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.
Have you ever been asked the question, “Would your childhood have been different (is that to say that you would be different?) if you had more money as a kid?”
Now, those of you that were raised in a wealthy family you can sit this one out. Myself, and everyone in my neighborhood, definitely were not. But here’s my answer.
I don’t know.
Well that was anticlimactic…
All I can say is that I never felt like I was in need of anything. As I stated in a earlier blog, I wouldn’t change my parents or my childhood at all, for anything.
I naturally led myself down this road of thought when I wrote about the varied and positive influences of my childhood, courtesy of 4 great role models; my mother and father and my grandparents on my mother’s side. I feel terrible saying this, but my fathers parents didn’t play a large role in my upbringing. But the rest of his family sure did, while they weren’t influencers they sure had an impact on my childhood and it was mostly a negative one.
Let’s look at the players and tie it in to the subject at hand.
My Grandparents on my mother’s side were born during WWI, graduated High School during the Great Depression, met during the booming ’30s only to go through WWII; money was never a major factor in their lives, nor were they fazed by the constant lack of it. They were conditioned to make do with very little. I knew them, from the earliest memory, to live a simple lifestyle and had few indulgences. My grandmother wanted little more than a decent home to live in. My grandfather liked a new car (never too fancy) every few years and he liked watches, also never too fancy. Oddly, despite their small home and frugal lifestyle they saved very little money. I was surprised to learn this, considering my grandfather was always working. Perhaps it is because my grandmother never worked after he came home from WW2.
Consequently my mother was very much like her mother when it came to money. She made her own clothes, even as an adult and liked to live simply.
She taught me well not to waste even though I thought it was a bit overboard to sew holes in socks and put patches on jeans. Fortunately for me patches became a fashion trend in the 70’s.
I am Generation X. I was born one year after the Baby Boomers. Gen X was followed of course by the much-maligned Gen Y, or Millennials. Without painting broad strokes about future generations, the reason for the generational mention is to paint the picture of the people I spent my formative years around. In addition to being fortunate enough to absorb the values of their generations, respectively (which I will delve into shortly), but my parents and grandparents were strong even for their generations.
I was raised during an era of political and societal upheaval. The late 60’s and early 70’s were marked by war, political scandal, youth finding their own voice, and a clash of generations. My family was very tight and traditional, and my Grandparents were around quite a bit and their old-school ways greatly impacted my earliest memories.
My Grandfather was a WW2 Veteran, a Navy SeaBee. He saw a lot of action. As many of his eras did, he dutifully volunteered to serve.. He was a lover of God and Country. His values defined him. Beneath his jovial appearance was a fiercely protective and serious man.
My Grandmother was as rigid as a soldier as she held down the household in his absence. They were both young adults during the Great Depression and “waste not want not” was the rule of the day. While my Grandfather had had a fairly normal upbringing, not rich but not poor, my Grandmother lost her parents very young as was raised by her Grandparents. They were strict and frugal and very tough on her and her siblings. The harsh childhood emanated from every pore.
My Father was also Military. He served during the Vietnam conflict but as he was to be sent to Southeast Asia I was born and kept him Stateside. He was a very hard-working and decent man whose upbringing, as was my Grandmother’s, emanated from every pore.
My mother, God bless her, was half a hippie. She never went to San Francisco or did mind-expanding drugs, but she was all about the empowerment of women, youth, and rejecting the Patriarchy.
What’s the point you may ask…well look at the influences I was exposed to. Patriotism, frugality, family, gratitude, simplicity, living within your means, and resiliency. Add to the mix 4 backstories that would make anyone take pause and you have a cocktail for a great childhood. To this day I thank God for the values I was taught and for the wisdom I was blessed to be on the receiving end of. The fact that I didn’t appreciate it then is an oft-regretted thought.
As they say, wisdom is wasted on the young, and I didn’t apply what I was taught as I tried to find my own way. Now, on the Back Nine, I recognize the greatness of their stories and work relentlessly to incorporate them into my life.
I wouldn’t change my Mom and Dad for anything in the world. They were great parents. My dad was a hard-working guy that did everything for his family. He had a terrible childhood and his reaction to it was to do better. Through hard work he rewrote the family legacy and became the only successful child in his family, and his siblings resented him for it. By success, I mean that he got a good job, bought a house, and planned for his future. He was a blue-collar guy that believed in work ethic and integrity. He didn’t care about how green the grass was on the other side of the fence. He cared about his yard.
My mother had a very different upbringing. While my dad was left largely to fend for himself in the hardscrabble section of town, my mother was under the umbrella of a very protective mother that tried to shelter her from the aspects of life what my dad would call an average Tuesday. Her parents were wonderful people and were a major influence in my life. My dad’s parents were less of an influence. His mother died when I was five and his dad was ill from emphysema for as long as I could remember and died when I was in High School.
Despite their very different backgrounds, there were a lot of similarities. While my dad was poor, my mother’s family had a better home in a better neighborhood. But the heads of both households were blue collar guys. Mom was an only child; Dad had several siblings. Obviously, many kids equal less household disposable income. The fact that my grandfather didn’t spend all of his money on booze and cigarettes made a difference as well. Mom’s father immediately accepted and respected my dad. He recognized the hard worker with integrity and what that brought to the table. They would share a wonderful bond as in-laws and friends. Mom’s mother treated my dad as she did all of her suitors and friends, as if he wasn’t good enough for her daughter. But she would grow to love and, perhaps more important, to respect him as well.
The commonality of the four is that they were all strong as hell. That strength permeated the dynamic that I would grow up with and it was unique and special. I didn’t know it at the time, it was just my life. But later in life, with life experience and access to the stories of others I recognized that I was fortunate enough to not only have 2 generations of good, decent and honest people to spend time with, but also the perspective of their experiences. Never has that evidenced itself than now.
more to come…