Corporate Peon: Family, Part Two

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Family, Part Two

I was going to write about mom next, but I wrote something that triggered Brighton, and then she wrote something that triggered me. So here's dad:


Dad grew up an only child in New York but has not a trace of accent. His father was a lawyer and his mother was principal of a public school. I have a letter to her signed by Eleanor Roosevelt, one nice legacy she left. Dad was shipped off to summer camp every year til he was 12 - he guesses that's where he learned to swim. Dad doesn't often talk about his childhood - he 'doesn't remember' much. Probably because his childhood sucked. For reasons I don't know, his mom was a shitty mom. I don't think his dad was a bad parent, but he definitely deferred to his wife.

Dad spent summers at camp until he was shipped out to a family in Arizona for a time. Maybe just the summer, maybe longer. His parents only paid for braces on his top teeth, not his bottom, because his bottom teeth didn't show. Guess what? They show.

When my parents tried to buy their first house, they went to his mom to borrow the $1000 downpayment. Grandma's response was "If you can't pay for it yourselves, you can't afford it." She didn't give them the loan. They weren't able to buy the house.

As I said, Grandma was a principal for a NY public school. She rode her friend Stella's coattails quite a bit, Stella being quite wealthy. And she leaned on her friend Max, who was also rather rolling in the money. And maybe because of that, she managed to purchase two Manhattan apartments, a house in Pawling (sp?), and take multiple trips to China each year. Inside her fridge would be nothing but jams and jellies and usually the individual-sized ones from restaurants. She asked dad for his father's rings at one point after Grandpa's death...and then she sold them. Yeah, she was a gem.

Every time we moved was due to dad's job. I strugged for many years trying to reconcile love for him and hate for forcing me to move. Rather than take it out on him, I took it out on mom, who was at home with us. It wasn't easy being us for a while. Dad worked his way up through the years from photographer to writer to editor and then got his MBA part-time while working (sound familiar?) and became publisher of his newspaper. He was publisher in SI for 4 years before being transferred as publisher to a daily paper in NoDak. Then, my senior year in high school - three years later - we found out he was being transferred to Wisconsin, as a publisher for a different paper.

Dad cares about doing a good job. He's made a difference. The most 'famous' story he wrote was one that got someone freed from prison who was there on a bum charge. He gets involved with the communities he's in. In NoDak, he instituted a 'Jeans Day' event at the paper - every Friday (or the last Friday of every month, something) - people could pay $1 to wear jeans, and all the money would go to charity. The response was phenomenal. And of course, dad refused to take the credit. It was the first of its kind around and is still in existence now, 10yrs later.

Dad retired in the fall of '98. I remember my sister telling me on the phone. (Why would you think he'd tell me himself?) His company had been letting a lot of people in his position go and he left just before he was forced to. The company seemed to be getting rid of those who were doing the job but had been there for some time. As a result of that, he's a little bitter. He still lives in the same town as the paper where he last worked, and it's been hard for him to see what he worked so hard at being torn to shit by the people running it now - the misspellings and incorrect facts, the weak stories, the errors...of course, this is the party line I'm spewing. :)

Dad, in spite of having crappy generous to a fault. He makes sure I know that should I need it, money is available to me, and gives a generous gift to each of us kids yearly. His thought is that he'd rather us have it now, when we might need it, then get it years later when we aren't as in need. He offers help at every chance he can. When I mentioned I was looking for end tables for my living room, he shopped around with me, learned what I liked, and built me two. Not EXACTLY what I wanted, but darn close, and free to me. He found a way to hang curtains in my living room and bedroom - not because I needed them, but because I wanted them, and because the blinds didn't make traditional curtains feasible. Time, help, money, whatever, he offers, and gladly.

His weekly Rotary meetings have a time for 'proud money' donations, where members can throw some money into the pot if their company has done well, if they've been promoted, etc. Dad threw money in when us kids graduated from college and grad school; when I got promoted; when my sister got married. As he told me once on the subject, "I knows what's important, and that's family, not the crappy jobs we all have."

Dad encourages my travelling expeditions and spent three months touring Europe on a Vespa a few years back. He's been bored since he retired; bored and antsy. He's got his theater guild, his charter school board meetings, his reading group...but he's bored. He's been talking lately of another Vespa trip to foreign lands; frankly, I don't think he can handle it. He's getting older; his hearing is going, his memory is fading. I don't know how many times I had to answer the same question this weekend (or how many times I had to repeat the answer, which is slightly different). I worry about him. He's so excited about what I'm doing, and part of it is pride and care, but I think part of it is the lack of anything 'new' in his world.

I've always been closer to Poppa Peon than to mom. Partly because we're a lot alike - we're both stoic and stubborn and don't like talking about our emotions. I also get my depression from him. It wasn't until I fessed up about being on anti-depressants that he began even thinking about them. We're the ones who hide our tears at a sad movie. We're more likely to say 'I don't remember' than answer a tough question. We're the pragmatic ones. It's hard, as I grow into adulthood, to make my own choices, because there are times when I still want and need his approval. And the older I get, the more I know he appreciates that, even as he knows he's raised me to make my own good decisions.

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