levels of around 1%. However, today, the herb you’re smoking has a lot more THC, with levels averaging more than 6-8%. Some specially grown plants can contain THC levels as high as 51%!” Cocaine, heroin and hallucinogenics were commonplace at high school parties, and teenage use of these was considered totally normal.
And that’s why Gen-X invented ‘helicopter parenting’
With all of that history in mind, it’s easier to see how we became the parents who went way too far to protect and control our kids’ lives.
Ironically, it was the Boomers, the ones who let us turn feral, who coined the terms “helicopter parents”, mocking us for giving every 6 year-old a trophy at the end of the soccer season.
But we weren’t trying to over-protect them, just like the Boomers weren’t trying to over-expose us. We were trying to give them what we never had.
We were trying to help them grow roots.
As a generation, we were like discarded seeds thrown into clumpy, untilled soil where only the strongest would survive. As a reaction, we gave our kids fertile soil, the right amount of water, and lots of sunlight. We also built little tents around them as seedlings and never exposed them to the elements.
And those participation trophies? Whether we consciously knew it or not, our generation was so traumatized by the “only the strongest will survive” vibe of our childhood that we wanted to teach our kids to appreciate the process, to value being on the team.
Of course, the trophies were never the problem. No kid was ever spoiled by a $2 piece of gold-painted plastic. The kids always know who the winners any anyway, even if nobody kept score.
While we didn’t intend to coddle them, we did create a generation (maybe a half-generation?) of kids who were overly-dependent upon their parents. Not only did they not know how to cook macaroni and cheese at age 8 like we did, they didn’t know how to cook it at age 16. Most Gen-X kids were washing their own laundry by age 10, while our kids head off to college with no functional understanding of how clothing ends up clean in their drawers every day or that towels need to be washed … ever.
I’m not pulling this out of my ass, nor am I trying to shame Gen-Z for this. If anything, I’m naming a problem they’ve identified themselves, something we did to them: Too much control, too much investment in their individual choices, too much enmeshment in their lives.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford University Dean, wrote an entire book about it: How To Raise An Adult: Break free from the over-parenting trap and prepare kids for success, with many troubling anecdotes about Gen-Z students who arrived on campus with no street smarts, no self-care skills and even limited social skills.
One anecdote that was particularly troubling to me was of a first-year student who arrived with boxes for his dorm. They were left on the sidewalk outside the building for him to bring up, but he was so conditioned to being cared for that he simply left them there and survived for days without any of his supplies. He didn’t know how to deal with the challenge of moving boxes without someone telling him, “Hey, you need to move these boxes” or simply doing it for him.
So, what does all of this have to do with the video of the dad and daughter fishing, that I showed you at the top? A lot!
Millennial parents have the chance to balance it all out
As a mom of two Gen-Z boys and an Alpha Gen daughter, I’ve parented alongside Gen-X and Millennials. While I don’t find either generation objectively better than the other, I do think those of us raising Alphas want to stop the wild pendulum swing that started with the Silent Generation’s treatment of our parents.
This fishing dad is the perfect example of how balanced parenting can look.
First, he’s fishing with his daughter. You didn’t see much of that with Boomers — fishing was a boy thing, and that tradition continued into Generation X.
Second, he sets his little girl up for success, but doesn’t do the job for her. When she feels afraid, he doesn’t tell her to suck it up or toughen up (which is what boys my age would’ve heard), he tells her he believes in her and gives her instructions. He waits by her side to help in case something goes wrong, holding the net to lift the fish into the boat when it appears.
It seems he’d rather let her make a mistake and lose the fish than to step in and interrupt something he’s confident she’s strong enough try.
At first, she seems a little afraid. Maybe “intimidated” is a better word. But he cheers her on. She powers through, and when she reels that fish in all by herself, the joy she experiences is so palpable, everyone I know who watched it cried — even my husband and my ex husband. All the husbands cried!
When she sees the size of the fish, she’s in disbelief — it’s huge! It’s a keeper. She asks her dad, it’s a keeper, right?? Yes, he tells her. It is.
What struck me most, what got me so choked up, was the authentic pride she felt at conquering a task that seemed impossible. She won the prize, the trophy, and she deserved it — and you could tell she knew she deserved it. Even better? Her dad was right there beside her. A formative life experience for both of them.
In this sweet little fishing video, I see a living example of how I want to raise my Alpha Gen daughter and continue raising my sons: I want to be there for their joys and to encourage them through their fears. I don’t want them wandering the world like feral children, forced into situations too adult for them to handle, but I do want them to have to struggle against real challenges, to test their mettle and to find out what they’re made of — without having to endure trauma in order to get there.