“A child’s growth is defined entirely by the adult that raises him.” ~ Naoki Urasawa
I was born and raised in southeast Alabama – a very small town named Midway in Bullock County – to quintessentially rural baby-boomer parents. They graduated high school and landed factory jobs like tens of millions of other baby boomers across the United States – the then livable wage with which they built a life for me and my siblings. My dad held his job for 39 years in a factory that made carpet – well before the hardwood floors craze swept the West. Expediting his early retired was also a result of significant outsourcing to which is 40-year employment committee was vulnerable. As the hushed tones turn to concrete decision making, my father retired early to avoid the indignity of being laid off. My mother, held her initial job for 16 years until it was shipped to Guadalajara in the mid-1990s. Now she is nearing retirement age, approaching 20 additional years of employment on her second “lifetime” job at a poultry processing plant.
My parents created a home in which I believed I could achieve whatever I wanted to pursue. Yes, my mother and father motivated me in different ways. She was more direct and nurturing he was more critical using archaic tough-love approaches. Yet, I am grateful to have had them both shaping me into the person I am today. They did their best to prepare me for a world in which my being fully situationally aware and self-reliant – the latter of which is a basic tenet of adulting – were paramount. I was taught life can be exhilarating and deeply rewarding.
I was also warned my life’s journey would be fraught with barriers related to neither the content of my character nor how diligently I pulled my bootstraps. They knew for sure the fears and insecurities of those (un)intentionally wielding bad karma would exhaust and/or demotivate me. With that, their goal had nothing to do with facilitating permanent victimhood as a virtue of mine. My developing keener situational awareness and being more deliberate in responding to what I understood from it were their intent.
Tangential Note: By referencing situational awareness, I am alluding to being black in America. Oh Lord, there he goes talking about race again. If it were not a major part of American life discussing it at every turn would be unnecessary. Along with bootstrapping, going to college, and always putting your best foot forward, there are other lessons my parents imparted. Think the talk about how to comport myself if I were to encounter the police.
No arguing. No asking questions. No movements, let alone sudden ones. If moving is unavoidable narrate every muscle you flex in carrying out whichever action you must. Override your sympathetic nervous systems orders to increase your breathing rate and eye movement. Accept whichever citation police officers would issue regardless of whether it was warranted. Focus on leaving the situation alive. Any citation they would have issued, my parents could afford to pay. The talk remains relevant today as a self-reliant adult with a white spouse.
Oh, I should approach every goal big or small with 150% effort at all times. The guard is never to be lowered for any reason.
They prepared me for the realities of unleveled playing fields and insinuations of lacking enough American-ness. They ensured I held dear idioms such as “anything worth having doesn’t come easily” and “this too shall pass.” Another included, “ok now you know, so what are you going to do about it?” I understood their advice as acknowledging not accepting the way things are while working through the circumstances said things created, not succumbing to them.
“Life is accepting what is and working for that.” ~ Gloria Naylor
My parents, more so my mother, were adamant about my understanding good people exist in the world and I should aspire to be among them. My mom and dad challenged me to always take time to appreciate what I have and not fixated on what I lack. The Golden Rule was routinely referenced throughout my upbringing to drive home teachable moments. One of the most powerful lessons I learned from my parents was to never ever find myself at any point in my life regretting what I should have, could have or did not do because of fear, stubbornness, or thinking someone else would or should do it among other self-defeating reasons. In the Deep South, such advice is articulated as ain’t nobody got time for shoulda, coulda, and woulda.
I am the youngest of four children, the only child my parents had together. My three older siblings are about one year apart from each other. I am eight years junior to the youngest of them. As a native of Bullock County — which ranked near the bottom of all of Alabama’s 67 counties regarding factors such as income level, primary and secondary educational preparedness, college graduation rates and the like — my parents worked hard to create opportunities for my siblings and me they did not have. I graduated high school in a class comprising 75 students, a cohort that began with 151. Such stratospheric dropout rates are commonplace in the region of the state from which I originated. My parents never attended college, yet were the wind at my back to ensure I successfully did so.
I was a first generation college student, as were a few first cousins from both my paternal and maternal sides. I am one of two people with three degrees, and one of six having graduated with a least a bachelor’s degree. While unremarkable among the relatives comprising the denominator above and in the circles they, Larry and I run today, having earned three degrees remains something of which I am extremely proud and unshakably humble. Things could have been so different, especially if it were left to the stories statistics tell.
Needless to say, my parents were not perfect. My father and I have a cordial relationship today yet experienced some very rocky and estranged periods during the latter part of my high school years and nearly the totality of my journey through higher education. My sister and I, once close, have veered in entirely different directions as adults. Sure, some divergence in life expectations and how we show-up in the world is to be expected – what she and I experienced was a cataclysmic breakdown in sibling relationships. My bothers and I are nice to each other yet I never was all that close to them.
Dysfunction was not isolated to our nuclear family; it was on steroids in our extended family. While I think my family is the most loving and chaotic, I believe we are an American anomaly. Animosity. Jealousy. Barely respectful interactions. Complete relational abandonmentI. All of these fun details interact during holiday gatherings like electricity and water. I detail the toxic drama within my family and how the closest of relatives and I coped in my blog series Family Operating Procedures.
I tend not to end my blogs with happy endings unless such closings reflect the experiences on which they are based. My point in creating this website is to share my experiences in hopes of relating to others as well as exercising a form of catharsis. I never set the goal of making any particular person feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.