Reflections… My Origins, and How They Influenced my Kids

As I’m about to see my youngest graduate from high school and head out into the world, I’m thinking about the people they’ve become, the forces that shaped them, and in turn the forces that shaped me. If you know me, you know that I am socially and politically liberal, and an atheist. I like to think that I act against perceived injustice, that I care about others, and that I try to treat everyone with respect (respect is the default – you don’t have to earn it, but it is yours to lose). I also know that I can be lazy and somewhat of a slob, but I’m focusing on the positive here.

My Dad was an older father – he was ~50 when I was born (I was 44 when Natalie and Nick were born). He traveled a lot for his job (manufacturer’s representative) and struggled with alcoholism for much of the time that I knew him; this contributed to his suicide when I was 14. I saw him expressing curiosity about the mundane; in his travels he frequently stopped at businesses that caught his attention just to see what it was that they did, befriending plant managers and seeing the shop floors. He often came home with samples (I got many plastic model kits as a result of this). He went out of his way to help others; two examples: my school needed bleachers for the soccer fields and he arranged to have the metal supports forged (cast? welded?) and probably provided the 2x12s that served as the bench seats; when my school put in a weight room, he knew about an abandoned foundry that had cast weights, and arranged for us to go in and salvage multiple weight sets (or maybe we trespassed and stole them, but I believe the former). He was politically on the right–we hosted a big barbecue as a fundraiser for Nixon’s 1960 campaign (I still remember the 3-foot portrait of Nixon that confronted me every time I went into our attic after that)–and he struggled with racial equality (I think he recognized it and tried to embrace it, but he came from a time when it was not the norm). When he and my Mom first married they bought a huge abandoned and overgrown mansion, which he then made livable and beautiful with lots of sweat equity; I still commune with him when I do yard work. Sadly the house fell into disrepair after his death, but has been restored as a bed-and-breakfast.

Dad gave me an appreciation of the value of hard work, and of the work done by other people, as well as a willingness to help others.

My Mom was a strong advocate of education, although she had only been able to afford one year of college thanks to a generous community scholarship. It was a given, from the time my brother and I were very young, that we would go to college, and our best friend, one of seven kids in his family, was the only one of his siblings to go to college (he attributes this to her influence).

Mom leaned to the left politically and socially; I remember her volunteering at the Crispus Attucks Planned Parenthood Center in Lancaster’s 7th Ward during the 1960s, helping to bring family planning and women’s health care to some of the city’s poorest. She bought four newspapers every Sunday (local Lancaster paper, and the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Washington Post) and read all of them by the following Sunday. She and my Dad had furnished our house with some beautiful antiques by attending auctions, and my brother and I spent much time hanging out at both estate sales and at their favorite established auction houses. It was on our way home from one of these in 1964 or 65 that I recall her pulling over to the side of the road to listen to Pres. Johnson discuss the expansion of US involvement in Vietnam; she cried, knowing the implications for her young sons and the other young men of our country.
Following Dad’s death in 1969 Mom started working outside of the home for the first time in my experience – for several years as the personal assistant to a wealthy older lady in Lancaster, then as a secretary for the local Magistrate (Justice of the Peace); she worked for him until she retired. My brother and I lived far away, so she was alone (with her dog Blue) in that big house, becoming more and more socially isolated and drinking too heavily. Health issues, primarily related to diabetes, got her into the health-care community, resulting in her resettling to a nursing home–probably a great thing for her because the social isolation was gone. She moved to a home in Las Vegas to be near my brother, and spent the last 8(?) years of her life there, enjoying life. She befriended many people, including the Mayor (Oscar Goodman) when they both attended a Seder; I met him at her memorial service in 2006.

Religiously Mom was a deep thinker. She came from a Lutheran upbringing (my Grandmother was an organist in the Lutheran Church in Hughesville PA for more than 40 years) and as a child I attended Lutheran services. My parents were troubled by perceived hypocrisy, and started going to a Unitarian Church, where I spent my teen years. This church was all about social activism in the 1960s and I felt comfortable with that; I was also comfortable with the Unitarian perspective on a questioning approach to God.

Mom gave me the desire for education, my political leaning, and my willingness to question authority, religious and otherwise.

So–my high school seniors, soon-to-be-graduates… how did they become who they are. It’s clear that home values are instilled in children. They reflect both their Mom Jenny and me, but I see in them much of what I got from my parents. I would like to think that my Mom and Dad would be proud and approving of the young adults that Natalie and Nick have become.

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