I believe in the American dream…or so I thought I did. The ability for the son of a baggage handler and a secretary in Detroit should have a chance like everyone else, right? Right! And so I did…until my dream faded before my eyes.
Like most blue collar families, we had enough to get by but could not seem to break that debt-free ceiling that kept us in our place. My parents would work different shifts so someone could be home with us. It was odd watching my dad sleep during the day when I thought he should be playing with us kids. My mom came home from work in a dress, nylons, and high heels. “What’s for dinner?” I said in my most unappreciative voice. Then I’d watch in amazement how she could get an entire dinner on one cookie sheet. There it was; Banquet frozen chicken, small ears of corn, and Tator Tots.
I remember taking drives to Grosse Pointe where the mansions stood. We gaped at the huge lawns that rose into Roman columns holding up a third story patio while covering what us common folk called a porch. Oh, the grandness of each home and how that must be the ends to the dream.
The drives were fun, but our wistfulness soured when we turned down our dirt street with the “bar and lounge” on the corner and the ditches to carry the rain water off. Today would be worse as we had to have eggs for dinner and drink out of old jars. “Eggs are for breakfast” I would tell my mom, but I knew it was because there was nothing else in the refrigerator. But before my roots could firmly plant into the “I’m so poor that I don’t know what to do” soil, something happened. Something my dad said…
“Son, we are going to start our family dynasty!” “Huh?” I replied. “My parents were poor but gave me a little something to build on. Now it is up to you to carry the torch.” Hmmm, I thought. Interesting. There are books and magazines dedicated to this topic now and here was my dad stretching his arm out into my future and setting its course. Or, it could have been his kick in my rump to get me out of the house after college. Either way, my future was to catch the dream.
I started in computers, programming for a small firm in Okemos Michigan. They had a large customer in St. Louis and eventually moved me there. I was promoted quickly and life was good. Then came Mary. Yes, it was here that my dream hit a speed bump. I can sum up this 10 year portion of my life with the thought I had while leaving St. Louis. “First job, first car, first wife, first house, first divorce.”
I’m in Arizona now, found the woman of my dreams and started working for a large company with a computer center here. The money rolled in, but my dad’s words kept coming back to me. What if I gave it just a little more effort? Would the bend of my income curve rise even more sharply? That’s when I become self-employed. Yes, I was an entrepreneur. You should have seen the proud look in my dad’s eyes when he saw my new house in Scottsdale, beautiful wife, and the slick greens and rolling hills of the country club. This must be it, I said to myself. I had captured the dream…But something was still missing. I didn’t have the same feeling that I saw in my dad that day.
My wife and I tried to have children naturally to no avail. We had always planned to adopt so now was the time. We went to a Russian orphanage and God placed a beautiful baby boy into our family. As soon as I saw him I realized that everything I had was now his. I beamed at the thought that he was living in an orphanage today but would be a member of a country club tomorrow. Even more importantly, he would have no eggs for dinner and no jars to drink from.
My dad passed away last December. We have two boys now. The oldest is six. I find myself yearning to call my dad each day to tell him something new about his grandsons and about how it feels to be a father. To hear his laugh as he would remember how he felt when I did the same thing as a child. Yes, I know now that my dad believed in the American dream too. Now, I understand and have that same proud feeling he had. Yes, I believe in the American dream…but not for me anymore…
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