The future ain’t what it cracked up to be

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30 years after high school, are we living up to our promise?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
As you read this, I’m probably driving home on the New Jersey Turnpike, returning home from my 30th high school reunion up in North Jersey.

Thanks to Facebook, I’m probably in better touch with my old classmates than I was at our 10th anniversary, and then I was the Managing Editor of the local newspaper where I grew up, which just goes to show how things have changed (if getting your local news on a computer screen isn’t enough of an indication).

Although there was a little bit of worry about whether strongly-held political views, some of which have led to nasty exchanges on Facebook (amazingly, not so much with me) would lead to tension, I suspect we’ll have gathered, enjoyed an adult beverage or two and relived the old war stories, paused for a moment to remember those still not with us, and generally had a pretty good time.

Looking back, I’m not sure that the Class of 1982 thought there was going to be much of a future. We were sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and the Gen-Xrs, never really fitting in either generation. We were old enough to remember Watergate and the oil embargo and young enough to think the platform shoes, gold chains and disco fashions of our older siblings were hilarious. Too young to be as self-absorbed as the boomers, but too old to be credibly accepted by the grunge rock crowd, we ended up quietly surviving, working, raising kids but all the while figuring the bottom would eventually drop out.

As an indicator of those times, during the 1981 student council president elections, the major issue amounted to which candidate could better characterize the school as the armpit of the Earth. Foreshadowing my future political skills, I lost — in part because it wasn’t true. My old high school would have fit well in the middle ranks of Chester County, not quite as affluent as Great Valley or Unionville, but like them a formerly rural, largely farm community that had been converted into suburbia.

But we were convinced that the school and pretty much everything else was lousy, that life didn’t hold a lot of options and would probably be short and brutal. Some of that, of course, was a bit of teen drama, but some was reflective of the times in which we grew up. The news seemed to be relentlessly bad, the economy had been in the hole for years, dating back to the mid 1970s, and wouldn’t really start to get going again until early 1984.

Thankfully, life for most of us hasn’t turned out to be short or brutal (certainly not in my case), and most of settled in to careers and families. The pictures of kids and (gasp) grandkids on Facebook is testament to that.

But I do wonder whether today’s kids, with the toxic public discourse these days, have a similar sense of doom about their future. They must know about their older siblings struggling to find a job, or maybe their folks have been laid off from their once high-paying job and their family is struggling to get by.

I had kind of hoped that my generation would remember how that felt and be more motivated to do something about it, be the adult in the room when it was needed. But I’m not seeing that, to be honest. Scoring points is more important than solving problems and giving people the opportunity to succeed.

So maybe, in the end, we got the future we feared. I hope not, but the last couple of years have not given me comfort that we as a people are ready to meet the challenges of the day. As a parent, I know we owe our kids more — and need to start being the people we hope they someday become.

* * *

Man, do I get a lot of emails this time of year. Both parties’ campaign operatives looking to spin their side of things, influence coverage and so on. I read it all, of course, looking for possible stories.

Usually, I just wince, laugh or shake my head — I remember the crazed state one gets in this close to the election and write it off to election fever.

But one sent chills down my spine: a missive from the Independence Tea Party asking for Chester County residents to go to Philadelphia and serve as poll watchers.

I don’t, for one second, think this has anything to do with the integrity of the election, but rather voter intimidation and vote suppression.

It’s also a bit, well, ironic. For those who allege to advocate freedom and self-rule, it’s little hypocritical to say “we support that, unless we don’t like how you’re running things.”

Generally speaking, as someone with a pretty Libertarian bent myself, I have some personal issues with those spouting off on behalf of “Liberty and Freedom” — but only if you agree with them, otherwise you’re some sort of anti-American degenerate.

And furthermore, how exactly would these same Tea Party people react if a bunch of folks from West Philly showed up in Chadds Ford (and let’s be honest, Delaware County Republicans are just as good at getting dead people to vote as Philly Democrats — although in both cases, the claims of vote fraud outstrip the reality), or Birmingham with the stated intention of “protecting the vote.”

Yeah, exactly. There’d be a riot.

I have no problem with shouting from the rooftops who you think should be elected. Campaign signs, button-holing your friends and neighbors and yes, Letters to the Editor about why your candidate is great and the other one is lousy are all fair game. Using fear and intimidation to prevent people from voting is wrong.

* * *

Thursday night, there will be a difficult but important presentation child sexual abuse by FOCUS and the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Foundation (Full disclosure: I am a board member of the Education Foundation),  designed to build awareness for parents, faculty, staff, and caregivers, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Unionville High School.

Those interested in attending must register at www.csa-awareness.eventbrite.com. The program is for adults, 18 years and older, only. As the event is being held in the new auditorium, there should be plenty of room for all who wish to attend, but you must sign up in advance.

Although recent headlines have put the subject matter front and center, the statistics are little less than stuning: one in three girls and one in six boys will suffer some form of child sexual abuse before the age of 18.

The program will feature Steve LePore, founder and executive director of 1in6, Inc., who will share his personal story and focus on the lasting effect of child sexual abuse on men. The program will also examine why children remain silent, how to recognize and prevent abuse, and where to find local resources.

That will be followed by a panel discussion and a question/answer period focusing on why children remain silent, prevention tips, warning signs, and local resources. Panelists will include three local professionals in this field (Eric Owens, PhD, LPC, NCC, Barbara Boswell, LPC, NCC and Doug Henderson, MA), and two survivors (Steve LePore and Chris Carlton, Marketing Director at 1in6,Inc., author of Nice to Meet Me.

While I don’t think it will be an easy night, it’s an important subject for all of us who are parents.

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