Confronting One’s Inner Fogey

(Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 10/26/2005)

At the age of fifty-three, suddenly I am an old fogey. Seemingly overnight, I have been catapulted from the generation that set the trends, to one that is lagging further and further behind in its perception of what is cool.

The first sign of this came a few years ago when I found myself trying to explain the phenomenon of the Beatles to my children. “When I was your age the Beatles were considered to be cutting edge,” I told them, thinking of the lipstick kisses I had once so lovingly planted on Paul’s Tiger Beat photo. They see Paul as an old guy with gray hair who writes hopelessly boring melodies.

Another sign of old fogeydom came soon after when my son handed me a list of CDs he wanted for his birthday. None of the bands sounded remotely familiar, and they mostly had names that seemed like they might be related to criminal activity.
When I went to the electronics store I saw that some of the CDs he had requested had parental warning labels. I felt my protective mantle of age and wisdom hanging on me like a lead apron. Did I honestly think my son would learn to maim and kill or wear an earring in his eyebrow from listening to the lyrics? In my day, our parents thought the same thing about our music, and I don’t even have pierced ears. (Another sign of old fogeyness: using the term “in my day.”)

The first record album I ever bought was by Sonny and Cher. I must have played “I’ve Got You, Babe” about nine million times the first week I bought it. If that didn’t cause irreversible brain damage, then no music today is likely to do so. If Sonny were still alive, he would be the quintessential old fogey, although Cher is fighting old fogeydom all the way.

I grabbed a CD by Weezer – they looked like nice boys on their album cover. On the way home I noticed that everyone seemed to be in a big hurry, speeding up behind me and going through red lights. And then I realized – I was puttering along like an old fogey. I stepped on it and ran a yellow light just to show I still had it.

Another distressing sign of impending demise is that overnight your children know a better way to do everything.As in, “Why are you writing a letter to Grandma when you could just e-mail her?”
Or, “We don’t need to go to the library. I’ll just get it off the internet.”
Or, my personal favorite, “I don’t need to learn how to spell. The computer will correct me.”

The day that your child interviews you for a class about your recollections of a past day in history, you might as well take that charter membership in AARP. I chose to tell my child about my remembrances of the day President Kennedy was shot. I remember as clearly as though it happened yesterday, sitting at my desk in Mr. Weber’s 6th grade class. We had just come back from lunch, and Mr. Weber came into the room crying. We all started to cry too, before we even knew what happened, so momentous was the fact of a male teacher walking into the classroom crying. This impressed my child only in the fact that it happened so long ago, and I could still remember it. What was part a vivid part of my life was his arcane history lesson.

Many of us old fogeys are slightly resistant to technology. I do love computers and the internet and fax machines, but I’m not willing to give up all the “old ways” yet.

For example, just last week, at the local fast food outlet, a teenager was having problems with the computerized cash register, and couldn’t figure out the correct change in his head. He was like a deer caught in the headlights. The middle-aged manager came over to help him out. “If it’s not in the computer, they’re lost,” he said to me, conspiratorially. I knew just what he was trying to say.

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