The Genuine Article

Philip - Lutherville, Maryland
Entered on May 27, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the genuine article. When I was a child, I thought that being genuine was telling the truth like George Washington, owning up to the cherry tree chopping; or John Wayne waddling into a saloon with saddlebag over his shoulder which he plopped on the bar in a cloud of trail dust.

When I moved to adolescence in high school, I tried hard to be myself (or at least who I thought I was) always being counseled by one of my older sisters that the girls could tell if you were a fake. My fellow college students in the late Sixties/early Seventies equated being genuine with long hair and raggedy clothes as though personal hygiene was “establishment’ and somehow a betrayal to ones authenticity.

Not long after college I had the advantage over my 5 brothers and sisters to work in my family’s manufacturing business with my father and his two brothers. These were Johns Hopkins educated men who were keenly aware that they were given their education, their business and their sense of who they were by their dad, a tinsmith and first generation Irish American. Though these men lived in country club refinement, their sense of who they were was never far from their consciousness. That sense guided them in how they did business, who they selected as friends, and gave them a sort of built in Geiger Counter that enabled them to detect a phoney from yards away.

It is, I think, in adulthood, where things get tough and people lose their way. In adult life, people generally attempt to improve their circumstance. With any measure of ambition, they strive to earn more and move up the ladder in their careers. They push to live better and provide their families with the best environments possible. This ambition to change, to improve and move up is laudable and, in fact, is the American Dream.

But often I have discovered that once a person has achieved new heights, they forget the people and circumstance from whence they came. In today’s society, we encounter old money Nantucket-vacationing, puffs whose parents, you come to discover, never finished high school. You meet guys with monograms and expensive watches and wine collections that have come to believe their own PR. We encounter politicians that began their political journey for all the right reasons and become pampered big heads with entourage and girls on the side. We all know folks that drive, wear or live in things that they cannot afford.

In the 80’s movie Wall Street, Bud Fox is an investment broker who has worked, lied and cheated his way from modest means to a Park Avenue apartment. Toward the end of the film, Bud’s awakening and his decision to facilitate his own undoing comes after his airline-mechanic dad expressed disdain for who Bud had become. He lamented that Bud had forgotten who he was and where he came from.

I believe that is a test each of us should apply to our own lives. If our grandfathers or our mentors would rule favorably on what we have become and how we got there, we can congratulate ourselves for being the genuine article.