The Gateway To Adulthood

Illustration: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / uniqueshots

I was doing historical research for another column I’ve been working on when I came across an anonymous statement that gave me pause: “People either participated in the 1980s or sat back and watched. Those that engaged it seemed to be trying to recreate the 1950s.”

I was 20 at the very beginning of that era, in 1980. At the threshold to my future, I felt really good about what I was doing, and how I was going about it. In retrospect, I think I felt good because I was emulating as an adult what I had watched my parents do when I was a child. It was that traditional 1950s-like family security that gave me a foundation. The plan seemed simple:

  • Stay in school and finish with high marks.

  • Find a good job that you enjoy doing.

  • Develop a reputation for responsibility, punctuality, and a positive attitude at work.

  • Buy a home and invest your money from the time you are young. It pays great dividends later.

  • When you are on solid ground and feel ready to make a lasting commitment, find a good match.

  • Be loyal and honest with yourself and her.

  • When you know you can’t be without her and she feels the same, get married.

  • Stay married. Work through the hard times.

  • Have children if your relationship is solid and lasting. They will delight you for the rest of your life if you raise them properly, and they cement your commitment.

  • Maintain this triangle—home, work, leisure—with a commitment to each. Keep life in balance.

  • Retire with honor and a sense of having accomplished something.

  • Be a good person to friends, family, co-workers, and all those whom you encounter.

It didn’t seem any more complicated than that. Much of it was reflective of the 1950s, although I wasn’t even born until 1960, but in looking through documentaries, photo albums, and television shows from that time, one common theme occurs—a sense of innocence and gratitude. That’s what I was trying to grasp.

Playing The Part

During Christmas one year, I made reservations for myself and my then-girlfriend for lunch at a nice restaurant. As I glanced at myself in the hallway mirror at home, my dad walked by and nodded. I wore a nice turtleneck and had a tweed-jacket look going—very Ivy League for a man my age. When I picked my date up at her parents’ home, I gave her a red rose. She blushed and her mother gushed. I kept a beautifully wrapped gift of an engraved bracelet in the breast pocket of my sport coat. I loved the look of men in movies and television shows who drew items from that pocket. No matter what they casually retrieved from the pocket--airline tickets, a wallet, a pistol—whatever it was—carrying something in a breast pocket was manly. I wanted to be a man then—kid days were over.

As we left for the restaurant, the radio was playing a few Christmas songs (it wasn’t 24-7 Christmas songs back then), and it was snowing lightly. She scooted close to me and put her head on my shoulder. When we arrived at the restaurant, we saw only a few cars in the parking lot. There were plenty of empty tables, but I wanted to impress her so I half-whispered to the maître d, “Reservation for Ciancutti.” He half-smiled, realizing my intention, and responded, “Right this way, Mr. Ciancutti.” While we sat cozily in a booth, with the holiday lights glowing and the music softly playing, I produced the bracelet from my way-cool breast pocket. Her eyes welled up with genuine feelings. After lunch, we returned to her parents’ home because they were expecting several relatives. I too was going to see other family members so I had to get home. That’s what our parents expected of us then—there was no thought of resisting. As I drove back to my house, I had such a sense of taking a major step towards adulthood. I knew my part, knew my lines, had my wardrobe picked out, was with a really nice girl, and had handled all the details. Maybe it was the 1950s if that meant a sense of decency and a way of doing the right thing.

Agonizing Over Apparel

But in 2013 I can honestly say I have never seen any of my kids’ friends in anything but jeans and sweats. Most of the girls—if they’re not heavily made-up—are wearing no makeup at all. The guys—well, while most don’t embrace the long hair typical in my youth, the reverse is so extreme it makes me uncomfortable. Half-shaven heads, tattoos, earrings, and sometimes nose rings and face rings to complete the look. At the butcher shop one day my daughter saw one of the guys and whispered, “He’s hot.” I said, “Well, it is warm in here.” When she stopped rolling her eyes, I begged for an explanation. “Why is a half-starved, ready-to-implode-with-anger, prisoner-of-war look considered “hot”? She just shook her head. “Dad, he’s hot.” Great, I thought to myself.

I know it’s typical for each previous generation to shake their respective heads at the new generation, but really? My style mentors were Paul Newman and Al Pacino, while the current models seem to be Heinrich Himmler and Vanilla Ice. Appearances may only be skin deep, but I think getting dressed up once in a while and making oneself presentable is important. But that doesn’t seem to be a priority anymore. Whether at church, school, or visiting in-laws—everyone just comes as they are. I even see girls wearing pajama bottoms in stores now. Come on, people.

From Role Model To Royal Disaster

I am trying to learn which people our kids are trying to emulate, so I took a look at various “leaders” of today. I considered the following:

  • A series of dysfunctional political groups in Washington, portraying themselves with all the dignity of the Three Stooges, all the while accumulating salaries and benefits that rival those of kings and queens in other countries.

  • Hollywood stars with the morals of a barnyard rooster and the ambition to make headlines by doing anything outrageous for the press sound bite.

  • Fatherless homes and divorce-rampant families that remind kids that the mistakes in life don’t really need to be resolved.

  • Workplaces that hire employees at minimal hours in order to avoid any personal commitment.

Unfortunately, the current generation has not really chosen these role models. They have been forced upon them because of the following:

  • A depression-era economy with little hope for a change in the job market or investment opportunities.

  • Ellis Island health plans—tuberculosis on the left—pneumonia on the right.

  • Titanic-replicating vacations with ocean liners floating adrift with unhealthy passengers and other ships capsizing close to shore due to inept captains

While our kids look different, they all have the same good hearts we have. How can we expect them to embrace innocence and respect when they are encouraged to make bad decisions and follow the negative icons of today.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at