Boomers Talked Turkey at Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches, the airwaves, internet and print media are currently filled with advise on keeping civil discussions around the table when families gather for the holiday. Yet few mention that the divide between people, even in the same family, is not new to the present day. Boomers experienced massive divides within their families — though, like every generation, boomers were never a monolith, and experiences varied widely.

In Mister Boomer’s estimation based solely on anecdotal information garnered from other boomers, the Great Divide around the Thanksgiving table in the boomer years could be categorized into two basic camps: anti-Vietnam war sentiment, and the boomer-era culture war based on style.

Holidays in the early years for Mister Boomer were all spent with extended family, meaning dozens of cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Every Sunday, Mister B and his family would have dinner at one grandparent’s’ house or the other, and sometimes at both. So Thanksgiving felt pretty much like any other Sunday. Kids had their table, so the conversation at the adults’ table was not of much interest to young boomers.

By the time Mister Boomer’s older cousins got married and had children of their own, it was the mid-60s. Aunts and uncles peeled off the large gatherings and started their own traditions within their growing families. Still, uncles especially had and voiced their opinions, and having served during World War II, they often came down on the side of a “My country, right or wrong” sentiment. Some cousins might object, voicing concern for putting young Americans at risk in a war with uncertain goals or an unspoken ending plan. This, of course, hit home for them because they were of Draft age.

Other boomers told Mister B the divide in their homes was more of what became described as The Generation Gap. In particular, boomer boys recall relatives asking them the question raised in the song by the Barbarians in 1965: “Are you a boy, or are you a girl?” Long hair was often a bone of contention in many family gatherings.

These sorts of boomer-era culture war arguments were immortalized in the TV show, All in the Family (1971-79) in classic confrontations between Archie Bunker and the man he referred to as his Meathead son-in-law.

Mister Boomer and his siblings spent their school years in parochial schools, so strict rules prevented longer hair, and uniforms were worn throughout the tenure. For Mister B and many of his friends, the summer immediately following high school graduation was the time to grow longer hair, and possibly try to cultivate facial hair. In Mister B’s experience, his part-time job still had regulations on the length and cut of “acceptable” hair. So scuffles within his family on hair length were few.

For boomer girls, the anecdotal reporting on their family divides voiced the concept of how much freedom they were to have compared to their brothers; arguments arose about timing to leave and return to the house, their choice of dates, what they wore, and in some cases, whether they would be allowed to pursue a college education. These disputes could spill over into the Holiday table on occasion.

Boomers varied in their own beliefs, and their family experiences varied widely as well. Yet articles of the day are replete with Generation Gap terminology and most boomers will recount just how different they were than their parents, in thought and deed. The times were certainly changing, and the divide was widening as boomers reached voting age.

Mister Boomer wishes you all a Happy Thanksgiving filled with delicious food, family traditions, and avoidance of conflict.

How about your families, boomers? Were Thanksgiving dinners contentious or harmonious?

Boomers Watched the Long Hair Trend Grow

When most people think about the 1960s, one of the first things that come to mind is longer hair for men. Women’s hair lengths had been trending longer since the 1920s and if anything, the ’60s saw the acceptance of shorter hair for women. For men, however, The Establishment was not keen to accept men’s hair that covered the ears.

There were, of course, many men in the 1950s who sported longer hair for the time. The pompadour hairstyle was popular among rockabilly and rock musicians, and because of it they were placed in the category of other so-called unsavory types, like motorcycle riders. Beatniks and Bob Dylan, then considered a folk singer, often wore longer hair in the late 1950s and early ’60s, but they were exceptions. So how did long hair for men get to be popular among boomers?

Most people point to The Beatles (Boomers Loved That Beatles’ Hairstyle). Once they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964, the genie was out of the bottle for boomers. Yet other bands in England, most notably The Rolling Stones, wore longer hair than The Beatles did at that time. Nonetheless, The Beatles hairstyle upset a great many parents.

By the time The Rolling Stones released their first album in the U.S. in 1964, the photo on the album cover showed hair length that would quickly be adopted throughout the rock music world, and on to the fans. So we see that rather than just The Beatles, we have the entire British Invasion to thank for bringing long hair to our shores.

Looking at album covers of the era you can see the progression of hair length among American bands. This style went against the grain of the societal norm, producing a backlash that carried over into discriminatory hiring practices and refusal of service by some businesses. Disneyland prohibited their employees from wearing long hair from its inception in the 1950s until the late ’60s, and banned long-haired visitors from entering the theme park. Yet the trend grew on unabated.

One of the oft-repeated refrains of boomer parents at the time was that with long hair, they couldn’t tell the girls from the boys. That prompted an American band from Provincetown, Massachusetts — The Barbarians — to record the song, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? in 1965. It was a hit among boomers.

Even “clean-cut” bands like The Beach Boys were wearing long hair by the time they released Pet Sounds in 1966. Every rock band after adopted the style as a sort of identifying uniform, putting the older generation on notice that they would not conform to their idea of how the world should look.

About the middle of the decade, long hair was not only being associated with a musical revolution but a cultural one as well. Hippies — the epitome of a subculture that stood against just about every established institution — took long hair to a different level, and boomers objecting to the Vietnam War wore it as a protest — the direct opposite of what a drafted military man would have to wear. That rankled the older folks even more.

By the time the “shocking” musical, Hair, extolled the virtues of long hair on Broadway in 1967, the style was widespread among boomer boys. Long hair slowly made inroads into schools that had previously banned it, and on into the business world, though some corporations remained rigidly opposed. One might say the tipping point for acceptance was not until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Perhaps this is due to the fact that once the “stigma” of protest was removed from the equation, the style could be seen more as fashion statement.

Mister Boomer would have grown his hair Beatles-style in the mid-60s, but as a parochial school student from grade school through high school, rules prohibited it. His long hair days would have to wait until his college years. He was just a little too young for war protests, but felt very much like the lyrics of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, Almost Cut My Hair from 1970. In it David Crosby sings that he feels like “letting my freak flag fly,” followed by how he feels like he “owes it to someone.”

When did you — or your boomer brothers — first grow their hair long?