Monday, April 11, 2011

Sometimes There Won't Be Any More

My parents had the typical mid- 20th century life. They were married in 1950 and then the 5 kids arrived over the next 14 years. My dad provided the income as my mom stayed home to raise us.

I have many vivid memories about growing up, the son of a school teacher and a businessman (hardware, plumbing, refinishing). I also remember the struggling through school with money; don't get me wrong, my folks 'loaned' me money (that I never had to repay) but I also had to get part time jobs to pay for school. The only money I had in my pocket when I started college was what I earned thru the paper route and odd jobs around the area, like “rock” picking and “corn detassling”… If you don’t know what those things are, then you have a little more to learn… I didn’t have a car, I got to college by sharing a ride with someone who did have a car.

I was fortunate in that my chosen career was in a growth area, computers... Throughout the 70's and 80's I had decent opportunities but also challenges, largely by not being in the right company at the right time. Or by not starting my own company, perhaps that path was just not for me.

In the early seventies a construction worker could afford a house a new car and his wife could stay home with the kids if she so desired, just as my mom did in the 50's. My mom went back to work in the ealy 70’s. Things were already changing .

I got married in the 80’s, and we could afford things, but the key for us was both of us were working. We had a portion of income that was discretionary income. We are what the Nixon and Reagan era called the “silent majority”.

Today, a similar construction worker (to my example above) lives in an apartment or house with others and their chances at grabbing the brass ring are slim. My neighbors are like this. The truth is, the dollar isn't worth anything anymore.

I have some money saved up, and a little more than a year ago I thought I might buy one of those distressed properties and rent it out. I’d be helping the economy, is how I justified it. The 'bank', however, wasn't being reasonable, even in the face of creating this mortgage mess. Or you could think of it this way… They were being reasonable if you could stand a negative performing asset for many years, all the while hoping that the housing market takes off like it did before the crisis. Everyone raise your hand if you believe this one.

But it doesn’t really matter, because the government bailed them out and now we have merged bank entities that are even larger than when this started.

So, if the dollar isn’t worth anything, what is? Time. Material things in the digital age are a lot like the dollar.

Someone once said a song can say as much in three verses as a novel does in 300 pages because of what it leaves to the imagination. Imagination will always be the best thing going. Walt Disney built an empire around that simple idea. I'd like to think I still have an imagination, rather than some rich dude without vision.

Seriously, though, time is the thing I don’t have anymore. Lot’s of people complain about the same thing. In my current job, for example, I put in plenty of hours trying to make sure my projects come in on-“time” -- which really means on the dates that someone has set without truly understanding what’s going on. I make pretty good money at this, but it’s kind of eating me up inside.

I read a lot of those 300 page novels, but I am “reading” by listening to them as audio playing with some software on my mobile phone. It saves me time, it allows me to escape… Actually, I read more this way about a variety of subjects, than I have ever really done in the past. Hopefully, this balances out. Allows me to have some imagination and to have some practical sides to what I do – to what I am.

Have you ever noticed something, however – rich people are always trying to move to the artsy part of town. They wish they had that imagination; someone told me this. Then they buy it up and what happens to the neighborhood? It becomes sterile because all the artists can't afford to live there anymore.

Somebody smart said a life without struggle isn’t worth living. My daughter’s choice in music is something I pay attention to. Some of these artists are truly facing or faced some serious issues. This is why their music is good, they have suffered for it; and the music tells of their struggle. My daughter thinks she is suffering to, because I make her do the homework with me (math) and I insist on accountability for her grades. This latter point, I don’t do so well on, because I’m a bit of a softy.

Sometimes she takes it out on me, because I’m the one withholding things from her. She doesn’t really know what suffering is, and a part of me hopes that they never has to, but when we really get down there and think about this, the individual really has to suffer in order to be good at what they do. I hope she can learn that life lesson without too much damage. Because the kind of suffering that some of these folks (her music) have gone through can break a person and there might not be any pieces left to put back together again.

I hope, however, that she doesn’t ever forget the danger of “what if there isn’t anymore?”

My wife ran across one of those emails that circulates the inter-tubes, where the question was just that…

One day a woman's husband died, and on that clear, cold morning, in the warmth of their bedroom, the wife was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn't "anymore". No more hugs, no more special moments to celebrate together, no more phone calls just to chat, no more "just one minute." Sometimes, what we care about the most gets all used up and goes away, never to return. Before we can say good-bye, say "I love you."

In this round-about way, I’ll get to my point… My dad is in the final days of his life. Oh, he’s not going to kick the bucket in the next day or so, he’s not on his death bed. He’s had bouts with illness and more, but he’s been a survivor, primarily because he’s had a good chance at life and because he’s had some doctors willing to try new procedures to help him, extend his life. I could go into a bunch on this topic alone, but let’s just say his renal doctor is pleased at the progress my dad has had because of a procedure some years ago and most of the other men in the study group are dead. – But my dad is not going to live much longer and I’m trying to come to terms with that.

And while this is good, because it’s probably the healthy thing to do, it’s also causing me a fair amount of soul searching, just last night for example, when I couldn’t sleep. Most of this comes around to this question of “what if there wasn’t ‘any more’”.

If there is one message I hope to get across to my daughter, it’s “don’t waste your time being mad or trying to do stupid things because you’ve got some teenage angst against your parents.” With traffic accidents and illness and things, sometimes there won’t be any more hugs.

…its best we love it, care for it, fix it when it is broken and heal it when it is sick. This is true for marriage… And old cars… And children with bad report cards, and dogs with bad hips, and aging parents and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it.


Dennis Perkinson said...

Tom -

Interesting read; thanks for sharing. Though they're both in reasonably good health, both my parents are nearing their end - Mom is 91; Dad is 89. Last year, I realized there were things I would say at their funerals that they should be able to hear while they are still alive. So, I took a couple of days and wrote them each a letter doing the best I could to tell them how much they had given me and how much I appreciated everything they did for me. It was the best gift I've ever given them. Each of them carries their letter with them at all times folded up in their wallet. You're right, sometimes there just won't be any more.

Dennis Perkinson

Tom said...

My father passed away on September 19, 2011. He did have a good life and will be missed by those he touched in his lifetime.