Marco Greenberg has come to the somewhat sad realization that he will never be as cool as his dad.
According to demographers, I’m a baby boomer, but it feels to me I’m more like an accident of history.
Born in 1964, as the boom was basically over, you might think my dad chose to have kids later in life, long after his service in WWII and well into a comfortable career in midlevel management for a huge American manufacturing company.
Instead, born in 1937, my dad was still a kid during the War, and was at the vanguard of a new generation who deliberately chose a path diametrically opposed to their parents. While not as overtly rebellious as his siblings, my father forged a new way and was the embodiment of cool.
He had checks in all the right boxes: tall, handsome, athletic, intelligent, creative, sensitive and most of all the fiercely independent bristling at any hint of conformity or pretension – all the while maintaining an ingratiating demeanor of modesty and generosity. “It’s my pleasure, son,” was his auto-response after I thanked him for yet another vacation, steak dinner or new pair of skis.
Outsmarting the draft, and between Korea and Vietnam, my dad volunteered for the Air National Guard, and as a F.U. to a system built on the principle of promotion in rank, he deliberately entered as a Private 3rd Class and made sure he left 6 years later as a Private 3rd Class.
“Make me a general, or leave me a private, but I refuse to pass on silly orders,” he quoted a famous general as saying. He was the ultimate Howard Roark-like character (The Fountainhead inspired him to be an architect), the pinnacle of perfection and in my eyes could seemingly do no wrong.
Yes, the smoking up to 20 joints a day worried me (would he be arrested and taken away?), the break up with my mom when I was 5 scarred me, the being chronically late to pick me up from weekends (which were most of them) at my grandparents irritated me, the taking off for trips for months at a time hurt me, the romances with countless beautiful women made me compete for his attention—still, I looked beyond all that and coveted all my time with him, feeling safe, loved and very much in awe.
It started with his aesthetic, writing in perfect architectural script, designing and building the first house we lived in on the beach featured in magazines. But it was also his own appearance, when I was in my 20’s he looked more like an older brother than a father. And he acted like one too. Once Rolling Stone chronicled his feat of skiing in Aspen in the morning, jumping on a plane, and then swimming in Hawaii that same afternoon.
It continued with his DIY spirit of fixing the boat’s diesel engine and making his own furniture and with his formidable intellect and love of culture from an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from species of trees to European art history.
It included his pioneering vision and firsts: He discovered yoga when Bikrim was struggling and broke and my dad fronted him money for free classes, he was the first architect and developer to build tasteful apartments along the beach in Marina Del Rey and later gentrify old buildings in Venice, and he turned his generation on to the then unspoiled delights: cruising in Baja California, swimming under the water falls in Maui and partying in Aspen.
It finished with a close and never-ending parade of friends, some new and from the Program, others high school buddies, former girl friends and lovers I never knew, grateful mentees and family members celebrating his life and bidding good-bye at his bed side in a building he built with an ocean view of sailboats on the Pacific.
Divorce, Drugs, Depression and Debt, while not always acknowledged, piled up and took their toll, and while proudly sober the last 11 years of his life and doing some of his best architectural work, he was the first of his generation to pass after fighting cancer for 11 months.
As the gap between when he died at 55 (20 years ago next month) and my own age starts to shrink, and as I bond with my son and prepare for his Bar Mitzvah, it gets me thinking.
My generation is a throwback, in many ways more similar to our grandparents rock of stability and tradition, than our free wheeling mom’s and dad’s. We cling to the institution of marriage despite the challenges, are always online, work ourselves to the bone, have little time to hang with old or new friends, demand professional and personal perfection of others and most of all ourselves from our physiques to our bank accounts.
It’s a huge contrast to the relaxed hippie environments in which we were raised. Gathering around to watch the sunsets seemingly every night, listening to heated conversations on why McGovern would beat Nixon, walking in on a couple who just met having casual sex, catching a contact high in the purple haze as Walter Cronkite broadcast in the background on the Vietnam War.
Is there another generation composed of down right stodgy and predictable offspring in comparison to their swashbuckling parents? Or, it is yet another cycle like the roaring 20’s was to the conservative 50’s?
Talking about my generation, the closest many of us get to cool is more of a corporate calm. But so far from the wild, out-there, experimental times; far from the hip and dare I say groovy (and scary as a kid) ideology; far from the less-material days in which we were raised.
But cool is a misleading measurement, my dad is surely saying. You’ve surpassed me son, in all the ways that really matter, and I couldn’t be more delighted.