“OK Boomer” emerged as one of the trendier phrases of 2019. Wikipedia describes it as a “pejorative retort” used to dismiss or mock narrow-minded, condescending older folks—baby boomers. Millennials and Generation Z have found their villains for climate change and inequality.
Wait, what? The generation gap is back?
As a boomer father of two millennials, with whom I share similar tastes in humor, entertainment, music and politics, this bit of retro culture snuck up on me.
I mean, I’ve noticed telltale signs of temporal relapse. The good: Mid-century modern home makeovers abound on HGTV. Podcasts have reinvented talk radio. Diverse hairstyles have replaced monotonous shaved heads on the hardcourt. The bad: International cooperation is disintegrating into great power competition. Regulatory rollbacks are allowing arsenic, mercury and lead back in our water. Bigots are back out in the open, sans sheets.
With the planet on fire, yet so many older folks in denial, and with college, housing and health care so unaffordable, I get the dysphoria young people feel. It’s understandable they resent being bequeathed these problems, but finger-pointing at boomers won’t help.
Making gross generalizations about an age group, as with gender, orientation, race, religion or ethnicity, ignores the incredible diversity of individuals within each group. There are open-minded boomers, as well as narrow-minded millennials. Ageism plays into the divisive strategies too many politicians use to scapegoat and scare up votes.
A typical boomer move
Two years ago, my wife and I did a very boomer thing. We moved to a Del Webb “active adult community,” for people 55 and older, on the edge of a thriving metro. I was apprehensive, so my wife, Margie, had to talk me into it. Still working, I saw the community like retirement—a confirmation of old age.
We discovered that a huge portion of our new neighbors came here for the same reason we did—to be close to adult (millennial) children and grandchildren. Many are still working.
2019 brought our first grandchild, Jocelyn. I must admit that I had viewed becoming a grandfather with equal apprehension—another confirmation of old age. More of an inevitability than an opportunity. How wrong I was. She is sunshine on a cloudy day. More on that in a moment.
2019 also brought me cancer and the travails of testing, surgery and radiation treatments that I chronicled in my last blog post. It would be easy to assume that cancer overshadows everything else, and it will if you allow it. Cancer was the ultimate confirmation that reaching old age is what I aspire to.
I want to see Jocelyn graduate high school and college and get married and have children. My cancer may or may not return, but I know that she will be around to bring us joy for years to come. So, I will remember 2019 as the year she arrived, and cancer left. In that order.
Grandparent day care
Our granddaughter spends three weekdays at our house. We converted a spare bedroom into her room. My retired wife is doing the hard parts, but since I work from home, I often get to share the fun parts. Reading books. Knocking over blocks. Taking strolls.
The day-to-day benefits of watching a baby grow are many. Babies remind grandparents that:
- Being hungry is incompatible with everything.
- Getting enough sleep is a must to avoid becoming grouchy.
- Smiles and laughter come naturally but can be nurtured or diminished. Be purposeful.
- Frowns and crying—ditto.
- Some of our most important lessons come early—for example, one plus one always equals two (never three or five or fifteen, as congenital exaggerators might pretend).
- You can avoid the mistakes you made raising your children. You will make new ones.
- The things you support today shape the planet you’ll leave behind for your grandchildren. Strive to be far-sighted and generous.
- Childhood, like life itself, is fleeting. Try not to blink.
Since I didn’t see the OK Boomer trend coming, I have no idea if it will last. Wikipedia cites the first online use of the term as a 2009 Reddit post, so the phrase itself belongs to Generation Z.
But I am definitely looking forward to hearing my granddaughter say, “OK Grandpa,” for the first time and as often thereafter as possible, because now I know that being a grandpa is not just OK or pretty great. It’s the best.