The Middle Ages

With age comes wisdom, and a lot of worry

As @erskinetimes looks at his children and the world, he wonders where all the grown-ups have gone

Off to school he goes, with a little chocolate milk in the corner of his mouth, as if he forgot to shave. At 12, he is still such a little boy that I'm not sure puberty can ever gain a foothold. There is a fortress of gook on his face, and his hair looks like squirrels have nested there. That's how he goes to school each day, under my tutelage. It's worse, maybe, than having no father at all.

What do I know from fatherhood? Each day, I make my kids a big Amish breakfast — incinerating bacon and cracking eggs on a stove that dates back almost a decade. While watching the TV news, I pour them almond milk and vocally caption each troubling news clip with my own view of our whacked-out world.

Fathers are, I'm sure, some of the most important philosophers we will ever encounter. To a kid, every dad is Aristotle. When a dad growls, "Look at those raving idiots" during a TV report on vaccinations, the subtext is: "Never be a raving idiot."

Wisdom like that can stay with you an entire lifetime.

Lately, there seems to be a side dish of downfall on TV with every breakfast. One week it is Bill Cosby who reportedly has let us down; another morning, Brian Williams.

I am sensing from this the death of a certain American paternalism. Remember when coaches and network anchors represented an avuncular ideal? There was Lombardi, Shula, Landry, Noll. There was Cronkite, Reasoner, Jennings, Huntley-Brinkley.

Don't forget Mike Wallace and Eric Sevareid, the voices of God himself.

Those crusty legends are mostly gone now. By comparison, today's coaches and commentators seem impulsive, childlike, immature — a fortress of gook on their faces.

Where once there was William Paley and Walt Disney, we now have Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Ballmer. There is something disconcerting about brilliance teamed with a refusal to ever grow up — a trait of every oddball tyrant I can recall.

I guess that's ultimately what troubles me: Where have all the grown-ups gone?

In an era of raving idiots, and at a time when we need them like never before, grown-ups seem absent in politics, business and journalism.

Such role models are even missing in movies and TV. There is hardly an actor around I would trust at the wheel of a car, let alone at the controls of a fighter plane. Tom Hanks seems solid, as does Kevin Costner, but they are a fading presence, replaced by cheeky superheroes, special effects and soundtracks that match the engine roar of long-distance bombers.

When we lose our role models, we lose our ideals. Worst of all, we lose our wisdom.

You know, it's odd the little things you notice as you age. I remember the first time I realized — somewhat fretfully — that airline pilots were younger than I, then doctors, and now a president. There must be, in the corner of our souls, the belief that those making the most important decisions have a tad more experience than we do, a few more summers under their belts.

So maybe that's part of the death of American paternalism. I mean, who looks to role models 20 years younger than we are? Not me. Last year, according to Gallup, the 10th-most-admired man in America was Vladimir Putin.

Seriously? Did someone think he was a shoe line?

Increasingly, I feel as if I'm running down a field with no yard markers, chased by children carrying smartphones.

Meanwhile, perhaps our ardor for mythic figures was always a bit misplaced. Of those we trust, only Santa Claus seems to survive the media scrutiny of the 21st century. What might've overzealous bloggers turned up on FDR or Edward R. Murrow?

My buddy Stephen, to whom I go knocking lately when the world no longer makes sense, notes that tarnished heroes have roots as ancient as the beginnings of recorded Western thought.

He says that when the heroes of Greek legend die, as they must, it's worth noting that they often die shamefully or unremarkably.

Then he adds:

"Is this a final reminder that, however godlike heroes are or appear to be, in the end they are much like us all and we should not expect too much?"

Well, someone has to make breakfast.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter: @erskinetimes

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