Baby Boomers: The Rise and ...

October 6th, 2014

Editor Ray McAllister's letter from the Oct.-Nov. 2014 issue.

Ironically enough, I suppose, I don’t think of myself as a baby boomer very much. (Really, you have to wonder how I got this job.)


Do you? Clearly, we’re aware of having been born during that massive baby boom in the 19 years following World War II … though why it took some people 19 years to have a kid is unclear.


The most oft-cited estimate is that 78 million of us appeared, which amounted to 40 percent of the population (It’s only 28 percent now. … You KNEW other people were going to be born). Two of every five people were suddenly US!


Increasing any group by 40 percent will have an impact. And we did, from the explosive growth of suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, to the tidal change of culture and pop culture in the 1960s and 1970s, to the remaking of the economy during the last third of the century, to what gerontologists tell us will be the tremendous growth of health-care services ahead.


But to most of us, it’s been no big deal. It’s simply our lives.


Reminds me a little of the Great Dane we had when I was a kid. He was so big, he would just knock things down, including my brother and me. His wagging tail was a lethal weapon. He didn’t know. He was living life.


Same with most of us. We grew up with Roy Rogers and Davy Crockett, maybe, or Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke, or the Beatles and the Stones. Going to school, going on dates, getting a job. In the ’60s, maybe we thought more of ourselves as a group, especially where music was concerned, or the Vietnam War or the civil rights movements or the women’s movement. Along came free love, marijuana, hippies, Woodstock and three assassinations, and there was an association, I guess.


We developed what was seen as arrogance, though, at least by other generations. We were so big and we always seemed to get our way. You couldn’t pick up a magazine or look at a TV or turn on a radio without seeing baby boomers. Geez. Our dominance seemed unending. Even our children would grow up with OUR music. (Well, why not? It was better than everyone else’s, wasn’t it?)


Over this past Labor Day weekend, though, I realized something. I saw three stories about baby boomers. I realized I hadn’t seen many in a while.


Are we going away?


The first story was about a Public Broadcasting System special highlighting the last of the boomers turning 50 – and interviewing one person born each of the 19 years. As of Dec. 31, every baby boomer will be somewhere from 50 to 68.


That got me thinking about the enormity of a potential list of interviewees – and how it would show we’re not all birds of a feather. The last three presidents are boomers: two Democrats and one Republican. So are Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly, who probably don’t hang out together. So are Bo Derek and Bo Jackson, Bruce Jenner and Bruce Springsteen, Cher and Cheryl Tiegs, David Letterman and Jay Leno, Dr. J. and Dr. Oz, Flavor Flav and Flea, Patti Davis and Patty Duke.


The second story I saw was emblazoned on the magazine cover of AARP, a group for “retired persons” that somehow claims everyone 50 and older. “Special Report,” it trumpeted. “How the Boomers Changed SEX! (Or Did They?)” (Spoiler alert: Yes, but the lust has lessened.)


And the third boomer story that Labor Day weekend was an essay in the New York Times: “When Did We Get So Old?”




I doubt 50-year-olds consider themselves old. I doubt many boomers of any age do. (Knowing boomers, I’m sure they won’t at 90, either.)


The gist of the article was that, while physical and financial issues loom, “it is a psychological quandary that is causing the most unpleasantness: looking around and suddenly being the oldest.” For a generation believing we would always be young, that can be a shocker.


On the other hand, it’s life.


So now that we boomers are back in the news for being, well, not young, my own takeaway from all the news is simply this: Life is indeed good, but it’s also finite. Do your best work, have fun, tell the people you love that you love them.


Everything else is relative.


My friend and fellow boomer, University of Virginia political analyst Larry J. Sabato, has it right. Earlier this year, we were honoring him and others at a banquet. He leaned over to share some age-related wisdom: “Sixty-one,” he dead-panned, “is the new 60.”





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