The Remnants of My Misspent Youth
This Week’s Prompt: Misspent Youth
~~ An entry in the Carnival of Family Life hosted by On the Horizon. ~~
When someone references the ’70’s, I jokingly say, “Oh, my misspent youth!”
Yes, that’s a disco ball.
If you are snickering, it’s probably for one of two reasons: Either you can’t believe that I am actually that old and willing to admit it or you are in my age range and remembering your own misspent youth … which probably also involved disco.
I graduated from high school in 1974 so I was in college in the mid to late 1970’s, the height of disco. Yes, I actually wore Danskin clothing, including the leotards with matching wrap-around skirts. And platform shoes, especially Sbiccas. We had bad perms, wore too much makeup, and worried our parents regularly even though we were over 18 years of age.
To this day, if I hear old Village People songs like “Y.M.C.A.” or “Macho Man” I giggle at the memories of how we spent several hours getting dressed and arrived at the local clubs an hour or so early in order to take advantage of the free dance lessons that were offered before the disc jockey began spinning records. My kids cringe when I occasionally “bust a move,” especially if I do it while stopped at a red light where someone might recognize us.
In those days, men wore silly-looking polyester pants with no pockets or belt loops, shiny polyester shirts that they left half-unbuttoned in order to show off the hair on their chest (no man would ever considered waxing his chest in those days!) and their gold chains. (Think Dan Ackroyd and Steve Martin on classic episodes of “Saturday Night Live.”)
Those days weren’t all carefree and joyous, however.
The world was a very different place. For us late-era Baby Boomers who were trying to discern what our futures should and would be like, it was, in many respects, a perplexing and daunting time.
True of every generation.
But I think those of us who reached adulthood in the ’70’s, especially women, found ourselves sandwiched between the “Make Love, Not War” ’60’s and “Just Say ‘No’” ’80’s. We weren’t quite sure how to map out our lives because we did not want to be like our mothers, many of whom, like mine, did not finish their educations and ended up being homemakers. We wanted careers.
But we grew up playing with Barbie and Ken, taught to fantasize about our dream wedding dress as we dressed Barbie in hers, as well as our handsome future “Mr. Right” and adorable children. We were caught in the dichotomy. The role models for how to “have it all” were nonexistent, but the pressure to grow into “Superwomen” was real and palpable. (That’s a faux-engagement pose with my friend, Steven, Christmas 1975.)
For me, there was dissonance between what I wanted to do with my life and what my parents wanted me to do with it. The fact that my only sibling — a sister eight years older than me — was dutiful, obedient, and never rebelled only complicated matters. My parents fully expected and forcefully pressured me to follow her lead in all aspects of my life which, of course, assured that I actively strove to be as different from her as possible. Even today, I catch myself doing that.
So my misspent youth involved moving 400 hundred miles away from home, all that disco dancing, a lot of partying, a lot of dating and, as my mother so eloquently used to put it, “shacking up” a couple of times, in addition to one brief, ill-conceived marriage that began at the Silver Bells Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. I dropped in and out of college a few times and held various full-time jobs.
I was actually “disowned” by my parents a few times. (I believe it was on a total of five occasions for various offenses, if I recall correctly.) My father, whom I have written about here with great affection, was not so charming when he stood in the middle of the kitchen floor in this very house, yelling at me and calling me vile names, demanding that I “never darken [his] doorstep again” unless I changed my ways.
What makes me laugh about all of that now is how tame the things my friends and I were doing were in comparison not only with what other young adults were doing even in those days, but especially the things you hear about today.
But my parents were caught up in the same cultural shifts. They simply could not understand, from their vantage point, how my contemporaries and I viewed the world or the challenges we were facing. They did not realize that the best thing they could have done was simply back off, leave me alone, and let me find my own way. Easily, their single-biggest error was their unrelenting demand that I conform to their way of perceiving and interacting in the world. Our relationship suffered during a few very rough years.
But eventually, as most parents and children do, we aged past all of that.
Do I regret any of the misadventures I had in my misspent youth? Sure. I’d be lying if I denied that, if given the opportunity, I would make many different choices. But all of those experiences are part of my journey so far and it is a pointless waste of energy to regret what you have no power to change.
Instead, I focus on the good that came out of those experiences, including the friendships made, many of which are still flourishing today.
Case in point: The photo above was taken during a party in my apartment in Fullerton, spring 1978. That’s my friend, Barbara, on the right with the Farrah Fawcett-like hairstyle. She was my roommate in those days. She is also my sons’ godmother and accompanied me on my trip to New York City this past March.
Folks like Barbara are blessings in my life. The fact that they “knew me when” and are still my friends today means that I don’t have to explain my life journey to them — they have been walking side by side with me during most of it.
Those relationships are, as the commercial says, the “priceless” remnants and rewards of my misspent youth.