No matter how hard we try, we become our parents. Would that I could, for I am not my father's equal. Now sure, he had his faults. He drank too much, and he ran around on my mother. Get a few drinks in him, and the racial and sexual slurs would start flying thicker than fleas on a dog; and oh, was he a procrastinator! The man wasn't a saint. Yet, here's who my father was.
After serving in World War II, he came home to the Boston area with his new bride - already pregnant with my oldest brother. His first "Big Deal" didn't go so well. He used some of his army pay to buy some Italian leather goods and had them shipped into the country; he thought he'd make a large profit! There was, however, a strike by the long shore workers, and the crates sat on the docks of Boston for weeks. By the time he got them, all the stuff was ruined, and he lost everything. Back then, the country wasn't hip deep in lawyers ready to sue anyone and anything that moved; so he had no recourse. My mother said he was desperately depressed for weeks.
Finally, he decided to move on, after repeated "kicks in the ass" from my Mom and his parents! He knew that other young veterans would be getting married and starting families, and needing places to live. He was a skilled craft worker, so he knew carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and so on. He put a down payment on a small four-unit apartment building in Cambridge. He and my Mom and brother Steve lived in the ground floor unit, and he rented the other three; the rents more than covered the monthly mortgage payment so that they could save some money.
Gee, what a concept - living within your means!
Over the course of the next ten years, he gradually moved up and up in apartment buildings - and the family gradually moved up in size to finally be four boys. They had the absolutely stereotype 50' and 60's life - straight out of "Father Knows Best," "Leave it to Beaver" or "Ozzie and Harriett" - boy scouts, camping, school, family and friends, parades, and the community theatre, where he and my Mom helped out backstage. They eventually ended up in Arlington in a nice two-story home with a finished basement and full attic, plus a big backyard with a freestanding garage. In the summers, they got a small cottage up in Essex, and the boys had great time fishing, swimming and playing. Dad eventually bought himself a small sailboat, an eighteen-footer, which he loved like another child. As my brothers got older, into their teens, they got bored with camping in Essex; they wanted to get summer jobs and hang out with other teens. What they really wanted was to chase the teen girls!
For many generations, my family had visited Martha's Vineyard Island in the summers; my grandparents had a small cottage there. My dad got the idea to buy a cottage there. He picked out a nice one - right near the downtown area. Summer of '62, they moved in there; again, it was a big place - big enough for four very active boys.
Then, in the fall of that year, my Mother made a shocking discovery: she was pregnant again! The entire family was amazed; everyone thought her fertile time was done with, and my dad's too. I mean, after all, he was fifty! Still, they'd adjust. Come February of '63, I joined the family.
Over the next twenty-odd years, I lived what I thought was a typical middle class, suburban life. I went to school, I went home to a Mom waiting there, Dad came home in the evenings, we did stuff on the weekends, I played with my friends - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and then we went to the island for summers. We didn't want for anything, but we also didn't splurge on big trips or fancy cars or things for the house. A big vacation was driving to Florida to see Busch Gardens and the alligator wrestlers, and get a pile of oranges.
Now, I'm no expert on Reaganomics or "Trickle-Down" Theory, or anything else. I have no idea whether or not Obama's Economic Recovery Plan will work or turn us into a Socialist State, but here's what I do know:
My Dad raised five boys, he supported a family well enough that my Mother could be a stay-at-home mom for as long as she wanted to, and we had that summer cottage, a small sailboat and a few simple trips. As he was self-employed, he had to provide his own health insurance and dental for the family - and he did so, and without going into hock to do it!
Here's what I have:
I worked as a professional for twenty years, as a Civil Engineer, making easily two to three times what my dad did a year. For a time, my wife also worked, but she had to stop when she got sick with Lupus. We have a small three-two - one-story with no garage - one child, and that's it. No cottage on the island, only rich people can afford them now, nor do we have any other type of vacation home, time-share or a boat; health insurance costs as much as our mortgage payment!
Pundits and politicians love to point to Reagan and say he won the Cold War and turned around the economy. To me, that's like saying George Washington won the Revolutionary War and FDR ended the Great Depression! Things are never quite so simple. From what I can see, over the last two decades, the rich got super rich, the poor got poorer, and the middle class pushed back and squeezed to death.
What's going to happen in the next twenty years? I have no idea, but it doesn't look good, and no matter what - I am clearly not my Father's equal.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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