Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Father Gave Me A Name - Then Walked Away - Gen X and Associations

Father of mine
Tell me what do you see?
When you look back at your wasted life
And you don't see me
Sometimes you would send me a birthday card
With a five dollar bill
I never understood you then
And I guess I never will

Daddy gave me a name
(Then he walked away)
My daddy gave me a name
(Then he walked away).........Everclear, So Much for the Afterglow

The Short of It
  • It's been a long two weeks.
  • But I'm not alone.
  • Many of your members and volunteers are just like me.
  • Don't walk away from your members.

The Long of It

My biological father died two weeks ago yesterday.

Many of you in my Generation X co-hort are going to interpret that sentence differently than others, instinctively relating to its loaded and specific meaning.  That is not to say Boomers and Gen Y don't have their share of broken families to deal with but for Gen X it's a particularly potent, shared understanding.

According to Tammy Erickson in her recent book, "What's Next Gen X," Gen Xers are four to five times more likely to have experienced divorce than the Boomers we are surrounded by.  The divorce rate skyrocketed from 22% in 1960 to 46% in 1975.

Understanding this dynamic is key to working with us as workplace colleagues, members or fellow volunteers

I have spent the last two weeks in true Gen X style ambivalently grieving. The daily routine my father chose not to be a part of from age 5 on rolls unabated, punctuated by strange outbursts of emotion and breath stealing sobs that sneak up on me and then pass as soon as they start.  I've spent time visiting with my wonderful mother (who I cling to like a barnacle on a ship) and step-dad who chose to fill those empty shoes by adopting me - a new father giving me a new name - at the age of seven.

I chose to "slack" and not attend the service, opting instead to send flowers rather than watch the two sons he chose to raise later grieve over the father they had just lost.  For them, it's fresh - but I've been at it for 37 years.  I didn't feel the need to intrude on a family of strangers.

I tell you this not because I want sympathy. I tell you this because I am not unique. The most tragic thing about the situation is it's ordinariness. What is important about sharing (which many of my peers would rather die than do) is the underlying hope that you can gain some insight into the psychology of many of your members and volunteer leaders, work colleagues and executives.  The hope is you will deal more directly with the dynamics you are struggling with in your associations - especially if you dare to drape your membership in trappings of friendship, community and belonging and fail to deliver on that promise.

Consider the following areas of association management from the angle of your Gen X members and volunteers who more and more occupy positions of prominence in your organizations.

Change. The same voices that told us of course we could change fathers/houses/schools/step brothers and sisters and that maybe those changes were even for the better now tell us we can't change that policy/procedure/program/governance structure. We know better - and yes we can.

Innovation. What you perceive as ironic detachment is one of our greatest strengths. We live and breathe innovation because of our irreverence, rejection of traditions we didn't get to keep anyway and our sincere belief that it is up to us to make things better because nobody else is going to.

Vision. In order to survive, we created powerful visions for ourselves outside of the messages we internalized in our formative years. We need it. We crave it. Your organizational vision has to be at least as compelling as our personal ones or we'll stick with our own and thanks just the same.

Message. We specialize in the insincere. The new demand for authenticity comes from people who are sharply attuned to spin and who want the actual truth. Don't get our hopes up and don't candy-coat. If your association promises something - then follow through. We've been left on enough doorsteps over the years.

Professional Development. We are the embodiment of the edupunk movement. Nobody was there to tell us how to do it the first time around and we're still making it up as we go. If your education isn't accessible and good, we'll find it elsewhere and we will tell our friends.  We do not have to wait for you to improve.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a paragon of virtue or a flawless example of how to live or behave. I'm the last person in the world who should throw stones. But life overlooked my imperfections and blessed me anyway. I'm lucky and I know it. I've had family and friends all this time, a husband who "gets me," a daughter of my own that wild horses couldn't drag me away from and wonderful step-children, a fantastic career that I love, colleagues I dig, material comforts and as I type a delightfully warm, fuzzy cat purring away on my lap.

Still, there is one, quiet part of my heart that softly hums these lyrics to itself and I guess I always will.

I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame
Now I'm a grown (wo)man
With a child of my own
And I swear, I'll never let her know
All the pain I have known

Youtube won't let me embed it - but here is the link if you care to watch with me.


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