Traditionalists (born pre-1945) are the least likely to have tattoos, unless these factors come into play:

  • Military service
  • Carnival worker
  • Prisoner
  • Ruffian

I am still looking to find a traditionalist female (72 or older) who has chosen to ink her body. It’s like trying to find a unicorn! Perhaps it doesn’t exist, or if it does, she lives in a parallel universe.

Don

My neighbor, Don, is 85-years old and has three tattoos.  Don was a member of a club called The Colleagues and they nicknamed him Rebel because he was the only member who was not a native Chicagoan, but a transplant from a farming community. On a trip downtown, the whole group of “us punk kids decided to get our nicknames tattooed on our shoulders.” ‘Rebel,’ written in freehand script, cost $1 and was Don’s first tattoo. His mom was furious and was sure he was “going to join a carnival.”

Mom was wrong. Five years later, he joined a bigger club, the United States Marine Corp, which had always been his dream. He and three other platoon buddies went together, completely sober and had “USMC” etched on his forearm in red and blue ink. It also cost $1. He still sports that tattoo proudly today. He served honorably in Korea, Japan and Hawaii. He is currently active in veteran’s organizations and activities across the state of Arizona. He believes his tattoo gives him respect when other veterans see it.

A year later, he was in Hawaii with his platoon buddies and again, they decided to go downtown for tattoos. At age 21, Don wanted to have the red ink, which had faded to skin tone, in USMC covered in blue ink to make his tattoo stand out in one color. Additionally, on a whim, he had his girlfriend’s name tattooed on his arm – between the ‘Rebel’ and the ‘USMC’ he had ‘Barb’ written in freehand. It also cost $1.

Don’s platoon buddies were sure he had made a mistake, that Barb would not wait for his tour to finish so he could come home, pop the question and marry her.

His friends were wrong. Don and Barb have been married for 62 years as of this writing.

Don did not draw a lot of attention to his tattoos, and Barb does not remember being impressed. She neither approved or disapproved of the tattoos. Nor does Barb remember if her parents had a response either positive or negative.

“I don’t approve of the tattoos I see today,” says Barb. “They are just too much. We kept Don’s quiet because they were no one’s business. Today’s young people want to display their tattoos.”

Don says that after the Marine Corp, he kept the tattoos covered by long sleeves—no easy feat in Arizona summers. This was his biggest regret about having tattoos. When he finally rolled his sleeves up, he discovered the USMC tattoo actually enhanced his ability to build rapport during his sales and marketing career.

When asked if he would do it all again, Don says “Yes, in the same circumstances, I would do it all again, but I would move ‘Barb’ to my left arm.” Don admits, he no longer finds any of them as important as they were at the time, and has no desire for another tattoo. He is delighted that none of his children or grandchildren have tattoos. At least that he knows of…

What do we learn from Don?

  • Don is typical of traditionalists. They sacrificed for our country and served in the military. If they wanted a tattoo, they got a pass. Others were judged to be scary or disgusting: former prisoners, carnival workers, or at the very least, a ruffian.
  • Today, this age group doesn’t find their tattoos as relevant as they once were.
  • They have difficulty understanding the younger generations’ need to display a tattoo. Although, the difference in what Don paid for his tattoo compared to the cost today explains at least one reason why.
  • The question we ask Traditionalists is: Will you accept young people regardless of the choices make?

Are you a Traditionalist with a tattoo? When did you get yours? Share it in a comment below. tell us your story!

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