Tom Brokaw wrote the book The Greatest Generation in 1998. These men and women grew up in the US and experienced the Great Depression. During and after World War II, this generation stepped up to do amazing things. In the book, Brokaw wrote, “it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced”. He argued that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do”.
My dad, Robert Shultz, fought in World War II, serving in the navy on the USS Missouri battleship. When he returned from the war, he utilized the GI bill to get a university education. He then went on to become a successful businessman. Men returning from the war threw themselves into rebuilding their lives and the economy with a zest of working hard.
Baby Boomers like myself were born roughly between 1946-1966 following the war. (I was born in 1963.) The “Greatest Generation” bar was set high for us boomer kids. In some respects, that was a good thing. I learned to value hard work, education and strong morals. Sons born to this generation may have been more affected by the high bar of standards than daughters. What if the sons could not achieve the level of success of their fathers under ordinary circumstances? Is it possible that dads might look down upon their sons or boys might find it difficult to match or surpass their father’s bar of success?
In the book, Authentic Happiness, author Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. says of this generation, “Why were the adults who faced World War II the ‘greatest generation’? Not because they were made of different stuff than we are, but because they faced a time of trouble that evoked the ancient strengths within.” I wonder if subsequent generations have tapped into those strengths as fully unless they have had trials and tribulations. I have had the most personal growth following difficult periods of my life and losing my dad was one of those times.
Living up to legends or men of legendary times is a challenge. It takes perspective and humility on both sides. I have always felt myself to be slightly above average in most respects. I have a drive to be the best I can be in all areas of my life. I sometimes wonder if that drive was partly derived from modeling my dad’s strivings. Perhaps without his model, I would be purely average. We will never know for sure. I have had to forgive myself for not achieving his level of success. I have had the chance to appreciate that his success may have elevated me to achieve more than I might otherwise have obtained.
Over time, I have found balance in my thinking about the role of my dad in my life. After his death, I wrote the book A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent. I was able to reflect on our relationship by digging into the many dimensions of it. Even though the book is done and published, I still find myself thinking of my dad often and reflecting on the many ways he and his generation affected my generation and me.
If you are a Baby Boomer, what impact did your parents have on you? Please share by leaving a comment.