AJC Op-ed column: The New American Dream

Reviving dreams of past would make for a better America
Linda Sands – For the Journal-Constitution
Tuesday, September 17, 2002



I am a proud American woman. I drive my American-made vehicle to overstocked grocery stores, proudly paying extra for American-grown fruits and vegetables. I give to charities that benefit less fortunate Americans, and I raise my children with the hope they will embrace The American Dream, whatever that may mean to them.

My father chose to live his parents’ dream. By the second baby and the third house, Dad’s company settled him in a small town in central New York, where he served them loyally for 35 years, driving the same morning route, five days a week, lunch bag on the seat beside him.

He parked in the same lot, worked in the same building, greeted the same faces, and every night at five, reversed the process, arriving home to a perfect Manhattan, up with a twist, before dinner at six sharp.

Today’s dad works without loyalty or stability, commutes far too long and reaps few rewards. Mom arranges expensive activities for children who should be fishing and climbing trees, adds to traffic and pollution problems by minivanning them around town while doing business on her cellphone. Kids have bikes for fun, not transportation; day care, not family; computers and video games, not freeze tag and tree forts.

My mom stayed home. We were her full-time job. She cooked, gardened, painted, bowled and volunteered, and still kept us in line. Seems she was always there, especially when we didn’t want her.

Today, those comfortable, predictable steps to Our Dream have been altered. Children no longer say they want to grow up and be like their daddy — the daddy who is out of work, in and out of rehab or going on his fourth marriage.

The steps used to be: high school, college, job, spouse, house, baby, put on a few pounds, swap champagne and dancing for domestic beer and yardwork, buy a boat, vacation at the beach, visit the relatives, drink more, write letters to old friends, send photos, plant a tree in the yard, water and enjoy.

What will we put on paper for the new American baby? Hope for the best? Forget about planning, who are you to believe you will survive your teen years, much less day care?

Look around you. Children are dying — caught in the gunfire of gang wars, crushed under the wheels of a drunk’s vehicle or in the rubble of a terrorist attack, stolen from their beds by crazed criminals, or not so innocently, by drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, extreme sports — blame whatever you will, it does not change the outcome.

Face it, the American Dream isn’t what it used to be. We raise our children in gated communities, sharing pools, tennis courts and playgrounds with people just like us. The American business “established in 1985” carries a certain distinction, as if surviving more than 15 years is a monumental accomplishment.

Where is America’s permanence? To what do we hold true? Our flag? Those dusty things we pulled from the attic, or embarrassed, ran out to buy last September? The national anthem? Many people don’t even know the words. The Pledge of Allegiance? A judge has taken God out of it.

We separated God and state, without his permission. What next? Denounce the dollar bill for claiming, ‘In God We Trust’? Where does it stop?

I understand and accept change, acknowledging its shape on our future. But I can’t help yearning for the past. Not a glorified America, but one with spark and simplicity.

Maybe it’s time to take a step back — to a dream formed when choices were few, pleasures were simple and life was good.