“Teach, your children well…”**
My daughter asked me this weekend to tell her stories about what it was like “back when I was a hippie”. I think she just likes the sound of the word and the romantic image of counter-culture gypsies in psychedelic Volkswagen buses. She especially wanted to know if I had long hair and if I said “groovy” and “far out man”. I told her: yes, I did have long hair, and no, I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying “groovy”.
But, like, far out man.
“.. and so, become yourself, because the past is just a good bye..”
Until recently I always assumed that I had been a hippie. But in retrospect - if truth be told - I was never really a hippie, not really. Not a principled one at least. Like the knucklehead kids today that walk around with faux chains and pants slung half way to their ankles, trying to look like the gangsta’ stars they emulate, we too were only wanna-be hippies. We dressed and talked and acted the way we thought real hippies acted. Partly because it looked so cool and partly – well, OK, MOSTLY – because it so pissed off our parents.
“.. and you of tender years, can’t know the fears, your elders grew by..”
I had the long hair, I wore the requisite plaid shirt and never-washed, patched blue jeans. I attended the rallies and the music festivals, threw the Frisbees and I surely smoked the dope. Peace and love. Mere platitudes. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Well, maybe a little of that. But as far as my pure-blood adherence to hippie principles, at least political ones, I was clueless.
My best illustration of this cluelessness was that I lived in a very insular society. All of my news and information came to me either from a small group of close friends or from the student newspaper at Michigan State University, where I was a student. Occasionally I would hear Uncle Walter Cronkite on TV although I didn’t own one, nor did anyone I knew. Thus my primary sources of news and cultural information were already arriving through a polarizing filter that bent everything to the extreme left. I hated Nixon and Agnew and the entire government, although I was never quite sure why. I wanted the U.S. out of Vietnam, although I couldn’t tell you how we’d gotten there in the first place. And I generally came into my philosophical adulthood with a jaundiced eye for any type or level of authority. Why? Because everyone else in my isolated and protected peer group felt the same way. I’m not saying that my philosophy at the time was wrong. I thought the war wrong then and I think it wrong to this day. It’s just that my philosophy wasn’t my own. I didn’t come upon it through searching, comparing and choosing. I didn’t formulate it, and I certainly didn’t add anything original. I simply followed my peers. I was no better that the hated ROTC drones that we saw marching on the campus green in lock step.
Personally, I’d like to think that hippies are better than that.
The first election that I voted in was the 1972 race between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern. The campus debate was feverish and the alignments passionate. As Election Day approached we were confident that the forces of good (antiwar, McGovern) were on our side. As I left the voting booth I was confident that McGovern would win a stunning and resounding victory. After all, everyone I knew was voting for him. The student newspaper backed him. How could he loose?
I have never been so shocked in my life.
Imagine my surprise and bewilderment when the votes were tallied. George McGovern received less than 38% of the popular vote, and managed to win just 17 of over 500 electoral votes, carrying only one state: liberal Massachusetts. The defeat was stunning in its totality. Our dreams seemed shattered.
“Feed them on your dreams, the ones you’ve picked, the ones you go by.”
I WAS a cultural hippie however. I latched right on to smoking pot and became a first-rate stoner for many years. I hitchhiked around the entire country with nothing more than a backpack, a mean harmonica and a hundred bucks. I listened to loud music, grew my beard and generally dropped out.
I graduated from college in June of 1973, about the time that Nixon was being dishonorably booted from office. In July of ’73, they officially abolished the draft although effectively it had been ended much earlier. I had been spared the war and the war had been spared me. (We never would have gotten along.) I celebrated by moving to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and becoming a stoner, all-night, FM disc jockey and forming a band.
“ Teach your parents well.”
Today, my daughter is actually a better hippie then I ever was or will ever hope to be. She insists that I turn the car off whenever possible to protect the environment. She cares for small animals and those less fortunate. She recycles, she looks for her news wherever she can find it. She lives for the moment. She challenges authority but not blindly. She has opinions. She fights for her answers.
“Don’t you ever ask them why. If they told you, you would cry. So just look at them and sigh… and know they love you.”
Teach your children well.
* Jeremiah Horrigan's recent post "Remembering: Thoughts on a long-ago Memorial Day" caused me to look back. This is what I saw.
** Reoccurring lyrics from "Teach Your Children Well" by Crosby, Stills and Nash.