How many millennials does it take to change a light bulb? None. They just add it to the list of things for Mom to do.
I feel as though I have the right to tell as many millennial jokes as I want to tell because I’m the father of seven millennials. All of my children were born during the years that are included within the millennial age group, 1981‒1996. My oldest son, Harry, was born in March 1981; my youngest daughter, Teresa, was born in June 1996.
We hear a lot about millennials, primarily because we are constantly being inundated with information about who they are and what they’re all about. A lot of that information comes from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and the other social media platforms. The Pew Research Center has provided a breakdown of each of the generations for the past 90 years, along with the generational nicknames:
· Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (73-90 years old)
· Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)
· Generation X: Born 1965-1980 (38-53 years old)
· Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (22-37 years old)
· Post-Millennials (end date unknown and no official name at this time): Born 1997-Present (0-21 years old)
I was born in 1957, so I’m a Baby Boomer. My parents’ 17 children were split between Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.
Last week, when I learned that my 85-year-old uncle, Harry LaHood, Jr., was not doing well, I thought about the breakdown of generations and the differences among individuals born during those time periods. Uncle Harry was born on September 8, 1933. Even though he was a member of the Silent Generation, he had the unique ability to relate to, interact with, understand, and make friends with members of all the other generations.
Uncle Harry and his wife, Gloria, had nine children — one girl and eight boys. Their first child, Becky, was born in 1956, and their last child, Matt, was born 10 years later, in 1966. My mom was Uncle Harry’s older sister. Their dad, my grandfather, died three days before I was born. Mom attended her dad’s funeral on May 20, 1957, and then went to the hospital where I was born.
A couple of days after my birth, my mom called her brother, Harry, and told him that she wanted to name me after their father, Harry LaHood, Sr. She told her brother that she was concerned that she might offend him and his wife if she named me Harry because they had a child who was due the following month, and if they had a boy they might want to name him Harry. My uncle’s response was, “I don’t have any problem with you naming your son Harry. I would be honored if you gave him that name. The world would be a much better place if there were more Harrys.”
My uncle’s response to my mom’s question was what everyone who knew him would expect to hear — a comment that was clever, positive, upbeat, and encouraging. That’s the way he was for all the years that I knew him. He and his wife, Gloria, had a son a month after I was born, and they named him Harry, III. He and I were like brothers. I grew up in the county, and he grew up in the city. While we were growing up, we frequently talked on the phone and spent time together. There were many occasions when I spent the night at his house.
Uncle Harry was unlike any father that I ever met. He had a philosophy about life that could be characterized as a mission statement. We hear a lot about the importance of mission statements. The definition of a “mission statement” is “a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.”
On a Saturday evening during the summer of 1982, after I had graduated from law school, I stopped by Uncle Harry’s house while I was driving through his neighborhood. We sat on lawn chairs in his front yard and visited for more than an hour, catching up on what had been going on in our lives. At that time, my wife and I had one child and one on the way.
We reminisced about all the times that he had taken me with his family to swim, ice skate, fish, camp, and shoot guns. Everything Uncle Harry ever did with us was an adventure. During the years that his children were growing up, he worked full time as an electrician. He also had a small business on the side so he could earn enough money to allow him to take three months off each summer when his children were out of school. He took summers off so he could spend what he called his second childhood with his children. Whenever I was with him and his family, he treated me as if I were one of his own children.
On that summer night in 1982, when we sat on the lawn chairs in his front yard and talked, he told me that when he and his wife started having children, he made the conscious decision that he was not going to follow the old English proverb that “Children should be seen and not heard.” He told me that he had grown up hearing that from several of the adults that he was exposed to.
He didn’t want to have anything to do with that way of thinking. He told me, “Children should be seen and heard.” When he made the statement, he emphasized the word “and.” What he said to me made perfect sense because that’s the way he had always conducted himself. Whenever I or any of his children spoke or had a question for him, he stopped whatever he was doing and gave us his full attention. It took me a while, but I eventually realized that Uncle Harry’s statement that “Children should be seen and heard” was his mission statement.
By refusing to abide by the long-held belief that children should be seen and not heard, Uncle Harry showed that he was a contrarian. The definition of “contrarian” is “a person who opposes or rejects popular opinion or goes against a current practice.” Uncle Harry was a contrarian in many ways. He repeatedly questioned many of the popular beliefs and conventional ways of thinking that were automatically accepted and followed by most people.
Because of his contrarian way of thinking and behaving, he was what I considered a shepherd among sheep. Why? Because despite frequent criticism from others, he refused to adopt the herd mentality that a couple should limit the size of their family to no more than two or three children. The birth control movement was in full bloom when Uncle Harry and Aunt Gloria were having their children, and the herd considered a married couple with a boy and a girl to be “the perfect family.” After Uncle Harry and Aunt Gloria had their girl and their boy, they followed God’s perfect plan for their family and had seven more children. If they had stopped with what the herd considered a perfect family, they would have deprived themselves, their extended family, their church, their community, and their God of the numerous souls who would later bring great joy and comfort to their lives and to the lives of others.
On Sunday, September 3, 1967, when I was 10 years old, I fell while swinging from a tree and broke my left femur (thigh) bone. My dad and one of my older brothers slid my body onto a board from the ground where I had landed. They then carried and slid the board (and me) into the back of my dad’s station wagon. After my dad and mom took me to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital, I was admitted and my leg was placed in traction to prepare me for a full body cast.
At that time, the hospital had strict rules requiring all visitors to leave the hospital by 8:00 p.m. No one was allowed to visit after that time. During the evening of the day I was admitted, my parents stayed until 8:00 p.m. and then told me that they had to leave, but that they would return the next morning. After they left, there was very little activity in the hallway outside my room. At around 10:15 p.m., the door to my room burst open and a group of people rushed in. It was Uncle Harry and six of his children — Becky, Harry, Tommy, David, Joe, and John. I was stunned that they had made it to my room. I excitedly asked, “How did you get in here? They don’t let anyone in after 8:00 p.m.” With a big smile on his face, my 10-year-old cousin Harry proudly proclaimed, “We snuck in!”
To this day, I don’t know how they did it without being seen. They told me that they got to the floor I was on by avoiding the elevator and climbing the stairs. Then they snuck through the hallway and around the corners to get to my room. There they were, standing around my bed — seven beautiful, fresh faces, grinning from ear to ear. As usual, Uncle Harry had decided that the rules didn’t apply to him and his family. The trip to the hospital was just another adventure for him to go on with his children. He was a master contrarian who was more than happy to take risks if it was in the best interest of his family. And to him, I was a member of his family.
On March 21, 1999, Uncle Harry’s son Harry died at the age of 41. His death was the result of a serious infection that was not detected by any of the doctors who treated him for a minor injury. When my cousin Harry died, he left behind his wife and four young children — three daughters and a son. Shortly after my cousin’s death, Uncle Harry made it known that he was embarking on his third childhood by spending as much time as possible with his son’s children and all his other grandchildren, most of whom were millennials. For the next 19 years, he treated them to the same types of adventures that he had treated me and his children to.
On November 2, 2018, the day that the Catholic Church has designated as “All Souls Day,” at the age of 85, Uncle Harry LaHood died. It was an appropriate day for Almighty God to welcome my uncle into His kingdom. In addition to Uncle Harry being an individual who easily developed relationships with members of different generations, he had a unique spiritual connection with God that allowed him to empathize and relate to every soul that he had ever come in contact with.
During the evening of Uncle Harry’s visitation, because of the length of the line, most of the people had to wait for more than 90 minutes before they could pay their respects to his family. On the morning of Uncle Harry’s funeral, the church was packed with members of all generations — the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials, and the Post-Millennials. Each of them had a reason for being there and a humorous story to tell. How is it that one man could have such a huge impact on so many people? He wasn’t a well-known politician or a celebrity. He was a simple electrician who loved his children and his family and who made sure to treat everyone like he would want to be treated.
Uncle Harry was a very spiritual man who loved to sit alone and read his Bible. I’m sure he was familiar with the passage that described how Jesus held a child and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4.
Throughout his lifetime, in order to relate to his children and grandchildren, Uncle Harry intentionally became like a child. Whenever we were with him, we could feel the warmth of his heart and soul. I believe that on All Souls Day, when Uncle Harry passed from this world into eternity, our Savior said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant; you have been a faithful child of my Father; enter into the joy of your master.”
I am going to miss his voice, his smile, his laughter, and his kind and delightful soul.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…