Skip to main content

Four Reasons Why You Can't Go Home Again

Paul was born and grew up in Wisconsin. He is married to a Thai and living in Thailand. He has Swiss, German, and Austrian ancestry.

You Can't Go Home Again

Time changes everything.

Time changes everything.

The twentieth-century American author Thomas Wolfe once wrote a novel entitled You Can't Go Home Again. When Wolfe gave his book this title, he was alluding to the fact that you cannot recover the past. Due to changes from the passage of time, if you try to go back to a place you remember in the past, it will not be the same as you remember it.

It is amazing to view the amount of nostalgia that is expressed on social media websites such as Facebook. You can easily join and belong to groups that remember the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. There are also groups in which you can relive boot camp memories. Then, too, there are numerous genealogy groups in which you can remember your ancestors.

This nostalgia is fond memories arising out of a person's inability to see changes that take place over time on things one remembers as static and permanent. Attempts to recreate youthful memories, however, are doomed to failure. It is similar to a man urinating in his dark suit pants. He has a good warm feeling but no one notices. All of the nostalgia in the world isn't going to change the present because you can't go home again.

In this article, based on lifetime experiences, I present four reasons why you can't go home again.

Four Reasons Why You Can't Go Home Again

As much as you would like to return to the past or go home again, changes over time make it impossible. These changes manifest themselves in the form of physical, beliefs and values, cultural changes as well as historical revisionism. Each will now be explained.

Physical Changes

Mom and dad in their 80s.  Picture taken in November 2002.

Mom and dad in their 80s. Picture taken in November 2002.

Mom and Dad in their 20s.

Mom and Dad in their 20s.

Nothing stays the same over time. My parents in their 80s did not look like they did when they were in their 20s. The dark hair and vitality of youth were replaced by gray hair, fatigue, and sickness from being elder.

The neighborhood where I grew up in the late 40s and early 50s had changed very much when I saw it in July 2018. Before we moved to a farm outside of Milwaukee in 1954, dad worked as a millwright at the Allis Chalmers Corporation located off of Greenfield and 70th Street in West Allis. As I drove down Greenfield toward 63rd St. where dad and mom had rented an apartment, I saw a big sign in front of Allis telling the public that this was the former location of Allis Chalmers which closed in the late 80s. The plant buildings were closed and plans are to raze them and construct a hotel on the location in 2019.

As I turned off of Greenfield onto South 63rd, I immediately noticed that the Paradise Theater on Greenfield was gone and replaced with apartments. Driving down 63rd, I also noticed that the used car dealership building that was just finished in 1953 was now gone. Nothing was in its place up to old Harry Fiske's house which was next to our old apartment at 1338. The house seemed a lot smaller than I had remembered it as a young boy. I then glanced at my old playmate's house two houses down from 1338. In 1953, I thought it was the best house on the block. Now it looked rundown and one of the worst houses.

After driving three short blocks further down the street, I came to 960 South 63rd where grandma and grandpa used to live. The outside of the house had changed but I still recognized it by remembering the enclosed front porch where I spent many hours as a boy.

I didn't bother to drive down to the location of my old elementary school St. Mary's Help of Christians because it and the adjoining Catholic Church had been closed and torn down around 2005. This I learned from an online article.

The whole experience of visiting the area where I grew up was very depressing. All of the people I had known were gone and many of the places I remembered didn't exist or didn't look the same.

My old fraternity house in Madison, Wisconsin, which is being razed in the summer of 2019.

My old fraternity house in Madison, Wisconsin, which is being razed in the summer of 2019.

Changes in Beliefs and Values

A modern day bride and bridegroom couple

A modern day bride and bridegroom couple

Changes in beliefs and values also make it impossible to go home again. Over time, society's beliefs and values are constantly changing. This is due to young and liberal progressives adopting beliefs and values as opposed to those of the predominantly elder conservatives.

During the 50s when I was growing up, there was a strong belief in the values which called for duty to God, family, and country.

Society seemed more religious than today. More than half of the families in the United States attended church on Sundays and many sent their children to religious schools. In these parochial and public schools, students learned moral values such as love, honesty, compassion, generosity, and hard work. They also were taught respect for parents, teachers, women, older persons, and authority. Sexual mores were very strict. Pre-marital sexual relations were frowned upon and homosexuality was taboo.

Scroll to Continue

Almost all families had both a mother and father in which the father was the breadwinner and the mother stayed at home to care for the house and children. It was taboo for unwed women to have children and in many cases, the father of the pregnant unwed woman was forced to marry his partner through shotgun weddings. Members of the family worked and played together. They also went to church and on vacations together.

In the 1950s, Americans had a sense of duty to the country and were much more patriotic than they are today. Having experienced America's victory in World War II and the restraint of Communism in the Korean War, citizens were proud to be American and supported the military. World War II General Dwight Eisenhower became President in 1953 and at least 50 percent of male citizens were drafted into the Army. Many also enlisted in the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Many young men in college joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC.) It seemed like no one got out of military service except for medical reasons. When General Douglas MacArthur returned to his adopted city of Milwaukee in 1953, my mother and I were in the crowd which lined National Avenue in West Allis to get a glimpse of MacArthur in his passing motorcade.

Belief in God today has modestly dropped from the rate of confidence in the 50s, however, fewer Americans are active church members than before. According to a survey by the PEW Research Center, 25 to 35 percent of Americans attend church weekly today. Even fewer parents are sending their kids to religious schools. Under the guise that religion has no place in public schools due to the separation of church and state argument, moral values are not being taught in public schools. This has led to less respect for women, the elderly, and persons in authority today. Being greatly influenced by predominantly liberal progressive role models in the media, Millenial and other progressives espouse pre-marital sexual relations, unwed motherhood, homosexuality, and gender change.

Beliefs and values shared by families today are very different from what they were in the 50s. In place of the traditional family with a working father and a stay-at-home mother, we are witnessing today more and more one-parent families, hardly any stay-at-home moms, and an increasing number of gay and lesbian families.

Starting with the radically different views about sex and marriage in the 60s, the two-parent family has been replaced by many one-parent families today. When unwed women become pregnant today, many of the men who impregnate them will not become legal fathers and neither marry nor support the mothers with children. Other women and men become members of one-parent families due to divorce.

Even in traditional two-parent families, there are hardly any stay-at-home moms today. With the high cost of living, both mother and father have to work and children are placed in daycare centers.

Most recently we are seeing an increasing number of gay and lesbian families. Men are having to take on the role of being mothers and women are challenged by having to play the father role in these families.

As I write this article in September 2018, it seems like a sense of duty to one's country today is not as great as it was in the 50s. The media is constantly portraying President Trump's patriotism as either nationalism or racism. The United States has become more global-minded and there is no fear today of either Communism or Islam.

There is no conscription today as there was in the 1950s. The draft has been replaced by an all-volunteer service for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Under the guise that our country sanctions police brutality and racism towards Afro-Americans, many professional football players like Colin Kaepernick who have disrespected the National Anthem by not standing for it have been made into role models.

In schools, the pledge of allegiance is not said and even members of the U.S. Congress are not standing and recite it when it is said in the House of Representatives.

Cultural Changes

Social media personal friends

Social media personal friends

The three central cultural tenets of the 50s were conformity, hard work to achieve the American dream, and fear of Communism.

Conformity affected Americans in various ways. For example, all immigrants were expected to assimilate into mainstream American society. Hence, America became known as the "great melting pot." New arrivals had to learn English and send their children to either public or private schools where English was spoken. Immigrants had to adapt to new work and new cultural customs.

Regarding sexual mores, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and expressing transgender feelings were all taboo. If anyone had these feelings, they had to be suppressed or hidden so that everyone could fit in with society.

There were very few immigrants from non-European countries so diversification in society was not encouraged or emphasized for minorities.

Hard work was encouraged in schools, churches, and by the media so that all people could realize the American dream of having their own home, and business, and becoming prosperous.

Following the rise of Communism after World War II in the Soviet Union, China, and other areas of the world, there was a fear of the worldwide domination of Communism which was preached in schools and by the media. Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin led a witch hunt for Communists in the American government and the media. Since the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons, there was a great fear that they would use them against America.

Fast forward to today and we see that diversity has replaced conformity. This cultural diversity began during the Vietnam War in the 60s. The media seems to have demonized the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) men who demanded conformity in the 50s. Today the ever-increasing number of minority groups such as Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and Asians are being championed through cultural diversification campaigns in public and private. Diversification has led to affirmative action which gives preference to minorities when hiring or getting admitted to colleges and universities.

I seldom hear anyone talking about hard work to achieve the American dream today. Instead, many people, especially the young, are counting on the government to give them a free college education and health care through socialistic programs. Others rely on public assistance welfare programs when they say they cannot work.

Finally, the fear of Communism and Islamophobia today has been replaced by the fear of fascism that the media portray President Trump as promoting.

Historical Revisionism


Finally, historical revisionism makes it impossible to go home again. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I learned in my high school and college history courses about such themes as westward expansion, manifest destiny, the white man's burden, and rugged individualism in the history of the United States' development.

Based on manifest destiny, the United States' westward expansion across the North American continent was justified and inevitable by defeating Mexico in the late 1840s and getting control of its territories in California and the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Coined by the 19th-century poet Rudyard Kipling, the white man's burden referred to America's imperialism in the Philippine Islands as an excellent endeavor to serve the captive people's needs.

Rugged individualism praised the self-reliance of Western settlers.

With advances in liberal progressive ideas over the past few decades, history books are being rewritten to teach students today about the evils of westward expansion, manifest destiny, and the white man's burden.

Westward expansion is now viewed as genocide against the Native Americans who occupied lands in America, especially that west of the Mississippi River. The Mexican territories in the Southwest and California were unjustly taken from Mexico in the Mexican War of the late 1840s.

Praise for Confederate leaders in the Old South such as Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee has been replaced by shame. Over the past few years, there has been a movement to remove the commemorative statues in the South which are said to signify the support of slavery.

Finally, history books preach that there has been too much racism and mistreatment of minorities in America's past.

Within the next few years when liberal progressive ideas are more mainstream and white people become a minority, I will not know the United States from what it was in the 50s. If I am living then, there will be genuine faith in the saying you can't go home again.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 08, 2018:

Dianna, I also am praying that now and in the future, we don't repeat the mistakes of our past. Yes, history can not be altered but it can certainly be reinterpreted. Thanks for commenting.

Dianna Mendez on October 08, 2018:

I pray our future will not repeat the mistakes of our past but there is something to be said about the value of knowing the past. History should be presented as it happened, not altered to condition the future.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 06, 2018:

Margaret, I have read some of Robert Frost's poems when I was in college but I haven't read "The Death of the Hired Man" yet. I will read it soon and check out the definition of home in that poem. Yes, home is definitely the place where they have to take you in.

Margaret Minnicks from Richmond, VA on October 06, 2018:

Paul, have you ever written an article or considered writing an article based on Robert Frost's "The Death of the Hired Man"? I like the definition of home in that poem.

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

I imagine you would do a great job with that just as you did with "You Can't Go Home Again."

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 05, 2018:

Margaret, thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. I am pleased that you liked my article.

Margaret Minnicks from Richmond, VA on October 05, 2018:

Paul, I often refer to Thomas Wolfe's novel "You Can't Go Home Again" in my teachings as a Literature teacher and a Bible teacher. Therefore, I understand and appreciate the four reasons you cited. GOOD JOB!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 04, 2018:

Thank you very much for your comment. I agree with you.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 04, 2018:

Change is inevitable! People grow and want different things. Accepting life for the way it is is not everyone's cuppa tea.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 16, 2018:

Pamela, thank you very much for your comments. I agree with them and feel like older people have to reinvent themselves to some degree in order to get on in today's society.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 16, 2018:

There are so many changes that you listed that I agree with, and I am not happy about some of them. We didn't need safe spaces as we had to learn from our mistakes, and having chores, then working parttime while in high school was common. I think we were better prepared then some young people today. Obviously, I don't mean every one as there are still many great parents out there.

Related Articles