I know you have seen the prologue to this site since I started it. Please take another read as the subject is a topic that I am trying to come to grips with myself. In this post I will do my best to recall and describe what I believe are the insecurities, beliefs, problems etc. that I have carried with me, mostly in an unknowing way. I will also try to find those characteristics of belief and personality that I now wish I had been able to call mine.
The next post, more difficult, will be to do the same for Marge. Wherever possible I will refer to the archival material that she left. Occasionally I will mention a comment or topic that she shared verbally with me. Finally, and most difficult of all, I will compose a post about our married life together. I think that as a whole, our married life in its entirety, would probably have achieved a grade of B considering children, financial and professional attainment, lifestyle, etc. However, except for a few bright spots now and then, we shared many, many, years of mutual unhappiness based largely on the unknown baggage that we had brought along. Probably our grade for our personal relationship would be at best a C.
If I leave this out of my narrative, it will be intellectually dishonest. We began our years, when we were in college, truly but perhaps naïvely, believing we were in love, not understanding all the complexity this would involve. In the latter perhaps two decades of our life, we grew together in a mature love until death parted us. I think that is something to rejoice in. Don’t you?
My father married my mother in 1934, the heart of the depression. Dad was born in 1900, a second generation Scandinavian. Mom in 1902. Mom was third generation Welch. Dad had to live with his older brother in 1917 when his father died, and Dad did not finish High School but went to work as a clerk. Mom and Dad met at a dance in Ohio, Akron perhaps. Mom was a schoolteacher and taught elementary school. She went to what is now Kent University in Ohio. In 1920 I think all that was required educationally to teach was a year in “Normal School” Maybe two years at most. So, both were white-collar workers, perhaps on the bottom rung of the middle class.
Dad had various jobs while living in Ohio. I know he worked for a railroad, and a tire factory, and I don’t know what else. Somewhere he met my mother and they began a courtship in Ohio. The depression came, he struggled for his living and was fortunate to get a Civil Service clerks job at the NY State prison in Dannemora in 1932. He later told me that he hoped to ride out the depression with a secure Civil Service job and then move on. Didn’t work out that way as he retired from there in 1967. So obviously, he and Mom had a long distance romance for a minimum of 2 years, no doubt longer than that.
I share all this to define the matrix into which I was born, and in which I grew up. A son of Civil Service workers. Not in poverty, not in wealth, and born in the Great Depression. Some others in better circumstances, many in worse. Both Mom and Dad wanted me, and later my sister when she came along, to aim for college and the brighter future it would make for us. I started school in 1941 while I was still 4 years old almost 5. First grade since the school had no Kindergarten. When I brought home an A grade, Dad rewarded me with a nickel. That would buy a candy bar, or a small ice cream, and for ten cents a comic book which could be read and possibly traded with a friend.
Thus began a lifelong interest in learning, not only for itself, but for possible monetary reward. Throughout school, caring teachers fostered this interest in learning. Both parents gave me educational toys, such as a chemistry set, Tinker Toys, etc. So this complemented book learning with hands-on experimenting. Very wise of them.
Dad did not play with me very much. He did like to read and there was a little library in our village. It was open a couple days a week and I can remember going there with him some times. He often took me along when he went fishing. To a small boy, this was as exciting as watching paint dry. But for him, it was a “guy” thing to share. Maybe he enjoyed it so much was the chance to get out in the open without being surrounded by high prison walls and dangerous criminals.
When I was about 11, there was a village movement to set up a Boy Scout program. Dad volunteered to help and ended up being the Secretary of the group. I remember the first meeting I went to. The boys met in a community multi-purpose building. They started playing basketball and I left, never to return. Because I enjoyed school, I was a “nerd” in today’s language. I was, and am tall and sort of thin and was not well suited for contact sports. Too many opportunities for me to get fouled and end up on the floor. Dad did try to do something for me, but it didn’t work, unfortunately.
Dad was conservative with money. One of his sayings was the definition of happiness was $101 in cash and $100 in debts; unhappiness was $100 in cash and $101 in debts. A cautious approach to investments is still with me and has served me well into a comfortable old age.
On the negative side, Dad was very sedentary and overweight as long as I can remember. The only household chore he did was painting and even at that he was sloppy on details and never consulted any of us on colors. I rejected this lifestyle for myself, am still below the BMI index for weight and have learned to do many hands-on tasks such as carpentry, auto repair, etc. Self-reliance.
Dad was also extremely un-emotional. The only time he hugged me and expressed what I would call joy was when I showed him the letter awarding me an academic scholarship to college. I recall my sister telling me that he had only kissed her once. I did not want this attitude for myself, but then as Dad was my only male role model I absorbed more of this into myself that I wanted. Very Scandinavian really.
I cannot recall Dad really giving my mother praise for her role in being what was then called a home-maker or housewife. It was as though he thought she was doing her job, what was expected of her so that should be enough. He did his part working at his job, she took care of the house and children. Again, with my father as my only role model, in my life, I found it difficult to praise Marge just for her being herself when that was something she desperately needed. I never learned how to be empathetic, emotional and caring as part of being a man. Probably neither did my Dad. He did his best. I did my best, but many times it truly was not good enough. As the Bible says “the sins of the fathers are passed on to the next generation, etc. etc.” Sadly, much truth in that.
My father could become very angry and petty with little or no provocation. One example: I had finished my Sophomore year at Syracuse U. and Dad drove to Syracuse to pick me up for the drive home. This was in mid May and it was quite warm and humid. This was 1956 and Bermuda shorts were quite popular then. I had a couple and wore one and a T-shirt when I came down from my residence and Dad became quite angry and incensed. “You’re not coming home dressed like that!! “Go back and change or you’re not riding with me!!” The knee-length shorts offended him, Imagine. So, what could I do, almost legally an adult and treated and humiliated like that. Because of this and other similar instances, when my father expressed an interest in us doing something together, I found or made up a reason not to go. Much too little and much too late for that and as when possible I kept my distance from him.
I resolved that if I ever got angry with my children, when I cooled off I would apologize. And I did just that when I was a father. My father was very uptight in all ways. He took mineral oil every night for his bowels. You can fill in the blank for this one. Nuff said.
In summary, my father was a decent family man, not a drunk, abuser, womanizer etc. He was a steady provider but a very introverted and insulated personality. I learned what I would do differently when I had a family, but unfortunately carried with me, unknowingly, some of his negative aspects of what it meant to be a man, a loving father, and a truly loving husband.
Now, on to my mother:
Mom was the caregiver and nurturer for us. She had quit teaching in Ohio and went to join Dad as he worked in the Siberia of NY. This meant a lot for her as it meant giving up her friends and life in an urban setting. Now she lived in a tiny, remote prison town They married in the home of my uncle Carl in Dunkirk,NY a very small wedding. My late cousin Larry, about 10 years older than I, recently told me how happy and joyful Dad was then. I did not see much joy of life in him as I grew up.
They lived in an apartment in Plattsburg, NY, a small city on Lake Champlain. I came along in 1936 and they were able in 1939, to rent a house in Morrisonville, closer to Dannemora, aka. Siberia. That I remember in a general way. Mom was the housewife responsible for cooking, home economics, cleaning, looking after my health and welfare, and later in 1942, for my sister as well.
Mom was of Welch descent and from her stories, and those of my cousins on her side, her family had much more of a joy of life than my Dad’s did. According to Mom, for a while they owned a lakeside camp where, for a time my grandfather owned a reindeer and drove it on a little sleigh at Christmas. The Welch were hard workers, miners and metal workers. Still, they found time to enjoy choral music societies. Mom enjoyed singing and soon got involved in the Morrisonville Methodist church and it’s choir.
Mom would help me with my schoolwork,play games and cards with me which my father seldom did, reading his books instead. I was, and am, borderline asthmatic, I often had bronchitis in the winter, as well as some bouts with pneumonia. Mom cared for me, read to me and nursed me through these childhood diseases. Death from childhood disease was still all to common even in the 1940’s.
Mom would give my father a kiss of welcome when he came home from work. He actually seemed, to me, a bit self-conscious about this. I can’t remember him ever kissing and hugging her. Mom was an active Christian and did her best to see that I went to Sunday school and we often went to Church services as a family. I think Dad this to accommodate Mom and he did not seem religious to me, while still not being anti-religious either. It was something he went along with as being part of family life.
My sister, Karen, reminded me of a family dinner at our dining table which Mom had obviously spent time and effort in setting up. My Dad had a sweet tooth and we always ended dinner with pie, cake or something like that. Dinner was over, Dad silently left the table and went to the cookie jar for a couple of cookies. Mom started crying saying “Nobody appreciate what I do around here.” This of course directed to my father, since the rest of us did appreciate her efforts to serve us in her role as wife and mother.
I generalized from Mom that her behavior is what the mother did. She put husband and children first, relaxing by reading only when the dishes were put away. She socialized with other women, usually at church functions and we did have a few family friends who would visit and we them. For the most part, as well as I could tell, Mom bore up in being under-appreciated.
My father was diagnosed with acute leukemia and died in a Plattsburg NY hospital a few days before his 75th birthday. He was in there only about 3 weeks and Marge was there with my Mom and Karen until his death. Both of them have told me, that though nothing specific was spoken, they believed he was hanging on until I could back from Coopersburg to see him. So, despite his personal demons, he did love me. I wish he could have shown that more in life, but maybe he did not know how. I bear no animus toward his memory. Rest in Peace Dad, I love you too.
I respected my father, but loved my mother and I am certain I idealized her into the role of what a wife and mother should be. Some time, not all, this did not fit Marge at all and was a source of significant difficulty in our lives. I did write a long letter, about 2 pages, to my parents when I was about 30 years old. I told them, best I could, how I appreciated what they had both given me while I was growing up. A secure home, always decently clothed, supported, decently and regularly fed, not abusive, cared for in sickness and health with solid life values about the value of learning, parenting, and sense of financial responsibility. etc. I received a very nice letter from Mom telling me how much she loved and treasured my letter. I never did hear from my father.
I brought to our marriage what I had unconsciously absorbed in childhood. The positive values of being a provider, financially prudent, etc. What I did not receive was much of a sense of being spontaneous, experiencing the joy of life as I swam in its waters. I loved my mother and can not think of anything negative I picked up from her.
I did not have much of a sense of empathy for those whose upbringing and perspectives of life were quite different from mine. Such as Margery and her perspectives. While I have not been as closed and insulated as I regarded my father to be, I have been and am, analytical and evaluative of about everything in life. For me, I have not “seized the moment” when at times that was exactly the thing to do. Those moments passed, never to return.
We are all flawed persons, I believe, but our individual flaws are all different. We all “fall short of the living our lives in the glory of God”, to put a Christian perspective to this situation. I am what I am, warts and all. Writing this has been very difficult for me, while at the same helpful for me. Possibly also for someone else who has had the patience to read all this. The remaining posts will be even more difficult. I am on my own lonely road, and must continue to walk it . I hope you will continue to share this journey with me.