I wanted to explore how families have changed in the last generation. I realized I did not need to look far to understand.

I thought of my father, I thought of myself.He was 24 when he married. It was a typical age for his era - the early 1950s. Almost all men he knew married in their young 20s. The thought of couples marrying in their 30s was a strange concept.

I was 33 when I married. It is typical for my generation. Almost all my own friends got married in their 30s. Those who got married while still in their 20s were considered unusual. I can think of only one couple among my acquaintances who got married in their young 20s.

My father was 25 when he had his first child. He knew he wanted to have a child immediately. That, too, was typical. The America of his time was filled with couples in their early 20s having children right away. Few struggled with the decision. You got married and had kids right away; that was the culture.

I was 35 when I had my first child, standard for many men of my generation. Some acquaintences felt I rushed very quickly from the altar to having a child - less than two years. It is common for couples today, even those marrying in their 30s, to wait three, five and more years before having a first child. The decision is often a struggle. My wife was 31 when she had our daughter. Many in my generation would feel that was relatively young for a woman to start a family.

My father and mother decided easily that they wanted three or four children. They ended up having five. Almost all their friends had at least three; many had four. Although bills were a problem for everyone, few agonized over whether they could afford a big family. It was just assumed that there would be enough resources to take care of each new arrival.

The typical choice for most of my own friends is to have two children. When I hear of people my age having three, it's exceptional. It's the rarest of couples who have four. Many young parents I know talk long and hard about how many children they can afford. It's common to hear people say that having more than two would pose a tough financial burden.

My father was 25 when he bought his first house. It cost $23,000. It had four bedrooms. The interest rate was around 3 percent, though that wasn't an issue. No one talked much about getting a good interest rate. It was just accepted that interest payments would be no problem.

I had to spend in the high hundreds to buy a house. It has 21/2 bedrooms. My interest rate is 10 percent.

My mother did not work outside the house. That, too, was typical for her era. She did not have to struggle with the decision on whether to stay home. There was no expectation that she do anything else. One income was usually enough for the family.

She did have job interests that she wanted to pursue, and eventually started a career in business. She started it at a routine time for women of her era - about 13 years after her last child was born, when all her kids were in high school or college. She has no recollection of anyone back then even being aware of such issues as maternity leave and day care.

My wife went back to full-time work six weeks after our first child was born. There was never any question that she would do anything else. Since then, she has struggled with balancing the two burdens. More than half the new mothers we know also went back to work within a year.

Most feel torn. They find there are no longer clear messages on which choice is the best. As for those new mothers who chose to stay at home, most are thinking hard about getting back into the workforce. They plan to do so not when their children enter high school, but when they enter grammar school. A key reason is the need for two incomes. Two of the most common topics of discussion among new parents we know are maternity leave and day care.

My parents grew up in Chicago and stayed there, as did most of their friends.

I now live a thousand miles from where I grew up, typical for my own friends.

I visit across the miles, and across the eras.

My father, myself.