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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Was It Really Better Back Then?

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 10 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and The Dance. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take long walks. You can connect with Dan on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest through his website at, or get a sneak peek at all his books.

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This week my newest novel releases. It’s called What Follows After. The backdrop of the story is the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. But that’s not what it’s about. I had a lot of fun researching this book, read and watched everything I could about life in the US during the late 50s and early 60s. I was alive then but only 5 years old. Being reminded about the way things were “back then” was, for the most part, wonderfully refreshing.
Here’s how we set the stage for the back of the book: 

In 1962, life was simple, the world made sense, and all families were happy. And when they weren’t, everyone knew you were supposed to pretend. For the past year, Scott and Gina Harrison have been living a lie. While they show up at family get-togethers in the same car, they’ve actually been separated for over a year. To keep up the charade, they’ve even instructed their sons, Colt and Timmy, to lie—to their grandparents, their teachers, and their friends. Colt, for one, has had enough, so he hatches a plan. He and his little brother will run away from their Florida home, head for their aunt’s house in Savannah, Georgia, and refuse to come home until their parents get back together. But when things go terribly, terribly wrong, Scott and Gina must come to grips with years of neglect and mistrust in order to recover their beloved sons, their love for one another, and their marriage.

Most of my research of the “Leave it to Beaver years” reinforced what I remember as a child. I was talking with my wife recently, after watching yet another bizarre event on the news. I said if you took someone from back then and instantly brought them forward in time to today, they’d never believe things could ever get this bad. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of a bad sci-fi movie.
I think it’s fair to say, in the last 50 years things have changed dramatically in several fundamental ways. Notwithstanding the host of wonderful new gizmos technology has given us, and some of the amazing medical breakthroughs we’ve seen, I’d say many of these changes have made things worse. It's not just me. I’ve talked with many other people my age or older, who feel the same way.
And I don’t think this observation is merely a case of subjective opinions (read - old people complaining). Many surveys and national statistics on topics such as violent crime, divorce, child abuse, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, support the contention that the social fabric of life in the US is on a downward spiral. Thing are deteriorating not improving.
Having said that, my researched forced me to consider another observation about life back thenIt wasn’t such a golden era if you were part of a minority or a woman. The civil rights movement that exploded in the 60s did so precisely because blacks were treated so poorly and unfairly, and had been for so long. Women also were treated badly: sexually harassed at work, unable to get many jobs they were capable and qualified to do, often paid much less than men doing the same things. And housewives were often treated as second-class citizens, not just by society but by their own husbands.
The changes we’ve seen in these areas were critical and necessary. I don’t think any reasonable person would want to return to the good old days, if it meant a return to these social abuses. But it has made me wonder…can we really call a solution a solution if it spawns a host of new problems we didn’t expect? Some which are arguably even worse than the problems we set out to solve?
What do you think, was life in America really better back then? What could we have done differently in the way we tried to fix the broken things, or do differently now to repair the unintended consequences? Is it even possible to fix things anymore or are they broken beyond repair?
If you'd like something lighter to dwell on, forget these heavy questions and (if you're old enough), tell me some of the favorite things you remember about "back then."


  1. Dan, I'm older than you and remember the Cuban Missile Crisis clearly. Everything stopped during those days of tension while President Kennedy stood ground against Castro. Young men were prepared to be drafted and we all waited silently, ears and eyes trained on the news. Castro did take down the missiles, but life after that changed. Life before that wasn't always like Leave it to Beaver. Our moms didn't vacuum in a dress, heels and pearls. And, as in all past generations, a lot went on behind closed doors that you never knew about. Kids were abused, and the sad thing was that back then, most often the offenders were never discovered. Today, kids are told about stranger danger and, often times, non-stranger danger. We weren't told an offender could be your own family member or a close family friend. I remember when a couple my parents knew announced they were divorcing. It was like a death for most of us. Who did we know that got divorced? No one. Nowadays, who don't we know who has been divorced--maybe even more than once.

    I do enjoy technology. I would not want to write a novel in long hand or on a typewriter!!!! I love email. But I do wish for the time when if a woman had on too low cut of a dress (read maybe an inch of cleavage) and was about to be on a TV show. They would put a tissue in her neckline. Kind of a makeshift cami. Today everything is out there, and little is kept to the imagination. Maybe back then a lot was similar, but we were good a putting on false fronts. But, even if that is true, I believe strongly that a lot more people back then had a higher moral compass than today.

    As the years went by, many lost their moral compass because they were intent on doing their own thing. Vietnam happened along with the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Woodstock, etc. Little by little our moral fiber eroded.

    I don't know what could have been done to change the course except for one thing. The people moved more and more away from God and joined those that didn't have much of a connection with Him anyway, there was no other direction but the one taken. If the direction had been toward God then a lot of what we have now, may not have had a chance to develop. And that's the way it was (and is). My humble opinion only.

    1. Sorry my comment ended up to be an essay! I guess you hit my hot button :-)

    2. Pam, I may be a few years younger, but everything you said rings true either with my recollection or research. That's the atmosphere I tried to recreate in this book.

  2. I'm a child of the 50s (yes, I''m one of the oldsters). Okay to be honest, the late 40s. And coming out of the Great War, life was more innocent then. I never even heard the word marijuana until I was in my late teens!

    What I find so interesting is how we look back to our own youth or childhoods as idyllic and innocent. We don't seem to remember those things that weren't so good.

    In my own life, my mother was respected and adored by Daddy. In turn, she thought he was the greatest man on earth. Mama had been a teacher. She didn't work when we cam along (adopted), but only when we were in middle school, she began to substitute again. She did that for herself. She didn't need to work.

    So I really did have the wonderful childhood. I look back and see the how innocent I was and how simple life was. It makes me wonder if kids today will look back in 30 or 40 years and think the same.

    1. Ane you and I both grew up around the same time and like you I had a very wonderful childhood too! I didn't express that in my essay. I lived in a great small town next to a beautiful lake. So much I took for granted. I never appreciated it then like I do now!

    2. Ane, when I was in elementary school, I didn't have a single friend whose mom worked outside the home. Every single one of them were home when we got home from school. That's definitely not the case now, and one of the changes I think have spawned all kinds of unintended consequences.

  3. Great post, Dan. I have many mostly-good memories from those days and I am thankful for those blessings.
    Your book What Follows After is now definitely on my to-read list.

    1. Hope you like it! It really was a joy doing the research.

  4. I concur with Pam's comments. I purposely live in a city that reminds me of the 50s (though I was a child of the 70s). I don't think things were better in my youth with my own parents having passed through the sexual revolution and drugs and all that went with the woodstock generation. We get further and further away from God. The more we do our own thing, the more we screw it up. My own kids google something inocent and are bombarded with pornographic images. But, as you said, there are many good advancements. Wheat with the chaff and all of that.

    1. Yes, wheat and the chaff. Lots and lots of chaff. The vast majority of kids really did have a chance to be kids, and be kept from adult-level issues throughout most of their childhood. Example, the most risque thing I knew of happened in 6th grade. One of the boys kissed one of the girls underneath the stairs. It was a serious scandal.

  5. Riding our bikes without helmets. Drinking out of the hose. Walking places with friends without fear. Taking the bus downtown (Seattle) by myself as a grade school kid. Knowing the neighbors on both sides of us. Similar times for me too, Ane.

    And, as hearts grow more wicked, it's prophetic and tragic that the human condition turns to itself to solve problems it's never been able to solve because it's always relied on itself through the centuries to provide the answers. How vain to think "science" and technology will solve the sinful broken hearts of man. Never has. Never will. Only God can do that.

    1. Amen Nicole. I'll add to your list hearing the most beautiful music every day during summer...when the ice cream truck rode into the neighborhood. Stopped every kid dead in their tracks. My favorites? A creamsicle and a pack of baseball cards with a big chunk of bubble gum inside.

  6. Good stuff, Dan. This issue crossed my mind continually as I read THE HELP last year. We like to remember the good in the good ol' days, not what lurked in the shadows. That said, our own efforts to resolve issues like civil rights have continuously backfired. When we rely on men or governments instead of God, it is always the case. I was a child of the 70s, and even lived in Hawaii as a Navy Brat in '70 to '74. Years later I realized that I'd probably seen thousands of Vietnam bound soldiers at that stopping point. While I was a happy boy in the glorius sun of Hawaii, all these men were flying off to the hell of war. With age, the curtain has llifted and I know these truths. And it also makes me more aware now of the injustice that can no longer hide from my cinical eyes. When innocence is lost, wisdom is found. Perhaps it's not a fair trade, but we are of little use to God without it.

  7. Fascinating post, Dan. Actually, as a child of the 60s I've wondered a lot about these issues lately. The 60s were simpler times in the respect that, generally, although kids have sadly been kidnapped throughout history, it was safe to play outdoors. And we were a healthier lot for being physically active rather than glued in front of a computer screen (although, please don't take away my laptop!), engaged in real conversations, used our creative minds more, and ate real foods--I remember when the fast food era first began and am thankful I wasn't raised on fries and imitation hamburgers.

    That said, all eras have pluses and minuses. Personally speaking, when mental health issues hit a family back in the 60s it often was not discussed between immediate family members or even the extended members. It's better now, but still a struggle. But, I agree with you and the others here: there is a rapid evil that lurks in our current world now and by far, society is approving the whatever-goes, stamping this approval to range from gender identification to plague-like acts of terrorism and making a wide range of sex crimes into big business profits.

    And that is why I cannot turn my back on God. It's too scary out there without Him.


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