The ultimatum, part 6

Honestly, I think he just wanted to fit in. He wanted to belong somewhere.

Sometimes he said he wished he would’ve been adopted. Maybe he would’ve reached his full potential for growth in an environment that promoted learning. Me, I’m just glad he wasn’t aborted.

His mother Martha dropped out of high school before she got pregnant with him as a teenager. Intellectually she was slow. She tried as an adult to get her GED but she couldn’t pass the test even with the help of tutors.

By some freak of nature, Paul is one of the smartest people I know. He has a brilliant gifted mind. I would guess his IQ was almost twice as high as his mother’s which caused a lot of frustration on the part of both parent and child.

One of the smartest things Martha did however was pack up her car and leave behind the inner city of Chicago with her mother and 9 year old Paul in tow. I know the story would’ve turned out differently if he would’ve stayed.

The family moved to northern small town Wisconsin. It was quite the culture shock. Imagine moving from one of the largest cities in America to a small town of residents whose families lived there for many generations and probably founded the town. Jobs were scarce and the town didn’t attract a lot of outsiders.

Paul struggled to fit in especially in that time period without having a father. One of his teachers made an example of him by spanking him in front of the class telling him he needed a good spanking because he didn’t have a father.

On parent day, Paul stood alone. He didn’t fit in with the smiling children of two parent families. He wore ill fitting clothing because they struggled financially. Martha worked long hours in a factory just to afford their modest home. She couldn’t afford to take off of work for every school event and his grandmother didn’t drive.

Paul struggled in school. He didn’t have a parent that could help him with his homework. His mom didn’t pressure him to study or do his homework anyway. He was never disciplined. Everyone knew his mother was slow and assumed he was too. The kids laughed at him and called him names. No one really even cared if he graduated.

He made it into college anyway. He created a new life for himself. He joined a fraternity and finally found a place he belonged. All he had to do to fit in was drink. A lot. Those were the years of hazing and dangerous drinking. It was nothing to wake up the next morning out on the lawn.

He got so involved with partying that he flunked out of college for a semester. He returned home and worked alongside his mother in the factory. After that experience, he decided to apply himself. He discovered he had a thirst for learning and figured out he wasn’t the idiot everyone defined him as. He was told he was stupid so much he thought he was.

I met Paul after he earned his Bachelor’s degree. By the time I met him, he was working on his Master’s degree. He fully accepted the fact that he is an intellectual. He tested me when we first met to see if I was smart too. I am an intellectual myself but nowhere as smart as he is. Sometimes I found this intimidating. But it was more threatening to Paul. It separated him from others.

He didn’t fit in with his family either. No matter what he did, he couldn’t bring them up to his level. But he could bring himself down. He found he could fit in when he was drinking. He could be social and fun. It helped him find the place where he could be like everyone else. It was a place he belonged.

Paul’s journey, part 7

It bothers me now that I didn’t keep a journal over the early years of our life together. The entries from page to page are a couple of years apart. There are so many things that happened in the gap, so many things that I wanted to say…to remember.

I’m glad I am doing it now.

It has been almost a year since Paul’s mother died from cancer. I want to say that our time with her on earth was always good, but it was at times rather rocky.

It was a long grieving process. Paul lost his only parent, a parent whose mutual path with him was oftentimes a twisted road mixed with conflict, happiness, disappointment, and love.

Martha was a difficult person to get along with. It was all or nothing with her. We were either an angel or a devil to her, nothing in between.

I was the best daughter-in-law the world has ever seen. I could do nothing wrong. The next minute I was the devil and would come careening off my pedestal. It seemed as though she had relationships like that with everyone that was close to her.

Happy elated hellos turned into screaming hollering good-byes.

Martha was an unrealistically extreme optimist. She told the kids she would buy them a pool when she retired. She would get everyone’s expectations up only to dash them into the ground. Over time I learned to translate the meaning behind her words. When she said she was going to do something, it didn’t mean that she was actually going to do it. It meant that she wanted to do it.

Martha was a bit of a free spirit. She oftentimes said she would be somewhere only to show up hours late, not show up at all, or cancel out last minute.

She always had an excuse for everything. It was always the fault of someone else, not her own. She didn’t graduate from high school because the school burned down. She didn’t have enough money for gas. It might rain for an outdoor party. It might snow for her granddaughter’s high school choir solo debut. It was too hot for the kids outdoor birthday party. She ran out of hot water. The car broke down. She had to work. She was sick.

She often made up stories that couldn’t possibly be true, but she believed them. She argued with people who tried to convince her otherwise. She, at times, thought that other people were out to get her.

Martha just wasn’t like me……she didn’t suffer from feelings of depression or anxiety. She didn’t worry about anything. She was outgoing, carefree, and spontaneous. She saw the world through rose colored glasses. She didn’t care if she was late. The clock’s ticking did not grind at her. She was happy with what she had. There wasn’t a harsh taskmaster in her head striving for more. She was easily excited by ordinary things. She was an interesting person, simple yet complex. You never knew what you were going to get.

It was hard sometimes not to feel irritated. Then there were feeling of guilt because we knew that Martha meant well. She just wasn’t playing cards with a full deck.

Life, sometimes it is a battle of heart versus mind. The logical part tells you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way, but you can’t stop from feeling the way that you do.

Regardless, we made our peace with Martha. We thanked her for her sacrifice of raising a child that she wasn’t ready to raise on her own. In the end, we knew she loved us and did the best she could. She knew that we loved her too.

Paul’s journey, part 4

One day Martha loaded up her Pinto and headed out of Chicago. Her youngest brother found a new home in Wisconsin and urged his sister to leave the city behind. Paul and his grandmother, who had recently retired from the candy factory, joined her on the journey.

For a short period of time, they lived with Martha’s brother. Now at the time Martha’s brother had a family of 5. Things got a little cramped at his house. They wanted a house of their own. Martha got a production job at a cheese factory. She found a house and tried to get a mortgage. But the application was denied. A woman simply did not get a mortgage alone in the 1970’s. I heard that Martha cried, cajoled, and begged until finally the mortgage officer had a change of heart.

I can’t even imagine the culture shock they went through moving from one of the poorest neighborhoods of one of our country’s biggest cities to a small unincorporated northern WI town. Paul felt like an outsider. Let’s face it, he was.

The kids picked on him. He was poor and wore ill fitting clothes. His mother had a different last name than he did, but she had no husband and he had no father. His grandma shared his last name. Kids laughed and said mean things about his family situation. One teacher even spanked him in front of class and ridiculed him for not having a dad. As if it was his fault he didn’t have something he wanted that everyone around him seemed to have. His mother was working all the time so he had to attend most school family events alone. His grandmother didn’t drive.

The kids and teachers told him that he was stupid and never would amount to anything. Paul thought that the words they said were true. He didn’t bother trying and got bad grades furthering everyone’s belief in his stupidity. His mother was slow, so why wouldn’t he be?

It was during those years, however, that Paul realized he was smarter than his mother. His mother tried to get her GED but couldn’t pass in math. Paul earned a MBA and takes a special interest in finance. But I am getting ahead of the story. Paul’s mother thought if he graduated from high school that would be an enormous accomplishment.

Although everyone told Paul that he wouldn’t amount to anything, his mother always told him that he could do anything he put his mind to. For not being very bright, her encouragement and belief in him was a very smart move as a parent that didn’t have much else to offer.

Paul’s journey, part 3

A few of the brothers were able to escape the inner city and convinced Martha to move out of the projects into the suburbs.

Paul spent his grade school years in the suburbs of Chicago in low income housing. Martha was on welfare, but from what I heard she was always employed. Martha’s mother was employed on the production line of a candy factory. From what I heard, Martha got an office job at the candy factory. I’m not sure what type of office skills she had… Maybe she was eye candy? Wow, what an awful candy factory pun! My bad…

All of this information is iffy at best. But the point that I am trying to get across is that Martha was always willing to work and held steady employment.

While Martha worked, Paul went to a babysitter in a neighboring apartment. There were multiple kids. Once Paul came home with a full set of bite marks on his back. From what I heard, the low income housing was a hopelessly filthy miserable place to live.

Although she told Paul to be passive, Martha was a roaring lioness if anyone messed with her son. She was a good, nurturing, and attentive mother.

Paul said that he doesn’t remember a lot about the early years. He just remembers feeling afraid a lot. There were gangs. He got jumped on his way home from school by a bigger kid around his age. There was an incident in a park where he was bullied by some older kids. All around, it just wasn’t a safe place to live.

But soon all of that would change.

Paul’s journey, part 2

He spent his earliest formative years in the projects in the inner city of Chicago.

You might think that the story would’ve ended differently if Martha’s dad survived to see his grandchild arrive. Maybe he would have been a great father figure for this infant fatherless child.

Where we left off yesterday, Martha gave birth alone to a baby boy. I can imagine how frightened she must have been. Childbirth is a terrifying thought during pregnancy…rich or poor…young or old…married or alone. But possibly more so if you are poor, young, and alone.

During childbirth, Martha was in a delirious state and saw her father there watching over her. Martha cherished her father. But from what I heard, he wasn’t a very good man. He was said to be an abusive drunk.

I once heard a story of how Martha’s older brothers teamed up as teenagers and fought their father. I couldn’t tell you why. But I could tell you that it was probably justified.

I heard that he was a crooked cop. Maybe involved somehow with the mob. I also heard that he had a girlfriend and maybe even another family on the side.

I really didn’t hear anything about his character that would make me think that he would be a suitable father or father figure for anyone. If he hadn’t dropped dead of a heart attack when Martha was 12, I might not be telling the same story or this story at all.

For a short period of time, Paul had a ‘dad’.

Martha got married just long enough to change her name when Paul was 3. Martha said she left her new husband after a year because he was abusive to her son. The only thing that Paul remembers about his step-dad was that he had 2 large black dogs.

It has always been a debate in our house which is worse…not having a dad or having a terrible father. If his step-dad was truly a mean man, then perhaps he was better off without a dad. Thankfully his grandpa never was a part of his life either. He didn’t have a dad or grandpa, but some of his uncles were nice.

 

 

 

 

Paul’s journey, part 1

He was born on LSD.

Not really in the way you might think for the late 1960’s

He was actually born at the Cook County Hospital on Lake Shore Drive (LSD) in Chicago.

From what I remember hearing, his mother Martha faced childbirth alone. There might have been a stranger, a nun, at the momentous event. But all of this I could only surmise from snippets I’ve heard. I wasn’t even born yet. I didn’t meet him until he was 27. So forgive me if the memories of what I’ve heard are a little hazy.

All of the questions about that evening will remain unanswered forever. His mother is no longer with us.

I do remember her saying that she saw her daddy that evening. At the time, he was no longer with her.

Martha’s father passed away when she was 12. Her mother was always working to support the 6 children she was responsible to care for alone after her husband passed away. Martha was one of the youngest children and the only living daughter.

Martha lived in the inner city of Chicago. She already dropped out of high school before she got pregnant as a teenager. She wasn’t what anyone would call bright by any stretch of the term. But she was beautiful, very beautiful. I saw the grainy blurred photos.

Her child was born without a father. His name was legally omitted on the birth certificate although it did list that he was 21.

There were rumors about the father. He was said to have red hair and green eyes. He was part of a motorcycle gang. He had a very common name and wasn’t from Chicago. He wanted to steal the baby. He wanted nothing to do with the baby. He called on the phone but never said a word. He went off to Vietnam and never came back. He might have been Native American. He was a hillbilly.

Are any of those rumors even true? There is no one to ask anymore..

All he knew was that he didn’t have a dad.

After all, he was a 60’s love child born on LSD.

A simple gift

Most of the time it is the trials in life that shape and mold us into people with character and strength. It makes us better people.

But if I wholeheartedly believe what I just said…than why do I want the opposite for my children?

Paul and I are both (gulp) intellectuals. We try to provide an environment that stimulates learning and promotes education. We read the kids a lot of books when they were young. Paul and I both love to read. Paul spent half of our children’s childhood working on his Master’s degree. He spends hours researching topics of interest, such as, making a geometrical chart with the wind trajectory and sailing co-ordinates to try to improve his race to learning how to rewire his boat. They always see me writing.

We thought that our children would embrace learning, and most of them do. That is why we had such a hard time the last several years when our son kept bringing home failing grades. We knew that he was smart.

We weren’t expecting him to be just like his dad…

Paul grew up in a completely different environment. His mother, Martha, dropped out of high school before she got pregnant with him as a teenager. She tried over the years to get her GED, but never could pass the test. When she was in her 50’s, she went back to school to get her CNA certificate. Paul, the kids, and I watched her walk down the aisle in her cap and gown to receive her diploma. She was so ecstatic. It was the first degree that she earned in her life. Her excitement saddened me.

When Paul was in 4th grade, he moved from Chicago to a small rural town in Wisconsin. He moved up with his mom and grandma. Due to a brief marriage, Martha had a different last name than Paul. Paul shared the last name of his grandma. This was a very unusual situation back in the 70’s in that area. The kids picked on him because he had no dad. He had a mother with a different last name and still no dad. Everyone thought that Paul was stupid because his mother was intellectually slow. Paul thought that he was stupid too.

He didn’t have a parent that valued education. On parents day at school, he sat alone. His mom couldn’t take time off of work because she was a single parent and had bills to pay. She did what she had to do. He didn’t have someone in the house that could help him with homework. He didn’t have a dad to play catch with.

He failed a high school class and had to take remedial summer school. He ended up going to college because a friend was going and he thought it would be fun. He went to college, did too much partying, and still got bad grades. It caught up to him eventually.

Paul ended up getting kicked out of college for a semester. He went back to his small town and got a factory job alongside his mother. He noticed how poorly his mother was treated there. He couldn’t see himself living that way for the rest of his life. The next semester he went back to school and decided that he wanted to work hard to get good grades. He turned his life around. He even applied for law school, but got rejected.

Sometimes Paul feels like he could’ve been so much more..

He wanted a better life for our children. He gave them something that he never had, although it seems so simple, so basic..

Now it is up to them what they will do with this gift.