“I saw a DEADHEAD sticker on a Cadillac. A little voice inside my head said, don’t look back. You can never look back.” – Don Henley
Out on the road today myself I was lost in the dichotomy of past and present. As Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” played I couldn’t help but reminisce back to 1980 something, while at the same time still living and trying to process through a difficult present day situation. It’s the unenviable task of watching my parents age, and the difficult decisions that come along with that.
Henley’s song may represent young love gone wrong to some, and I see that in the lyrics, but for me it’s always represented a kind of melodic ode to lost youth.
“Don’t look back. You can never look back.”
We all know that’s more of a suggestion and just not a true statement at all. Even in the iconic black and white video shot by French director Jean-Baptiste Mondino the three versions of Henley represented (youth, middle-aged, and Don himself) all look back at the mention of that very lyric.
80’s digression: the video went on to win Video of the Year on MTV back when MTV actually played music videos!
My point though is that we do look back – all the time. Sometimes our reflections can be lengthy and reflective, and other times it’s just a brief glimpse or flashback in our mind. We remember scenes of our past and for most of us those involving our parents as well. We look through photo albums and see our parents – young, strong, adventurous, and full of life and possibility.
(Taken on my Polaroid instant camera in Norman, OK)
As my peers and I race through a middle age full of job promotions, demotions, and changes, through marital bliss and marital failure, through youth baseball games and dance recitals, and just through everyday highs and lows, we’re faced with an aging generation of parents. My parents are still living, and so are my wife’s, but just not in the same way anymore.
Gone for most of us are those care-free days, fun-filled nights, and family vacations. They’ve been replaced with medications, and worry, and physical and mental limitations. Many of you have traversed this path already and/or may have already lost parents. I’m sorry if you have. I hear all the time what one would give up just for one more phone call or one more hug and it makes me grateful and sad all at the same time. Many of you have already had to run through the obstacle course of funerals and insurance, and wills and trusts, and family (oh, God help you if you have a large family), and feelings of frustration, sorrow, and regret.
Can life ever fully prepare you to undertake this task that most of us face one day?
For many of us that grew up in the 80’s, these music legends like Henley that we listen to are close to our parents’ age whether we believe it or not. When Henley’s longtime collaborator and friend from The Eagles, Glenn Frey, passed away at the age of 68 I spent much of the evening listening to the music of The Eagles, kicking myself for never getting to an Eagles’ concert, and thinking about his life, my life, and the end that we will all face one day in this life. I have a good friend who likes to say that we’re all just waiting in line hoping that we’re further to the back of it than the next guy. How depressing, but how metaphorically true it is.
“The sun goes down alone.”
It can be a lonely feeling, and that sun is setting on our parents’ generation. I hate watching my parents age. But, when I think about all the times we’ve had together and I look through the pictures and old videos I’m reminded of all the good times… and there were plenty of them. The crazy vacations and road trips and family reunions. And the laughs – and there has been no shortage of laughs. Sure there have been disappointments and sorrow and frustration, but it’s the joy and the happy moments that we are left to hang onto in our hearts and in our minds. But I know for me, selfishly, I long for a just a few more of those times to hold on to.
My dad has lost two younger brothers in the last 12 months and it’s been harder and harder to come by those laughs quite as easily as before. The golden years aren’t always golden in this world. In the book of Proverbs it says that “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.”
I will always think of my parents’ generation as the “Boys of Summer,” a term that I first heard coined by the author Roger Kahn in his book of the same title. It will be the black and white images, it will be “brown skin shining in the sun,” (who thought about skin cancer back then?) on a beach, or in a car with the top pulled down, young and innocent captured forever in time.
So for now there’s really nothing you can do but go slide your Wayfarers over your eyes, drop the top or roll down the windows, bump some Don Henley, and savor the warm sun on your skin, the thoughts of good friends, and the memories of your young, strong, cool parents.
Thanks for reading.
“Those days are gone forever. I should just let them go, but…”