Monday, September 22, 2014

A message to millennials from Eugene O’Neill.

It is the happy privilege of each generation to shit all over the generations that follow. And no generation does it better than us boomers.

But today, we’re going to let Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill tell millennials just how disappointed we are in them.

In 1939, the playwright’s 19-year-old son Shane had been kicked out of multiple schools and was floating from one self-indulgent activity to another. (Sound familiar?) Apparently Dad was sick of Shane's bullshit. Here’s how he responded to the kid’s latest half-baked idea.
"My advice on the subject of raising horses would not be much use to you. I don’t know anyone in that game, what conditions or prospects are, or anything else about it. All I know is that if you want to get anywhere with it, or with anything else, you have got to adopt an entirely different attitude from the one you have had toward getting an education. In plain words, you’ve got to make up your mind to study whatever you undertake, and concentrate your mind on it, and really work at it…You simply have to face the prospect of starting at the bottom and spending years learning how to do it."
Substitute "raising horses" with "organizing a film festival in Machu Picchu" and this could have been written today.
"The trouble with you, I think, is you are still too dependent on others. You expect too much from outside you and demand too little of yourself. You hope everything will be made smooth and easy for you by someone else. Well, it’s coming to the point where you are old enough, and have been around enough, to see that this will get you exactly nowhere. You will be what you make yourself and you have got to do that job absolutely alone and on your own, whether you’re in school or holding down a job."
The tough love continues.
 "Any fool knows that to work hard at something you want to accomplish is the only way to be happy…The more you get to know of independence the better you will like it, and the more you will get to know yourself and the right aim for your life."
Ever the optimist, O'Neill ends the letter on a high note. Or maybe it's sarcasm.
"Let me know as soon as you have any definite plans for the immediate future."
Well apparently Shane wasn’t quite ready to man up. Because in a subsequent letter, Dad’s frustration builds.
"…I assume that you have decided to forget every word I said to you when you were here a year ago. And it is pretty evident by what you haven’t done in the past year that you did not think any of my advice worth taking."
Love it! Passive aggression, guilt and manipulation—the parenting trifecta!
"You seem to have no realization what is going on in the world. You write as if these were normal times, in which a young man of twenty-one could decide exactly what job he should choose as offering him the pleasantest prospect for a normal peacetime career."
And just in case he wasn’t yet fully understood, O'Neill drives his point home.
" is a big disappointment that after all the talk a year ago you have done so little to make yourself independent." 
Preach Eugene! Preach!


  1. I'm a millennial. Who's Eugene O'Neill?

  2. O'Neill was born in a Broadway hotel room in Longacre Square (now Times Square), in the Barrett Hotel. The site is now a Starbucks...

  3. I needed this. My 28 yr old son is in his 3rd year of a two-year degree program and living out of my 3rd bedroom. Grrrr....