Dad's Not Old- Cultural Reference Points

In the silent of the night I can hear the echoes of the past reaching out to me. Silent ghost like images march before my eyes, begging for my attention. Moments of time when I wasn't anything more than the boy who lived in his parent's home are intermixed with fragments of the future. The boy becomes a man, the son becomes a father.

In the midst of all this I stand in front of the mirror. It is Wednesday night and I am getting ready to play in my basketball game. White high tops, blue shorts, a dark t-shirt and two days growth are about to accompany me to the door. Just before I leave I look in the mirror again and do my best to look menacing. It is part of my pregame routine. Something that I have been doing for about 30 years or so.

As the realization of just how long I have been doing this washes over me I shake my head. Did I really start this during the first Reagan administration, or does it go back a bit farther, to the days when Billy Carter was making headlines for Billy Beer and Jimmy was talking about lust in his heart..

Maybe...I started playing t-ball somewhere around '75, but I am fairly certain that it took a bit of time for the pregame ritual to start. So who knows, could have been '78 or '80. Doesn't really matter all that much because I don't feel old.

The mysterious pundits that people refer to as "they" claim that you age is a state of mind. If there is truth to that than my upcoming birthday doesn't matter. So what if the calendar says that I am turning 41, old Jack says he is between twenty and twenty-five.

Out on the basketball court that makes me one of the old guys, but I certainly don't feel it...much. The mind never forgets what the body used to be able to do and the ego never stops trying to do it again. When I am out there doing battle I am just one of the guys having a good time blowing off steam.

Most of the time I don't notice the difference in age between myself and the twenty-somethings that I play against.The operative phrase being "most of the time."

It is only during the in between or after game discussions that I become cognizant of the differences. Cultural reference points have become much sharper and far more distinct.

Off hand remarks about old television shows are sometimes met with looks of confusion. All In The Family, Bonanza, The Brady Bunch and Mash aren't viewed by my young friends with any sort of nostalgia. If I hear the themes to any of those shows I am instantly transported back in time

If we talk about technology few of them know about how you could purchase tubes for your TV at the drug store. They don't know about "rabbit ears" and how you'd fiddle with them to get a clear picture. They don't remember that TV wasn't always available all night long.

It wasn't always like this for me. I used to be the kid everywhere I went. I heard hundreds of stories about where people were when JFK was shot and how that was a life changing moment. Frankly it used to irritate the hell out of me. I wanted to grab them and say to stop living in the past. Funny, when did I become one of them. I mean, I am not really one of them, but in some ways I am.

The Cold War was real. It was a big deal and I remember the conversations. The Iranian hostage crisis isn't something that I learned about in a book, I lived it. Just like I lived through so many other "historical events."

I remember hearing about Watergate and how Nixon got lucky. I remember when Reagan was shot by John Hinckley. And the uproar a few years later when John Lennon was murdered.

My friends and I never worried about social media. No concerns over what happened in chatrooms. But we did talk about going to the record store to buy an album. A few even picked up 8 tracks cassettes.

Let's not forget how excited we were with being able to rent movies. Hopefully you picked up a VCR and not a Betamax.

As our parents shifted over from rotary phones we figured out how to press the buttons so that the beeps would play songs.

We started to come of age alongside video games. Pong, Space Invaders and Asteroids were a big deal.

If you were lucky you had Intellivision and not an Atari 2600. Don't get me wrong that 2600 was a trusted friend that I spent many hours with, but it didn't have the electronic voice that would growl "yer out" during baseball games.

I suppose that every generation goes through a period of introspection in which they complain about the newcomers or the shortcomings of those who came before. We're no different. I look back and remember the freedom we had.

We walked to school, rode our bikes everywhere and stayed out until dinner time. The monsters of the night that we moms and dads fear now were there, but the news cycle wasn't constant so no one payed attention. It was a time when parents could beat the hell out of their children in public and no one said anything. That is not something that I look back up with wistful smile, but the reality.

I saw kids get smacked in department stores, parking lots and grocery stores. You didn't mouth off with reckless abandon.

The social and civil changes of the sixties were still causing waves in the seventies and eighties. My children didn't care what color the presidential candidates were. Race meant nothing to them. I was more than pleased about that. Score one for now.

Back then my parents didn't have to listen to my siblings and I beg for computers and cellphones. I remember as car phones slowly sifted down through the ranks of the very wealthy to the upper middle class. If you had a car phone in high school it meant that you were dealing or your parents were loaded.

Somewhere around my freshman year of college beepers stopped being the sole province of doctors and entered the mainstream. I saw how they could be used as an electronic leash and refused to get one. 

Personal computers hit the scene many years before I started my career as a university student, but they weren't considered to be a requirement for students. The majority of us labored away on our Smith Corona typewriters. By the time I was a senior that had changed somewhat, but not completely.

Ask your children now if they know what liquid paper is or why it was cool to have an Erasermate pen. If  they respond by imitating J.J.Walker and shout "Dynomite" you need to have your eyes checked because you are not dealing with a child. Or if you are your child is a little bit old to be called a child.

There is a long list of other items that can be included in this. I can talk about how I transitioned from being the kid in the office to a seasoned veteran. It was crystallized for me when I tried to build a rapport during a meeting by discussing the affect that 9-11 had on business travel and learned that the other attendees had been students when it took place.

If I say "mom always said don't play ball in the house" my kids take it literally and not as a reference to The Brady Bunch. A friend tried to make a joke about LOST by suggesting that it would be more interesting with Gilligan on the island. It flopped not only because it wasn't funny but because the 23 year-old he said it to had never seen the show.

We really aren't old, but we have lived long enough that some of our cultural reference points are dating us a bit. It is sort of a funny place to be in, but I am ok with that. It is not like I have too many options. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go place my order for my Ginsu Knife and the cool kitchen tool that RONCO is selling. And maybe if I have any money left over I'll buy one of those KTEL music collections, they are pretty cool.


Ron said...

I knew just what you were talking about - could visualize everything you mentioned from back in the day. I even remember the cur tabs on pop cans. Been thinking a lot about this lately too - maybe it's because I'm turning 38 this week (yeah, it's not 41, but I'm in the ballpark).

PS That you're still playing ball is another sign I need to get my butt in gear.

Anonymous said...

I taught high school for many years and being on the fringe of their social chatter helped me stay reasonably up-to-date in terms of pop culture, but now I have no clue most of the time.

BTW, we had an Intellivision with an Atari adapter. That's right: we were very cool back in the day. :) My favorite game was Pitfall.

NukeDad said...

Wow. That was a trip down memory lane! We could even watch Road Runner cartoons back then without fear of it being "too violent." I spent many a Friday (or was it Saturday?) night with Gage and DeSoto waiting for the final 15 minutes of "Emergency!" because that's when the BIG crisis came and they called every 1st responder in LA. "Engine 51, squad 51, battalion 14....."

Moby Homemaker said...

(3) things...
1. Very good piece..a real walk down the proverbial memory lane!
2. I was not old enough to try a "Billy Beer"...I have to imagine it sucked.
3. Is the Word Verification system extremely racist?? It has asked me to type in the characters "mooli". That's a not so nice term that my Guido pals have used.

Kevin P Metzger said...

It's funny I'm only six years younger Turn 35 at the beginning of next month and there are significant differences even though I remember many of the same events. I can't remember now but i think I was eleven when I got my first computer. I got my second when I went off to college. I remember when my dad got a bag phone I was only 8 or 9. He was a doc and the phone liberated him to go out to dinner on nights he was on call. Jack thanks for sparking the memories and I love your writing. It almost always feels poetic and always touches me.

Jack Steiner said...

The cur tabs used to kill me. I'd stick my finger in those suckers and have to yank so damn hard to get them off.

You're right, 38 is in the ballpark. You're an old man too. ;)


You're killing that ten year old boy that still lives inside me. To have both was awesome. I loved playing Pitfall. Activision came in and took all the games up a notch.


I think that I had my first crush on Dixie. We loved Emergency, especially since it was set here at home. We still say "Squad 51" for all sorts of things, usually when one of the kids need a bandaid.


Couldn't tell you what Billy Beer tasted like, not old enough to have tried it. But I remember it.

As for the word verification I cannot confirm nor deny....


Now you are making me feel old. You're even younger than my baby sisters. ;) That is ok. It is close enough to have experienced the changes. The world now is very different in some ways.

john cave osborne said...

The mind never forgets what the body used to be able to do and the ego never stops trying to do it again.

loved that. very crisp and evocative writing. you and i are the same age, and when my chest bowed up w/ pride when i remembered i was one of the first to rock the erasermate pens (always blue, mind you), i knew it to be so.

re: age differences...the girl i dated before finally marrying lovie was ten years my junior, which, to be certain, had its good points. however, i knew it would never last.

call me set in my ways, but it's impossible for me to carry on a meaningful relationship with someone who can't appreciate marcia brady for the cultural mile-marker she clearly is.

great stuff. OH, and i wanna hoop with you. i used to have game. now i got lame.

SBM said...

"We really aren't old, but we have lived long enough that some of our cultural reference points are dating us a bit...."

That's the only thing that "dates" me especially now that I have travelled thru another birthday - unlike you - I don't feel 25 - I channel 16 when I didn't have a care in the world and of course, I knew it all!

Great post, made me think and made me smile :D

Jack Steiner said...


I am with you, it had to be blue. That is all I ever used. Loved those things, 'cuz my penmanship was horrid. Could hardly read what I wrote.

Hi Marla,

I liked 16 a lot, but I didn't have the freedom that I gained later on. Although you do make a good point about not having a care in the world, I was probably more relaxed overall than at 25.

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