How ‘The Fonz’ and my Granddaughters Saved the Planet

“By the time I realized my father was right, I had a son telling me I was wrong.”
Henry Winkler

Every generation thinks it knows better than the last.
We thought it ourselves.
And we hear it echoed by our kids.

It’s an enduring perception: thinking we know better than those who raised us. It’s hardwired into the brain from birth and from a thousand ancestors who never got to make it to a ripe old age.

It’s not their fault.

Just like our parents before us, we can blame the decline in society, bad parenting and even the TV. But when every negative external influence is stripped away, all that is left is their primeval programming.

Inherited from us.

When I was young, I knew The Fonz as the happy-go-lucky rebel in the hit TV show Happy Days.

Week in week out, the leather-jacketed Fonzie found every cool and I-told-you-so way he could to buck the system and show those old fuddy-duddy grown-ups that youth was king.

In many ways, The Fonz was the voice of a generation. A social hero, and the epitome of the youth-knows-best attitude — characterized throughout the ages by one incarnation of The Fonz after another.

Every generation has its own Fonzie voice. But essentially they all speak the same words. They all know best and they all want to reach the winning line first. And yet despite their apparent recklessness, they do believe in a future. Their future. Very likely not the future we had in mind. But it’s theirs, and they know best.

It’s frightening, letting go, to imagine a future that isn’t ours.

But there is hope.

I have seen it sparkling in the inquisitive eyes of my granddaughters.

Today, The Fonz — otherwise known as Henry Winkler — is a founding member of The Children’s Action Network and a vibrant voice for children with learning disabilities, especially those with dyslexia. Henry is dyslexic. So, too, was The Fonz. But it stopped neither from believing they could make a difference.

Henry works with kids because he knows they are our future. To paraphrase Linda Creed’s timeless words, he believes that if we teach them well they will lead the way.

I can’t help admiring the man. The Fonz has truly come of age.

Now that my own children have reached the point where they know best, it’s tempting to think that the arrogance of youth will bring about the end of the world. That all those indomitable Fonzies will scupper society and plunge us back into the Dark Ages.

But then I have to remember that I am victim of the age-old dichotomy between adult mind and child brain. That my parents thought exactly the same way I do when they were my age. And that the only thing lost is our own youth.

The Fonz and my granddaughters have shown me the way.

Of course our kids will make mistakes. We did. Of course they’ll damage the planet. We did. But hopefully they will learn from their lessons and become better human beings, who will pass on their own words of wisdom to their kids and so on and so forth, generation after generation, just like we did.

Ironically, they too may go unheard by their all-knowing offspring. But that seems to be the universal way of things. Each generation discovering life for the first time and on their own terms.

I write books, and in my thriller Killing Hope the future seems lost after the death of a child. And it is — for children are indeed our future. They are the candles lighting the way into tomorrow. Just like Mr Winkler, we should protect those flames and nurture them into blazing fires.

So next time I draw a big sigh when my daughter corrects me, or points out ‘that’s not how it is these days’ I will make a point of picturing a grown-up Fonzie, surrounded by happy children, with his big thumbs turned up and that crazy confident ‘trust me, I know what I’m doing’ grin creasing his joyful face.

I trust the upcoming Fonzies and my granddaughters of the world to do a good job, to become responsible custodians of the planet.

You never know, they may do a better job of it than us!

“Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”
Linda Creed
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