My parents were nerds.
They listened to classical music. They worked hard, dressed well, and bathed regularly.
They believed in rules and decorum and hard work.
Worst of all, they loved America. My mother you can forgive. Being one of those old fashioned immigrants who came here because she considered it philosophically superior to the South Africa of her youth. So she's unfashionable--but anyone raised under Apartheid gets a pass. No such luck for my dad, who studied political science, served in the Air Force during Vietnam, and still stood there in short hair and shoes saying what a great place this is. Once he even tried to tell me that Leave it to Beaver was an accurate portrayal of life in the fifties.
So I missed the whole hippy thing. Having no point of reference, I simply thought of them as the loud, dirty people who complained more than they contributed. Don't blame my folks; they didn't indoctrinate me. Really. It was a conclusion I drew as a young boy with budding OCD symptoms who did well in school and liked things like order and hygiene.
But don't get the idea that they were any help, either. My parents made no attempt whatsoever to let me in on the whole hippy thing. They never said "man," never did drugs, never even wore real bell bottom trousers.
My dad took us to a protest once, but it was a protest against the state raising income taxes. He was wearing a suit and tie. Even though we got to miss school that day, it was clear we were not there to buck the establishment. All the way to the protest he talked about the founding fathers and the constitution. It felt more like school than school. And even if he had been wearing Birkenstocks and a tie-dyed serape, his chants of "That government governs best which governs least!" would have given him away.
Come to think of it, Mom was no help at all, even with the Apartheid thing. As the world was teaching me that my maternal homeland was the greatest evil since Hitler, she unthinkably found positive things to say about South Africa, and would never let anyone who hadn't lived there bad mouth the place. Despite all her political disagreements, she still had this weird thing about respecting one's birthplace. And when it had become sufficiently disagreeable, she had found a more compatible place and moved. Even in that place that was so ripe for revolution and protest, she never carried a sign, never marched on the capital, never put off showering until people saw the light. She just came to a place where, according to her, "people are free to achieve their potential no matter what color they are." By the time I was old enough to understand how elegantly misinformed she was, it was too late. I'd missed the boat.
In subsequent years, I grew to hate the whole hippy thing. First I told myself it was aesthetic. I just wasn't favorably inclined to gaudy oranges and greasy, unwashed hair. I told myself that women with shaved legs and armpits were more attractive. I valued deodorant. When ZZ-Top said "Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man," I took it as a personal vindication of my hopelessly fashionable, cutting-edge-but-still-clean-cut visual philosophy.
But it went beyond clothes and razors. As years passed, even as I thought I was adopting an easy going, open minded "the sun rises on us all with equal splendor" approach, I found my own voice--and found myself wanting to raise it loud and say "Shut the hell up!" to hippies and what I came to refer to as "their ilk." I hated their air of moral superiority, their almost constant doomsday prophesying, the way they seemed to think they owned social consciousness. When their lack of religion became their religion, it seemed to me a delicious indictment of their snobbism. I felt shameful joy whenever their lifestyle turned against them in the form of drug overdoses, or sexually transmitted diseases, or serial divorces. I felt myself giving into rage when people I unfairly associated with hippies complained about anything at all. "Make a contribution other than the complaint," I'd say, "and maybe someone will listen to you." When Astronomers debunked the psuedo-religion of astrology as an abjectly ridiculous fiction, and informed the world that, even if it did have some kind of mystical effect on the inhabitants of planet Earth, the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius remains, in fact, more than 500 years away, I smiled with exactly one side of my face and said, "go get 'em, tiger."
Then one day I was eating a Ben and Jerry's Peace Pop. A co-worker commented on how delicious it looked, and I actually opened my mouth and said "Yeah, isn't it great the way they exploit the idea of 'Peace' to sell ice-cream?"
Not "Yes, it is delicious; you should try one." Not, "I'd share it with you if you weren't so germ-phobic." Not even "Ah yes, the ultimate in post modern convenience: the fattening phallus." There I was with opportunities all around me for kindness and/or comedy, and instead I was making an impotent political diatribe. It was the end: I had become what I despised. Weeks later as I laid my soul bear to a friend, he put the cap on it. "Why hate?" he said, "The extravagancies of the hippies lead indirectly to a lot of positives in our society."
You're so right, I thought, then told myself: It's my parents' fault. I was raised wrong.
But we all have to reach that point where our parents' blame ends and our personal responsibility begins. I have to accept the possibility that a good deal of the bitterness I felt towards my parents for being nerdy and un-hip has been transferred to the movement, lifestyle, and philosophy they unwittingly hid from my understanding. A new day has to dawn, one in which I let go of my gut level revulsion, and simply let the hippies be.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to wish that the guy with the "Fund Schools, Not Wars!" bumper sticker who walks right by the school bake sale without buying so much as a cupcake would drive his car off a cliff. But I can no longer relish this wish. And I can no longer associate such idiocy with the golden era of greasy, long-haired, unkempt, pot smoking, bra-less, dread-locked followers of the Grateful dead, whose caravans passed my parents by.