Father’s generation created better world
By Kevin D. Preston
He was the eldest son of seven children of an immigrant family. Born to a sickly father and a mother who lived a long life and worked every day of it, he inherited his father’s health, and his mother’s determination.
He began working at the age of 9 and quit school at the age of 15 to help put bread on the table of his family during the depression. A soldier at 21, across the beach at Omaha at 24, married at 26, the father of three by age 30.
He was a high school dropout who was determined not only to support his family, but to ensure that his children would have a better start than he did. He had only two things going for him, an unlimited determination to work, and an uncanny ability to fix things.
For more than half a century he worked in mills and factories at home and overseas, fixing warplanes, machinery, jewelry and antiques as well as the toys of his children and grandchildren.
But he has always been far more than just a workhorse. He knew that beyond the everyday struggle for survival there were larger issues which affected the quality of the world he and his family would live in.
By reasoning more simple yet more powerful than that of his college educated children, he knew that his country must support programs to reduce poverty, because he knew what it was to be poor. He knew that discrimination was wrong because as a French-Canadian, and as a Catholic, he knew of the crippling effects of bigotry on both the victim, and the bigot.
And despite the fact that out of devotion to his church he sent his children to parochial schools, he always supported the proper funding of public schools, because having been deprived of a proper education, he knew its value.
Out of the Depression
Although special to me, my father’s story is typical of that of many of his contemporaries. His was the generation that as children saw and felt the devastation wrought by the Great Depression. His was the generation that as young adults fought and beat Hitler and all he represented. His was the generation that built the greatest economic power the world had ever seen. His was the first generation in history to choose to share their newfound material success with the poor and their long cherished political rights with minority groups which had long been excluded from their enjoyment.
It has become the fashion among my generation to denigrate the condition of the world which we are inheriting; to focus on problems which remain rather than on progress already made.
But the final measure of any generation is whether they leave the world better than they found it. And by that measure my father’s generation has been exceptional.
The simple fact is that the sons of my father’s generation are, on average, richer, healthier, better educated and will live longer than their fathers.
They eat better foods and work shorter hours.
More of them have the right to vote and to stand for public office. Unlike many of their fathers when at similar age, the sons can, for the most part, travel across this country, eat in restaurants, sleep in hotels, rent apartments, marry, play golf and do pretty much what they want regardless of their race or religion.
It is by any standard an impressive list of accomplishments.
As a 10-year old boy in 1961, I watched on television the handing over of the reins of power from my grandfather’s generation to my father’s.
In his inaugural address 30 years ago President Kennedy said that “… the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war and disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”
I knew even then that he was talking about millions of fathers, but in the eyes of this 10-year-old boy, my own father became my measure of what that generation was, and was to become.
Thanks Dad, and happy Father’s Day.
Kevin D. Preston of Attleboro is an attorney.