I’ve been thinking about my Dad quite a bit lately. Much more than usual. It occurred to me recently that I am finally becoming, after many years of disappointing him, the person he wanted me to be. He never actually said it in words, but through various conversations that come to me in the middle of the night, I pieced together the causes behind his relentless criticisms (it can be argued that they were warranted) of my overall character. He had a clear vision of what he wanted me to be, not do, in life that he would be proud of. He wasn’t interested in wealth or status. He had a different vision for my continuation of the family legacy, and that is to do better than those that preceded us. That is what he did, and all of the times that he verbally chastised me for goofing off, being foolish with money, acting badly, and not showing ambition or looking to the future was out of fear that I would take the family name backward. He single-handedly rewrote the family story. And in the process, he created a wonderful legacy for himself. He will forever be known as a kind, humble, hard-working, honest man to all that knew him. I am sad to admit that for some time, I wasn’t all of those things. I always worked hard and I always tried to be kind and honest and humble but I could have done better. At this point in my life, I make it a priority to commit to all of those things as if my very life depended on them. I believe my father is with me and he needs to see that. It was important to him that his only son didn’t squander or discredit his good name.
My father did not have it easy as a boy. His parents would have had to get two raises to just be poor. They lived on Railroad Ave, a small, dead-end dirt road that contained the most decrepit houses in town, oddly not in the worst part of town. My grandfather had a steady job but it didn’t seem to go far. He was knocked out of the workforce early due to Emphysema and that certainly made matters worse. I never saw the house my father grew up in, it was torn down before I could, but two houses down was the house my Aunt and Uncle raised my 6 cousins. I spent a good portion of my childhood in that house and it was a mess. Sadly, it wasn’t even warm with love. The Husband made sure of that.
Life on Railroad Ave was a tough existence. For everyone but my father, it didn’t change much financially. My Aunt never caught a break financially, saddled with an abusive and underachieving husband and not much money. Fortunately, he died young and she was able to marry a nice man. He was wonderful to her but didn’t add much to the finances. My father’s other sister had a mild disability that she nursed for everything it was worth and never worked a day in her life. Her only accomplishment was caring for my very ill Grandfather in their squalid apartment until he passed. My Father affectionately referred to her as “useless”. His brother died in prison. I never met him and I’m glad. From what I understand he was a tremendous bully and very cruel to my father. My father hated him, so badly that he refused to go to his funeral. My father was committed to getting off of Railroad Ave as fast as he could and he worked his ass off to do so. He worked many jobs and took any opportunity to move up. He joined the Army and gained the necessary skills to further himself.
Fast forward to my birth in 1965. While in the National Guard he was married, owned a house, and had a Union job.
My dad loved his family and my childhood is full of memories of time spent on Railroad Ave. He was fine to visit there, but he was proud to have moved out. I’m sure that the Ave, with its dirt road riddled with potholes and crumbling houses, was a bittersweet reminder that he had done a little better than those before him. One thing I can say with all the confidence in the world is that his days on the Ave would forever influence him in every way. Those influences are also a huge part of who I am today.