My sister once said to her teenage children ‘There is nothing you can do that I haven’t already done.’ And she was right. Every generation deludes itself into thinking that it is the first to rebel. But you can be pretty sure that whatever you do, other people were doing decades ago. Your parents were probably among them. They too were having sex (sorry about the unpalatable image) and maybe even occasionally getting drunk. Yet we persist in thinking that our parents couldn’t possibly ever have got pissed on cheap cider and lied to their parents about where they’d been all night.
So why this determination to view our parents as saintly ascetics, and ourselves as rebellious hedonists? Is it that we really don’t know our parents at all? Or is the ego so great that we simply cannot imagine our parents as having a life independent of our existence? It’s as if they are supposed to have simply blinked into existence shortly before we were born. We can only see them in relation to ourselves. But there is bound to be a hell of a lot that we don’t know about them.
I’m plagued by a nagging suspicion that my apparently conventional mother cannot be as pristine as she appears. Perhaps somewhere among her papers lie newspaper clippings about her secret past as Britain’s most successful jewel thief (and if so, I hope that she’s left clear instructions on where to locate the loot). Maybe it will emerge that her apparent disinterest in the Internet masks her ownership of a massive porn empire. Or there may be a revelation so shocking that my mind cannot even comprehend the possibility. What’s for certain is that she was a person in her own right long before I was born, and that her parents were shocked at something she did.
But the persistent belief of each generation that it is somehow innovative and rebellious will roll on. And the older generation will secretly scoff at this, gleefully remembering its past. You can delude yourself if you want – or you can face up to the fact that there really is nothing new. My sister’s children are probably the exception; I think it’s abundantly clear that she is as much of a party animal as they are, if not more. So get to know your parents as people – you might be surprised at how much fun they are.