pen rainbow

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Monday: The Reading Corner—Letters To The Sperm Donor

I'm back...

First, I want to begin by saying, "It's good to be back at the keyboard!"  Yay!  As some of you may know, I've been taking a 52-week online Photoshop class called, Beyond Layers, by Kim Klassen.  It started on January 8th, and we are given two or more assignments each week.  I've been posting my pix in the Friday Art Gallery, but if you want to take a look at everything I've done so far—all 336 items—you can go to my flikr page.    

My New Year's resolution was to learn something new this year.  Specfically, I wanted to expand my PS skills with the intention of adding to my own online store.  The logistics of setting up an online retail site requires homework, as well.  It's all coming together, though, so stay tuned!  I'll post links on my blog when it's up and running.

In the meantime, I'm going to start with something fun and interesting for Monday's Reading Corner called,  Letters From Daddy.  They are my earliest writings to my father, a very mysterious person, kind of like the big green head, Oz.  He is a highly manic individual who probably shouldn't have ever become a dad in the first place.  But, that's what people did in 1957, and at the age of 22, I was born, and we've been related ever since.  I have to say that my dad really is an interesting guy with a wicked sense of humor.  I think that he sees my sister and me as mutants who managed to survive having him and my mother as parents. In that way, he is proud of us.

I begin with 6-year old me, the organized little project manager, a pint-sized, stressed-out First Grader who channeled Stewie Griffin from The Family Guy... 

Tall DiDDY

"Deiar Mather and Father.
I am having so Much fun.
can I  staY oBer nitht?

tell the Other Kids I will be houm.
Plese Tall Tham. OK.
I Want You To Tall Tham.
Tall Tham OK.
Plese tall Tham.

AND Tall tham I am Going to eat.
I Will Be houm Soon.
and Tall Daddy To.

Tall the Kids that I ate here.
Dont Por Git To Tall Daddy OK.
Plese Do Not foR GiG To Tall DiDDY.
and I Will call You UP.

Sign troi - Alta - Jones."

Enter Daddy.  This letter is dated, August 27, 1963, writtten in my dad's absolutely perfect, artistic penmanship to me and my three younger sibs.  He was 28 and had moved to Omaha to find a new job and to buy a house.  My mom and the rest of us were still living in Las Vegas.  He was supporting a wife and four children on $2.74 an hour.  Weekly take-home would have been less than $100 after taxes.  I was almost 6 years old, and my sibs were ages 4, 3 and 2.  Apparently, we were old enough to comprehend financial planning.

"...the circumstances of my separation..."
A nice way of saying that he got fired.

"Dear Kids:
Your daddy's been real busy this last week.  I've had to take two physicals (one for the telephone company and one for Union Pacific) and two tests (one for the telephone company and one for IBM).  I passed the physicals, and the guy said I did very good on my tests.  I haven't heard from IBM yet, but I think I did all right on their tests, too.

I'm starting work tomorrow for Pullman at $2.74 an hour.  I wasn't able to start sooner because of the tests and everything.  I don't have too much hope of going to work for Pacific Telephone because of the circumstances of my separation from SNT, but I figured that I might as well try.  

You kids be good and mind your mother.  

Bye for now,

A month later, I dictated this letter to my mother who wrote it in pencil on a heart-shaped piece of construction paper...

"Dear Daddy,
I love you very much.  I have been a good girl.  I like my teacher.  I drew a picture for you.  I will have a surprise for you on the back of this.  

How is it up there?  I want you to see something that I made at school.  It is good coloring.  Did you start your job yet?  I've got to go now, dear Daddy.


And, this one printed by me on lined notepad paper the following Spring (1964)...

"Dear Daddy, 
I saw a helicopter land in the yard at Helens.  

I got your letter.  I drew the Robin because I wanted to.  It was the best one.  Mommy liked it, so I said, "Thank you."  Do you like it?  I have to go now.

With love,

By Christmas of '64, my dad had been gone for fourteen months.  I bit my nails because I didn't like it when my mom cut them... 

"Dear Daddy,

I have not ben biting my nails.  Did you get the letter from me?  I made an agel at scoohl.  We got are Christmas tree.  And prettyed it up.



At this point, we were living with my dad's parents.  We lived there for a few months until my dad bought a house and we moved to Omaha in January 1965.  This is a letter from him to me, dated December 19, 1964...

"Dear Troi,

I just received your nice letter in the mail today.  You really did a good job of drawing God, Josaf and Merry.

I hope you have been a good girl so Santa will bring you lots of toys on Christmas.

So long for now,


And finally, this one from me dated July 30, 1969, Las Vegas.  We had been living in Nebraska for four and a half years, and my mom's mother paid to fly her and the kids out to Vegas for a two-week visit.  My dad was driving from Omaha to pick us up.  Our cat, Nestor, died under suspicious circumstances while we were gone.  My dad probably had something to do with it.  At least, I always suspected that he was responsible for poor Nestor's disappearance, and I expressed my doubts in this letter.  I typed it on my grandmother's typewriter, which was a special privilege because the kids were not allowed to play with it.  I was 11 years old at the time and on my way up the secretarial ladder!  

"Dear Daddy,

If Hester [my cat] gets distemper, call us.  (Or, if Leeroy or Tuko gets it.)  I don't think it was distemper because animals aren't supposed to get it after their first year.

One of Mama's dogs is going to have pups [we called our grandmother, Mama].  There is a little bante chicken that is going to hatch chicks.  Mama said I could raise it when it hatches.  Are we going to get another kitten?  Mom said she dosn't know.

How is the paving?  [Our street was being paved while we were gone.]  Woud you bring my green robe, the one with the yellow ribbon?

Save all your beer-can tops.  I'm collecting them now.  Well, so long.

See you latter.


What These Letters Say Now

These early communications reveal a family history that I was unaware of until now.  It is clear that my parents got a lot of help from their parents.  By the end of their 20's, my mom and dad had four kids spaced 15 months apart, which they had no business doing given their unstable finances.  My earliest memories are from a time when we lived with my mom's family in North Las Vegas, predating the first letter in 1963.  It looks like for about two years, we were living with one set of grandparents or the other.  My mom would have been between the ages of 23 and 25 and my dad between the ages of 27 and 29.  

Why is this relevant now?  It's relevant because our 24-year old son moved back in with us in January after three years of living on his own in NYC.  Not a day goes by that we don't think about the big picture, adultescents moving back in with their parents, and how much we parents allow them to take advantage of us.  

These letters illustrate how much Boomers changed the landscape for ourselves and for the next generation.  I never heard my grandparents complain about the time that we spent living with them.  In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect, creating cherished memories, lifelong bonds, and continuity between the generations.

Boomers set out to do better than our parents, and we did.  We are a more involved, focused, and compassionate generation.  We are big picture thinkers with the collective goal of changing the future for the better.  We invent ways to make that happen.  But, we've transferred a set of expectations, along with our very high standards, onto the next generation.  This goes against the approach our grandparents took, which frankly, was a more open, accepting, patient, and respectful way of dealing with 20-Something adult children.  Our grandparents' generation may have had a more realistic way of looking at things.  Let's face it, even when we were buying houses and starting businesses in our twenties, we still did some pretty darn stupid things.  Boomers invented designer baby clothes and reality television.  I'm not sure how either of those adds to a brighter future.

I'm seeing it through the lens of my own personal experience, and certainly, not every family in my grandparents' generation opened their homes to the their sons, daughters, in-laws, and grandchildren.  It was a different time, but it wasn't that long ago, and now, we expect our children to follow a straight line into adulthood.  We built opportunties for them, and all they had to do was sit down and put the keys in the ignition.  Like forcing a square peg into a round hole, we want our children to follow the path that we created for them while we carefully planned and executed our own goals.

And, the biggest surprise, for me at least, is that the Millennials aren't out slaying dragons every day.  Unlike their maximizer parents, this is a generation of satisficers (a term coined by U.S. Nobel-laureate, Herbert Simon in his 1982 book, Models of Bounded Rationality and Other Topics in Economics).  They aim for adequate results over optimum achievement.  They choose what is familiar and hassle-free.  The research suggests that maximizers are never really content with their choices because of their exhaustive approach to decision-making, whereas satisficers tend to be relatively happy with their decisions.  They are content to live with the kinds of flaws and foibles that my grandparents' generation chose to overlook, but Boomers tackle with zeal and mindfulness.     

As a parent, I tried to clear the way for my kids.  We worked hard to avoid the overwhelming, soul-crushing defeats, the kind that block all hope of a better future.  First on my list, financial security.  My parents never had enough money and fought about it constantly.  Second on my list, a secure marriage.  My parents got married too early and should have ended it long before they did.  Third on my list, a stable homelife.  My dad was a functional alcoholic and somehow managed to support the family with help from my mom who worked as a bartender when we were teenagers.  I wanted nothing to do with any of that.

Now, I find myself navigating in uncharted waters, but perhaps not.  These innocent letters may offer a real solution, which is to simply accept our situation and deal with it.  It is part of being a family, it's just not going according to plan.  The solution is not neat, or easy, or quick, or entirely predictable.  It is uncomplicated.  My generation overcomplicates everything, because we think in complex terms.  To view life in uncomplicated terms means that we have to throw away our basic way of problem-solving, and I think we resist going there. 

What these letters have shown me is that we just have to make the best of imperfect people in an imperfect situation.  Follow the example of the Greatest Generation—forge ahead, take care of business, and choose your battles.  I never saw my grandparents worry about anything! They just got through whatever was going on.