Monday, April 28, 2008

My Advantaged Childhood

"Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut." I received those words of wisdom from a co-worker many years ago. It was one of his father's favorite sayings and they were words I especially needed to hear early in my career.

This quote is especially appropriate this election season, which has gone on far too long (including for Jon Stewart, apparently).

Still, at a recent luncheon, I couldn't help but say something when President Bush was referred to as "our idiot president." Come on, now. This slander is getting really old and adds absolutely nothing to the discussion. So I pointed out that it was Vice-President Al Gore who cast the tie-breaking vote encouraging ethanol subsidies.

The next words out of the original commenter's mouth were, "Are you a Republican?"

I admitted I was.

She was shocked, especially, she said, "considering my background."

She was shocked precisely because she doesn't know my background.

I tried to explain why I did not like the Democrats ideal of Big Government. I prefer to give a homeless man on the street a dollar--and he gets the entire dollar. If I give it to Washington, he's lucky if he gets 35 cents.

"But not everyone has had your advantages," she persisted (after telling me that she won't think less of me because of my views).

And that's when I shut up.

The luncheon was all women and I was the only one who did not support Hillary Clinton. I was also the only one who has a successful, long-term marriage and children, which colors my views.

Upon reflection, the original commenter was correct: not everyone has had my advantages. I grew up in a two-parent family. My mother and father loved each other. They were practicing Catholics, active in the parish, the parish school, and the community. They both loved to read. Education was important--in the classroom and out. They never stopped learning.

We were blue-collar, working class, but my parents wanted us to appreciate culture and so found ways to expose us to the arts, to theater, to music. They raised six of us on a single income for most of my life, so we learned to economize and prioritize our spending. Our job was school. We were expected to do our best at all times.

And because there were six of us and two of them, we were given responsibilities and duties. It was part of belonging to a family.

Consequently, I'm a hard worker. I'm curious. I seek new challenges. I know that I will do what is necessary to survive, even if it means flipping burgers. I know that God never closes a door without opening a window--although sometimes it takes a while to find it.

Hubs didn't have that kind of support growing up, so some of this is new to him, especially when it comes to higher education. But we're trying to instill the same values in our children: love of and loyalty to family, love of God, love of learning, the ability to work hard (and all that entails) towards a goal, taking personal responsibility.

These traits can't be taught by the Secretary of Education in Washington, D.C. They have to be taught one-to-one, adult, preferably the parent, to child. The fanciest school, the best books, the most up-to-date technology won't make a difference.

Nor will whoever happens to be in the White House.