Cunningham: The Dean’s Standards in the Age of Millennials

By Colin McEvoy on January 10, 2020

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on Dec. 12, 2019. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

The holidays bring the great homecoming.

Like the swallows to Capistrano, my adult children, now 24 to 29 years old, return to the nest each Christmas season.

My daughter is a teacher in Philadelphia so she’s off from school. The youngest son is a millennial in New York City who works for a major designer, so he gets something unknown to previous generations called a “holiday shutdown.” My older son, who lives and works here, is drawn to the house more than usual by the presence of his siblings, regular meals and gifts.

Reassembling under one roof for a week is always an extraordinary learning experience — for both sides.

They call me the Dean. The Dean of Standards, to be exact. A nickname bestowed upon me for my propensity to offer unsolicited advice and self-determined standards. It’s become a term of endearment, but I believe its original intent was more in the vein of today’s “Okay, Boomer” expression.

I once offered the simple advice to never arrive at a major airport less than two hours before the flight. Count on something going wrong.

But, the words of a parent are rarely heeded. Experience is the better teacher.

A group confession was offered this year during a long bourbon and wine-soaked holiday table session. My son missed two flights for leaving too late, once spending a night in a New York airport terminal. My daughter recently sprinted through Miami International Airport in her bathing suit to catch a flight back to cold Philadelphia because she didn’t want to leave the beach.

This led to an epiphany, and a newfound status for me.

“The Dean’s standards actually make sense,” my son said.

“Yeah, Dad, we hate to say it, but they really do,” said my daughter, who I know still won’t follow any of them.

She’s a free spirit.

The weekend trip to Miami was because her girlfriend turned 30. They didn’t think it odd.

“Why are you going again?” I asked.

“It’s Tina’s THIRTIETH birthday, Dad,” she said, as if I was a bit dim for asking.

I don’t recall my 30th birthday, and not because of alcohol. I was a father of three by then. We most likely went to Jack Creek Restaurant, which is gone now. We loved the place because it was cheap and good and loud, safe terrain for a table full of high chairs.

Bachelor and bachelorette parties are now getaways. The bridesmaids and the groomsmen plan trips to faraway and exotic places. Being in a wedding is now a 20-something’s largest expense after student loans.

I’ve been married twice. I had a bachelor party the second time. It was organized by my dad. A group of friends and co-worker gathered at The Tilted Kilt in Allentown, which is gone now, where we drank pitchers of beer until 10:30 p.m. and then went home.

Standards are made to be adjusted, however.

I was raised in the guidebook era. As a male, there was pretty much a set of rules handed to you by your father, who was given them by his father before him. You learned them and lived them. Not many questions were asked.

I’m not sure how the cycle was broken — maybe it was the internet and technology — but I’m glad it was.

When I sit with my adult children and listen to the lives they live, the places they visit and the experiences they enjoy, I’m thrilled for them. They are smarter than I was at their age. They care about things I didn’t think about.

I learn from them, at this point, more than they learn from me. Learning is adjusting.

There are some standards, however, that can’t be changed. One of them regards music. A song can’t be good unless someone is playing an actual instrument.

This is a point of contention with my youngest son. He does a side gig in New York as a club DJ. He mixes music and beats, much of it hip hop and rap, some of it derived by computers and programs, no musicians playing instruments.

He’s good at what he does. I went to see him one night. His set started at midnight on a Thursday. I was out by 1 a.m. Too late and too few instruments.

This holiday I surprised him with two tickets to see the incredible Led Zeppelin tribute band Get the Led Out at Penn’s Peak. He grew up listening to classic rock ’n’ roll and has a fondness for Zeppelin.

We stood on the floor, close to the stage. He liked that, said it’s what they do at the hip hop clubs. The similarity ended with the first blaring guitar chords of “Good Times, Bad Times.” The place erupted.

In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man.

Now I’ve reached the age I try to do all the things the best I can.

With his fist in the air and the smile on his face, I knew he agreed with the Dean.

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