I was a junior in high school the first time I read James Joyce’s Araby. At its core, it’s a short story about a boy in early-1900s Dublin who likes a girl and wants to get her a gift from the bazaar (street market). In the end, the bazaar isn’t what he thought it would be, and by extension, neither are his plans to win over the affections of another.
The story ends with this line – one I’ve never been able to shake: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”
This line perfectly describes the letdown; the moment the curtain is pulled back and you realise that the great and powerful Oz is nothing more than an illusion you allowed yourself to buy into. I’ve had this moment again and again and, unfortunately, so will you.
I’m a Millennial. A large percentage of us folks raised in the 1990s have undergone a strange reverse-metamorphosis. We were optimists. We wanted to believe. To buy in. We wanted to make our mark and we got burned, repeatedly. Sometimes it feels like where there was once a flock of butterflies, there are now primitive, hungry caterpillars doomed to consume what’s in front of us with no hope for change. I know it’s a terrible metaphor, but hey, terrible metaphors are what Millennials do best.
My biggest fear for your generation is that you all see the wings of your parents clipped so often, that you refuse to want to fly.
To some degree, I still feel the romance of and mystery of things. My religion, politics, a good book, a kiss, the smell and sound of an Arizona thunderstorm. There are things that still excite me, and make my heart skip a beat. Yet, in the words of someone I never thought I’d quote in a serious tone, “every rose has its thorn.” All the things that I’ve ever made an idol of have all produced similar circumstances to that of the disenfranchised young man leaving the Dublin bazaar. I’ve left a church, a relationship, my childhood home, a job and many more circumstances “gazing up into the darkness, seeing myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; my eyes burning with anguish and anger.”
I’ve been let down. I’ve let others down. It hurts. The letdown is a scar that at its best can be the climactic chapter in a tale of perseverance and redemption, and at its worst can come to completely define who you are.
Someday, in some way, I’ll let you down. It’s inevitable. I’m so sorry for this. I need you to know that it wasn’t your fault for having high expectations of me. I also need you to know that whatever anger and anguish I cause you in that moment might not feel very good, but it’s better than the alternative. I’d relive every single one of my broken-hearted moments over spending a single day as a cynic, or someone who stays too close to the ground to be let down.
My biggest fear for your generation is that you all see the wings of your parents clipped so often, that you refuse to want to fly. The practice of subscribing to the idea that nothing is sacred in order to protect your heart from feeling the pain of disappointment is like saving up to buy shoes and refusing to wear them for fear they’ll get scuffed. Let your heart serve its purpose, and let the times it gets broken serve as a reminder that you’re alive.
I love you. I await with fear and sympathy the times you’ll be let down. I await with the hope of a boy who hasn’t yet reached the bazaar the times you’ll pick yourself back up to hope again.
Dad of four Ralph Amsden founded The Dad Letters in 2012 because “I wish my parents did that for me.” He’s also a sports reporter and freelance writer. You can follow The Dad Letters on Facebook and Twitter, and Ralph on Twitter here.