I got a little liquored and sentimental awhile ago and scribbled all this out on printer paper at two in the morning. It’s more melodramatic than I’d like, but it’s not bad and I don’t mind it as a little giving-thanks, especially since we did our big dinner this past Sunday. I’ll see what I can do to make the pictures lighthearted.
I’ve written about kids, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written about parents except to denigrate the idea of becoming one. There’s a lot of thought behind that. In the first place, not much is left of the American Dream except the notion that you ought to give better than you got. My folks came of age during the last great gasp of old-time Corporate America. From the golden age of Reagan’s military straight into the arms of General Motors they went, knowing that thirty years from the first day in the plant they’d be taken care of, that the Company’d care for their health, their kids, their retirement. And they did well for themselves. Smart, driven people navigating the world they’d been bred for.
I grew up in the most luxury you can have without being ruined as a human. I never had cause to want. I lived abroad, went to good mostly public schools, met decent people. Any desire on my part was not the result of privation but considered withholding on theirs, careful choices by my parents that kept me grounded. I was never aware of our wealth until late in high school; they’d shielded me from the tacky excess that seems to typify the upper ranks of the middle class now. They worked hard and long, maybe too much so. Much of our early care was given over to nannies and au pairs, but it’s a testament to my folks that I barely remember those caregivers’ names now, while my father reading us One Thousand and One Arabian Nights at bedtime is as fresh as what I ate for breakfast.
I took SAT classes and went to Georgetown probably under my own power but maybe on the force of a shady recommendation from a corporate lawyer friend of my Dad’s plant manager. I could never give that to my kids. I live in professional poverty, comfortable with a choice that is only afforded to the children of privilege. I have all sorts of objections to the endless growth of humanity, but personal philosophies aside, there it is. I live debt-free without a goddamned care because of the decades of work and right thinking my folks put in on my behalf. And I can’t see that materializing for my kids.
It has lately seemed to me that the better you’re brought up, the worse you grow up. My father’s father was itinerant, a State Department economist. When time came for his four sons to enter high school, he quit and moved to the MacKenzie Valley, a picturesque nowhere in Oregon. He bought a General Store, working his boys to the bone for nothing or next to it. He was hard to them by intention or received wisdom and they grew up strong and brave and successful. My mother came from military stock, her father a fighter in the Second World War, Korea, and Vietnam. A hard enough man that shrapnel to the neck couldn’t claim him but a refusal to take his diabetes seriously could and did, when she was seventeen. She and hers have done as well as Dad, carving out what they demanded from life.
I suspect that from immigration through the second and third and fourth generations, we get weaker, lesser, more complacent, and that the kids currently incubating under octo-moms and helicopter dads might be wretched enough to bring down the whole enterprise.
So what do I have to offer? Neither the wealth or drive that let them nurture me nor the expertise or hardness that worked through their parents to make them who they are. Maybe my reluctance is born from fear—no matter how well I imitate my family, my own young might turn out wrong. If they grew up dumb and wasted, I’m afraid I wouldn’t love them. Or maybe it’s an acknowledged lack of fortitude; if my kids came out wrong, broken, misshapen, I’m afraid I wouldn’t hack it, afraid that I would run.
There does not seem to exist within me all that is required, and rather than gambling on fate to bring me up to snuff, why not say what I already know—that it’s not for me, and we might all be better off if I did not. Knowing my parents and all the parents I’ve met; God love me and mine, but we might all leave the world better by refusing to bring something worse into it. There are times when the idea of kids calls me as much as anyone, but we might do more good to leave the job to other, harder, greater men and die childless and wondering.
I’ve been blessed with many families—one Argentinian, one Spanish, three Mexican, one American, and one by blood. I can’t tell you how proud I feel when Filito del Bosque looks me up on Facebook, when Guadalupe jokes about being my mother-in-law, when Natalia takes me in with open arms, when Mark and Linda Beyer call me their third son, when my Father tells me my writing reminds him of Hemingway, or when my Mother tells me to do what may because she sees what may be in it.