When we hit certain milestones in life, we tend to look back at how we got here. Today I am celebrating a half century of life as a Texan-American and I look back at the last 50 years in amazement. Being born in the midst of the turbulent 60s, America has undergone significant changes in my lifetime. My father, a Marine, received the news of my birth while somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam. I witnessed desegregation firsthand as a child. I am the same age as the Super Bowl. I saw the birth of personal computers and video games. It has been an eventful half century to say the least.
Several things stand out from my childhood as compared to today. Racial issues, the comparative lack of technology and a less fearful society stand out in my mind. I remember seeing the first black families moving into white neighborhoods. In fact, my parents sold their first house to the first black family in that neighborhood. I was bused to an “all black” school when I was in elementary school. I live in that same neighborhood today, having inherited my grandparent’s house which they bought before I was born. I grew up in this neighborhood off and on over the last 50 years. I have seen it go from predominantly white middle class to a predominantly minority impoverished neighborhood. Not because of the skin color of the residents, but because it is an older neighborhood and the middle class moved out to the suburbs.
I remembering playing outside without the watchful eye of my parents always on me. I remember seeing rifles in gun racks in the back windows of pick up trucks. We had guns around the house, we knew what they were, what they did and we left them alone. I remember Trick or Treating on Halloween, a practice which has all but died over the last 50 years. As kids we were much more social and our parents much less fearful and overprotective. However, I also remember when we moved from outside play to indoors. We got color TV and cable with more than 3 or 4 channels. We got video games, I remember Pong well, and our first game console was an Intellivision. I also remember my first experiences with the dark side of human nature. People putting glass and razor blades in Halloween candy and the poisoned Tylenol scare.
As I look back, I see some defining moments in the year that I was born that would shape the rest of my life in America. Charles Whitman opened fire on people from the tower at the University of Texas in 1966. That event led to the development of police SWAT teams which has since resulted in a more militarized police force. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) was on the UT campus that day in 1966 and she also sat on the Senate committee hearing testimony for and against Open Carry and Campus Carry last year. I testified before that committee last year in favor of expanding both bill proposals to full constitutional carry. While I respected her position, having experienced that day firsthand, I have also witnessed the carnage that 50 years of “gun control” has wrought on America. From Charles Whitman in Austin, TX to the most recent attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL along the way we have militarized police, passed more and more “common sense” regulations and restrictions on gun owners, and yet we are not nearly as safe as we were in 1966.
I believe technology plays a big part in our decline as well. I see it all around me every day. Despite being more connected than ever before, via “social media”, we are less connected personally than I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. We are “friends” with people from around the world, but we barely know our neighbors. I see it in my own kids as well as their friends. Each generation seems to be more stifled in their social skills due to overprotective parenting, lack of childhood autonomy and technological dependence. We had cliques and bullies when I was a kid, but only in extreme circumstances did parents or teachers ever get involved. We learned to stand up for ourselves, develop relationships and found our place in the world largely on our own. I don’t see that in today’s youth and that saddens me greatly. As a parent I have tried to pass those skills on to my kids and have met ever-increasing resistance from the peer pressures of their society.
I have lived the last 50 years in the wake of a revolution, the Summer of 68 revolution. The events of the late 60s and early 70s drastically changed this nation, for the better in some ways and for the worse in others. The Black Panther Party was born the same year I was and played a big role in shifting the civil rights movement from the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King, Jr. to a more militant and violent form of protest. That militancy lives on today, whereas the peaceful protests have become a thing of the past. The rebellion against traditions that came en vogue in the late 60s continues to break down the bonds of American Culture today. The 60s radicals put away their tie-dye and donned suits to become college professors and politicians and the leftist/progressive revolution took hold in America.
Looking back, I don’t long for the days of segregation and Jim Crow laws, but I miss the days when the family unit was still intact. In 1960, 73% of children grew up in a two parent household where the parents were married (first marriage) and in 2014 that number dropped to just 46%. Over 1/4 of all children are now raised by single parents and over half of all black children are raised by single parents. I could quote crime statistics and incarceration rates, but that’s not the point. I look back and see the family unit disintegrating, kids lacking both good parenting and the freedom to be kids. Personal responsibility seems to have been replaced by entitlement. Social skills replaced by social media. Cliques become gangs and violence for the sake of violence has become commonplace and broadcast over the internet for entertainment.
I have seen amazing advances and heartbreaking declines over the last 50 years. Perhaps some of what I recall from my youth is filtered through rose-colored glasses. It certainly was no Norman Rockwell painting or Mayberry RFD (you younger folks may not get that reference), but in comparison to what I see today it stands out in stark contrast.
So, as I sit here staring at my computer on my 50th birthday, I ask myself how do we hold on to all that we have gained and reclaim all that we have lost. No, I don’t do birthday parties, I merely acknowledge them. I wonder if we can hold on to the advances we’ve made in civil rights as the racial divide seems to be as wide now as it ever was. I wonder if we can hold on to the technological advances without losing our humanity to the disconnect it has created. I wonder if we can survive or reverse the decline in personal responsibility and the rise in the entitlement mentality. For all the good and bad that I have seen in 50 years, I can’t help but to worry about, more than look forward to, the next 50.