I was sitting at home Tuesday, relatively bored out of my mind resting up after fighting off a cold, so I turned on the TV and there were old reruns of “Father Knows Best” on. When I was a kid, such things would have been on, but I would have been much too “hip” to watch them. I would have preferred The Mod Squad or The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (look it up) or Gilligan to that watch “dated” stuff my mother would have watched. It was “square” then, so the idea that I might find anything interesting on that show astounded me — but I did.
I found myself, and my grandfather, and America once again. On the show, they were discussing the American dream, the American myth that I still believe, but that I’m not sure anybody else does. This past year has been a huge separation between The Right and The Left — people who oversell the past and people who seem to mock it or don’t remember it. But I miss the days when we all believed in the same thing, or at least I thought we did.
In the show, Dad actually says, “That’s the great thing about America. Anybody can make it if they work hard enough”. Later in the show, he says, “Nobody wants a middle class snob”. “Middle class snob”? It feel like we don’t have a middle class anymore, though my wife and I would probably be close to it if there was one. Does anybody aspire to be middle class anymore? It seems to me that everybody aspires to be rich these days, and they want to, if possible, do it without working. In the old days, we scolded ourselves for “keeping up with the Joneses”. Nowadays, it seems that people want more than the Joneses — and they always have far less meaning while they do it. There’s no sense of proportion. Work a lot/make a lot doesn’t seem to work anymore. And make a lot/give a lot, not so much either. Finally, “enough” is not a word people use anymore when it comes to money. There is never enough for them. There maybe too much for others, but not for them.
I know things have changed since I was a kid, but I also miss the days of a one-paycheck family. In the show, of course, Dad works and Mom stayed home. These days, both people have to work (or so it seems) and no one stays home. I can tell you as the child of a single mother for years, it was hard, but my mother made it, even at a smaller pay than her male counterparts.
I am well aware that the Father Knows Best world is about a White, patriarchal, English-speaking only, heterosexist world. Maybe the world has changed because we have opened up the workforce to everybody and cut the pie into too small slices, but it doesn’t feel like that. The American myth (as in story, not lie — though it may have been a lie for some), it seems to me, was that society could progress. We were all going the same way — towards being better human beings. When women actually became valued as full human beings, the hope was that whoever wanted to work in the family could. Maybe both people could work half-time and both raise the kids in a perfect world.
When people thought that Black was Beautiful, we believed in soul, and the best parts of that culture, not gangstas and the worse parts of any society. It’s a long way from Martin Luther King as a hero to “Fiddy” as an ideal.
Maybe it’s just that when we believed “All Men are Brothers”, it only seemed like there was one American dream, but now that “All People Are People”, it doesn’t seem like we have any dreams.
So here’s the world that my grandfather believed in as the American Dream: Everybody’s important. If you work hard, no matter what roots you have, you can have enough to raise a family and be happy. You can have a house of your own. You can send your kids to college. You can retire. We’ll all do well and things will get better as we include more people. You may have to work for your dreams, and you may have to work hard and start at the bottom, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded in the end.
I long for that America, even if it was only on TV.