A Look From Both Sides of the Generation Gap

‘Listen to your elders’ was my first thought when I read a Facebook meme the other day that asked, “What 4 words would you tell your 17 year old self?”  That thought was immediately followed by another thought that said, “Your 17 year old self would never have listened.  You’re too old to talk to him.”

generation gap; thunder vs. lightning

Selena and I went to church yesterday in Lacombe, Alberta.  It is the ward we attended when we lived here 10 years ago.  Since it has been so very long ago that we attended here, it is no wonder that I would wander into the wrong room for my priesthood meeting.  I probably sat there for a full ten minutes before I realized that most of the men in the room were at least 15 years my senior.  After chastising myself for having a lack of simple observational skill, I decided that the least disruptive thing to do was to just stay where I was.

It is quite likely that the lesson that I would have been privileged to participate in (had I found my way to the correct classroom) would have been the exact same.  Same lesson; same book, but when the title of the lesson is ‘The Elderly in the Church’, can it get any better than just sitting among them?  It was like Sensurround® courtesy of the High Priest Quorum.

old people sign; generation gap

This lesson was about the role of the elderly in the family and in the church.  How we should appreciate the experience and wisdom of our old folks.  So as the younger men monopolized the discussion, and the older men dozed off, I began daydreaming about being in a tropical paradise with my hot wife…

Ha!  Just jokes.  Wanted to see if you were paying attention.

It was actually a very good discussion with thoughtful comments and everyone participating.  But my mind did begin to wander.  The teacher asked someone to tell a story of a time when he was given counsel by an older person and what it was like for him.  As the man began to tell his story, I found myself unable to relate, and soon, a million miles away in thought.

Oddly, this same thing happened to me a few weeks ago.  In a similar meeting, with similar circumstance.  A man in my ward began to tell a story, in which he was talking to his father about a problem that he was having.  He was about 17 years old, the youngest of 10 children.  His father was an older man, maybe in his 60’s.  He spoke of how when he would be working with his father (a former bishop), that his father would begin a conversation with him.  He said that his dad had a way of getting him to talk about anything that was on his mind and how, “…there was nothing that [he] was afraid to talk about with [his] dad.”

I regret to report that I have no idea what was said after that sentence was spoken.  In both instances, my mind began to search the vast archives to find a story in my history that would relate.  In both experiences, I left the meetings to continue pondering these things for the rest of the day.  I don’t believe that it is mere coincidence that this has happened to me two times in a matter of only a few weeks.

Certainly I’m not the rare exception.  In my circle of friends, we spent most of our time making sure that our parents were in the dark about all of our activities, that was a given.  To contemplate sharing our thoughts with the parental units represented an even higher betrayal to teenager-hood.

defiant boy; generation gap; attitude

My thoughts though, took me beyond simple teenage rebellion.  I had an odd belief as a child and I’m not quite sure where it came from, or when I had finally forsaken it.  I believed with all my heart that grown people had exhausted all the fun there was to have in life. Any advisement that I received from one of their kind was to be considered suspect and simply an effort, on their part, to deprive me of my right to fun.  I remember telling my father once, as he was trying to prevent me from making a huge error in judgment, “You admit that you did the exact same thing at my age?  So what are you now, a hypocrite?  I’d rather be anything than be a hypocrite.”  I can only imagine the frustration of my father as he looked at my smug mug glowing from, what I considered to be, superior debating skills.

I was even more cynical when it came to the elderly.  It seemed to me that every old person that I knew, was a church goer.  The malfunction of my brain had convinced me that old people were only ‘religious’ for one reason:  They were hedging their bets.  They knew that their time was winding down and they wanted to be in good with God before their time was up.  In my mind they had no greater assurance of the existence of God than I did.  Again, all hypocrites.

Time proved the fallacy of many of my beliefs.  Over the years I have met plenty of elderly people who had no desire to cozy up to God for a last minute appeal for salvation.  In fact, I’ve met some who seemed to have a downright disdain and hatred for the god they say doesn’t exist.  Yet these same elders will still offer up counsel to the younger generation about the way certain behaviors can cause a person grief.  No doubt some of these old folks can give faulty advice, but it still remains, their motive isn’t to cheat anyone out of having a good time.  It’s seems many of the elder generation have a genuine desire to help the younger avoid the pitfalls of fast living.   Repeated witness of this phenomenon over the years has proven my youthful theory, like so many of my other youthful theories, to be full of holes.

generation gap; old lady talking to boy with mohawk;

As for trying to warn children as a parent of the consequences that some behaviors can bring—I have a totally different perception of that look on my father’s face.  It wasn’t just anger (although I’m sure anger was the dominate emotion), it was also fear, disappointment, and frustration.  I have looked into the eyes of my child (children) and thought, “Can I not speak, or can he not hear?”  The barrier between me and my precious child is palpable and yet I know full well that it is imaginary, because I have to resist the nagging compulsion to reach out and smack him.

I hate to disappoint anyone who has followed me through this odyssey of thought waiting for the moment that I would reveal the long anticipated solution to what has been commonly called ‘The Generation Gap’.  Ha!  Generation Gap.  The definition of that word to my generation meant ‘we’re too hip for you to understand’.  Luckily we owned that particular terminology; we now realize how stupid the definition was and we let it die with some other groovy jargon from the 60’s and 70’s.  Whatever it is, it’s real and wisdom born of experience tells me that it cannot be overcome, at least not completely.

What I know for sure is this:  no matter where the standard for acceptable behavior is set, human beings will fall short of the mark.  If set as a high standard, most people will not meet the best mark.  If you set the standard low, it likely that some will meet and even exceed the mark, but many, many more will not even meet the low bar.  So it’s important that we have expectations that encourage us to be our very best.  If called upon in life, as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, coach, or otherwise as a mentor to a young person, we should not shy away from big expectations.  Young people will often bleat like little lambs when anything is expected of them.  Why not make it worth the grief?

I also know for sure that there is no tried and true method in the history of man that will overcome what sometimes appears to be an impenetrable wall to communication between the youngsters and the oldsters.  How many of us have witnessed the dynamic of a family, with say 5 children, and four of the children do real well in life, but that one seemed to be on a collision course from the moment he began to walk? “Such a nice family, how did that one end up in jail?”

It goes the other way too.  The whole family is a wretched mess, but that one child overcomes all the obstacles to become someone that everyone is proud of.

artistic man showing child the way; generation gap

It could be because this line of thinking began and ended in a priesthood meeting, on both occasions, that I arrived at the same point.  I try not to have regrets in life, believing that all of our experiences serve a purpose, but I do lament that I was such a cynic.  As an adult, I have had several mentors.  Men of experience; men of letters.  I have respected them for their accomplishments, but I have mostly appreciated them for the way they conduct themselves every day; their example.  Until I know of a better way to communicate with the younger generation I’ll let this be my guide:  I’ll be the best example that I can be, and those that will hear, will hear.  I believe it was in a conference talk that I heard a remark that put things into perspective.  The speaker said that even the best father of all, our Heavenly Father, lost a third of his children.

Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Forgiveness: For Mental Health and Sobriety

Many of the things that I had to learn to overcome addiction were foreign to my nature as an addict.  Chief among these was the ability to forgive.

…and [Jesus] taught them, saying…

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”  (Mathew 5:2 and 44)

My first year of sobriety was a strange new adventure.  I had managed to graduate from preteen, to teenager, to young adult, and then to adulthood without ever really facing life’s challenges sober.  I appeared to be a 30 year old man on the outside, but on the inside was an excitable 12 year old, spontaneous and passionate.

I took a job with a local man that owned his own truck.  He hauled explosives and ammunition for the government and he needed a co-driver.  I had to be certified to handle sensitive materials and we were required to be armed.  Al, my new boss, paid for my training and background check and provided for my food and hotels.  Within a few weeks we were on the road.

semi truck at night; forgiveness

I was to be paid a percentage of our contracts.  He showed me his previous year’s settlements and I was looking forward to making a higher than average income driving a truck.

We had not been out on our first run for very long when I started to suspect that Big Al was an alcoholic.  Every hotel that we stayed in had a bar, and it appeared that he knew the location of every strip club on the eastern seaboard.  Being around Al and some of his antics was not a trigger for my delicate sobriety. It was actually the opposite.  His obnoxious behavior seemed to strengthen my resolve to stay sober.

One day, as Al was driving, he reached over to my side of the cab and grabbed the book I was reading right out of my hand.

“Whatcha readin’ there, Hot Shot?” he said.  Al was about 30 years older than me and never called me by my given name.

“It’s the Bible.  Hand it back,” I said.

“Why are ya readin’ that for?” he said, as he reached back across the cab.

“Just am,” I said. “Didn’t think it would be an issue.”

“Well, it’s no issue. I was just wonderin’.”

I had been reading the Bible as part of my journey to sobriety.  I don’t know that I was embarrassed to be reading the Bible, but I wasn’t prepared to make a big deal out of it.

We rode in silence for a few minutes.

“You know, all judges are going to hell,” Al said with his most authoritative voice.

It took a moment to register.  I wasn’t sure that I heard him correctly.  “What?”  I said.  “Wait…what?”

“That’s right.  All of ‘em.  District court judges, State Court judges, Supreme Court judges.  All the judges.”

I was staring at Al in disbelief.  He took his eyes from the road for a moment and said, “Judge not!  Lest I judge you!  It’s right there in the Bible.”

“Al, I don’t think it means…”

“In fact,” Al interrupted, “If you go by that book, there’s just about nothing you can do to avoid goin’ to hell.  Tell a lie…go to hell.  Shoplift a box of animal crackers…go to hell.  Have sex…BOOM, go to hell.  We’re all goin’ to hell.  That’s why I say ‘just live like ya want, cause you’re just going to end up in hell.”

Sadly, that was not the dumbest discussion that I ever had with Big Al.  He would argue until my head hurt, so maybe it was not such a bad thing that our relationship was short-lived.

I had worked a full six weeks and the day had finally arrived to get my first paycheck.  We were standing outside Al’s apartment when he handed me the check.  I should have known there was a problem when his wife made an excuse and left.

“Three hundred dollars?!” I said. “Is this a joke?!”Man smoking cigar on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

“Yeah, I’m real sorry about that,” he said, “I had some unexpected expenses; bringing you on cost me some overhead.  I’m sure we’ll do better next month.”

“I don’t care about your expenses!  You said I would be paid ten percent of gross!”

Al just stood there.  “Sorry, but that’s all I got.”

“This ain’t over!”  I said, as I ripped up the check and threw it in the direction of his face.  “I put up with a lot of crap and I worked hard…this ain’t over!”  I turned and walked away, fuming.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was mad enough to kill and sad enough to cry.  Al’s drinking and hanging around clubs had never been a challenge to my sobriety, but suddenly I could feel a battle waging for my very soul.  All I could think of was revenge.

I’ll bet his wife would be interested in knowing about all the money he spends on strippers.

I’ll bet the feds wouldn’t be happy if they knew that Al was flipping his placards and driving high explosives through tunnels and over restricted bridges.

I also thought of vandalizing his truck and his apartment.  Maybe even doing something to his cat.  Stupid cat.

Smug cat on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

I didn’t know how to cope with what had happened.  I parked my car in town and started walking around.  I was rehearsing the event in my head over and over again.  I thought of the money I owed to other people and my bills.  I had promised to give my ex-wife money for our kids.  I cursed myself for throwing that money back in his face; it was money in my hand and I let my emotions rule me.  I had to act, but I didn’t know what I would do.

Hours passed and I resisted the desire to drink or get high.  I made the decision to go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  I knew that, if nothing else, I could vent my frustrations and maybe find some relief.  It was a good decision.  I found peace there and was able to see sympathetic faces.  When the meeting ended I felt a little better, but there was still no plan for how I would get satisfaction.

A young man that I knew approached me before I got in my car to leave and he said, “So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “Slash his tires?”

He laughed. “Yeah, you could probably do that.

Would you be open to a spiritual solution?”

“I’m open to having God smite him, if that’s what you mean.”

He laughed again.  “It’s an old AA trick.  Every day for the next two weeks I want you to pray for this man that cheated you.  Get down on your knees and literally pray that he has all the blessings that you can think of.  Even if you can’t feel anything, say the words.  Do you think you can do that?”

“I think I liked my solution better,” I said.

“It’s like this, my friend. You are going to hold onto this resentment and it’s going to grow.  It will eat at you like cancer.  That old trucker will be long gone with your money and never give you a second thought. Meanwhile, your hate will affect your very quality of life.  And then one day, do you know what’s going to happen?” he asked.


One day you’re going to drink or take drugs to get even with him.  It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what addicts do.”

I thanked my friend and went home.  In the coming weeks I knelt down twice a day and I prayed for Big Al.  Admittedly, I was not as sincere with my prayers as I should have been, but I did as my friend suggested and just said the words.

God,Praying man on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Please bless Al.  Bless him to win the lottery.  Bless him to get dates with supermodels.  Bless him that his cat lives to a ripe old age.


After a little time I got better at it.

Dear God,

Please bless Al.  Bless him with good health and a happy marriage.  Bless him that he can make a success of his business.


I don’t know if I went the full two weeks.  I forgot all about Big Al; that is, until three years later.  I was sitting at an intersection in town waiting for the light to change.  I looked at the car to my right and it was Al!  I immediately blew the horn at him and waved.  When Al saw me, his eyes got big and whoosh!  He ran the red light

Al remembered the money he owed me and fled, but I had peace.  My very first thought, when I saw him was of our talk about religion that day.  I had learned a lot over the past few years and I had answers for his questions; good and positive things to share with him.  The prayer exercise had worked.  The hate had been removed from me and I was well off.

Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘bless our enemies’ may result in softening the hearts of those who hurt us, but that is not a guarantee.  This command is for all of us who wish to live without anger and bitterness. To live in peace.Broken log pieces make peace sign on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Living sober is greater than just abstinence.  Practicing forgiveness relieved me of an agitation and a stress that I had lived with my whole life.  Forsaking resentment took away a portion of power that addiction had over me and has allowed me to have true sobriety.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story


Addicts 101: 5 Tips for Earthlings

For most of the past 25 years, I have been actively engaged in an activity called Step 12.  It’s from Alcoholics Anonymous and it reads:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This is the way that people who are successfully recovering from addiction pay it forward.  We recognize that a power greater than ourselves has delivered us from a place of total darkness, to a place of ever-increasing light and true happiness.  It is through helping others that we strengthen our resolve and our allegiance to sobriety.  Understanding and practicing this principle is so important to me.  It means keeping my sobriety.

I was in my second year of being clean and sober when I began to realize that I had the ability to actually help people suffering with addiction.  Local church leadership knew that I was a recovering addict and would call on me to visit with people requesting help with addicted loved ones.  I went to homes, hospitals, and jails and shared my experience, faith and hope.  While I was going to school and studying psychotherapy and counseling skills, it was a wonderful revelation that I had at this time that I did not need to be a professional therapist to guide people to recovery.  I became aware that all I needed to do, for my part, was to encourage the person who was suffering to get help and then volunteer to introduce them to the local fellowships.  The first couple of meetings are the most difficult, so I would go with them.

…the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. –

Narcotics Anonymous

It is my hope that all of my friends who are in recovery will read this post and will be encouraged by what I have said so far about helping others; being a mentor or a sponsor.  Now, as I switch gears, I don’t want to lose my audience with you as I talk more directly to the Earthlings.

Who are the Earthlings?  Earthlings always ask that.  In the great big world there are people who are prone to addiction and others who are not.  Earthlings will often observe an addict’s destructive behavior and ask, “Why does he do that?”

The addict, on the other hand, will observe the Earthling as they suffer their trials without drugs or alcohol and ask, “Why does he do that?”

It’s not a derogatory term. I LOVE THE EARTHLINGS!  Selena is my sweetest friend and she’s an Earthling. Sometimes though, the addicts and the Earthlings simply do not understand one another.  Whenever I can, I like to reach out to the Earthlings, sort of like a diplomat—maybe I’m an Addict Ambassador.

Occasionally someone will come to me about a loved one whose life is spinning out of control due to drug and/or alcohol addiction and want to know about treatment options.  I have some personal beliefs with regards to treatment that I want to share, but remember, it’s just my well-informed opinion.  The advice is free and worth every penny of it.

I have known better than a handful of addicts over the years who began and sustained good recovery with 12 step meetings alone.  I have great admiration for these people because it isn’t easy to carry on with the normal day-to-day of life and, at the same time, immerse yourself into understanding and implementing full-time repentance.  It works for some, but many of us seem to lack some key variable in our personality or the necessary self-discipline to pull it off.  It is for this reason that I always recommend residential treatment when it is possible.

If you are an Earthling, and you are trying to decide the best course of action for your addict, and residential treatment is a consideration, let the following be a guide:

1.  There is not a program, a method, or treatment (like electroshock therapy), that has the success of 12 Step.  Millions of people worldwide have found success with programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and it would have to be the fundamental philosophy of the program that I would choose for someone that I love.

2.  Education is very important.  The more a person understands the physical and mental toll of addiction, the less likely they are to return to it.  The program should teach how addiction works in the body and mind and how it progresses.

3.  Successful recovery means being ever-vigilant.  A good program teaches coping strategies for real life stresses and relapse triggers.

4.  My personal experience as an addict; using alcohol and pills on a daily basis for many years, meant that it took time for me to begin thinking clearly.  Some inpatient programs only run 30 days, and for some that just isn’t enough.  The most effective programs will have more inpatient time and include a period of outpatient treatment along with supervised living.  Not always possible or available, but a person needs to be totally devoted to recovery for a full year.  We always worry about the job or the family and the conflict that there can be, but there is no family or job if the addict fails.

5.  Again, not always available, but very important:  Co-ed inpatient care is not the ideal.  Just like the smoker, who replaces cigarettes with donuts and begins to put on weight after giving up tobacco; the alcoholic/drug addict will often seek to substitute sex/romantic relationships in the absence of chemicals.

So far, in my 25 years of sobriety, I have yet to see 12 Step fail to deliver on its promise.  12 Step is almost flawless.  Almost.  In all fairness I must admit that there is one fatal flaw with regards to 12 Step and it can be frustrating and discouraging, particularly to Earthlings.  It’s only one thing, but it’s huge:  You cannot make an addict start or otherwise, embrace recovery.  You cannot force treatment on an addict against their will.  Addiction is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual cure, and because that cure is given of God, in the form of repentance, we have to work within His framework.  God will not compel an individual to be sober.  He won’t.  And you can’t.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Four Months Closer to Forever

There is this sense of deja vu  when I look back and see that 4 months into our adventure, I had met a man who was not only artistic, romantic and persistent, but that he would eventually coerce me into writing a book with him about this fragile new relationship.  We had just met in person for the first time and as the picture he drew indicates, he was entirely smitten and optimistic about our future together.

Pannell Bytes 4 months Duane loves Selena

Looking through the ambagious prism of our book, we recall that uncertain period beginning our long distance relationship.  Today marks a different and equally significant four months, this time from publicly telling the story begun fourteen years ago.  Scared and excited, we feel like we did back then, only this time the uncertaintly lies outside us.

~Selena Pannell