Yesterday, I started thinking about my father.
DH and I were waiting to go to a showing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (skip it), and we could hear all the fighting, etc. from the showing of the movie Cinderella Man in the next theatre.
My dad made me promise to see Cinderella Man, and told me more about his childhood. My dad is a Baby Boomer, but his parents lived and remembered the Depression, and even with all the govermental assistance, the war, etc., his family was still pretty poor. So poor, in fact, that my dad's stepfather used to (get this) box for money when my dad and his brother were little. I knew they were live-in-the-projects poor (back when the projects were a respectable place, not the drug-ridden, gang-infested dangerous places of today), but not get-your-brains-beaten-out-so-you-can-put-food-on-the-table poor. My dad almost cried remembering it, not because his life personally was so hard- he says that he never realized they were poor because everyone was poor, so it was normal- but because he realized now how tough it was for his parents, and how close he was to the brink growing up.
My dad's stepfather, who was a really good stepfather and a better dad to my father than his real dad (who was involved, but not as much as his stepfather), was a hobo who rode the rails during the Depression who later went on to work in the local factory. His mother was a licensed practical nurse. Neither one finished high school. It seems to me all the more wondrous and impressive that my dad finished college (the first in his family), freaking sent his kids to private school (this was mostly my mother's doing, admittedly, and she had lots of financial help from her family), and owns a house in a good neighborhood.
A few years ago, my dad told me that when I was growing up, he made a conscious effort to say the phrase "When you go to college" rather than "If you go to college," because he wanted my sister and me to think that going to college was not optional, that it was a given. I cannot tell you how much this floored me, because for me, going to college WAS a given, always. And not just going to any crappy college, either- going to a good school. It astonished me that to my dad, going to college wasn't automatic, something that you were kind of different for doing. Times were different then, but I still know PLENTY of people my age, who have similar educational backgrounds in terms of good schools, who didn't bother to finish college. They started, but didn't finish.
I knew, growing up, that my dad felt kind of uncomfortable around the other private school parents. His background was so different from theirs, and he just didn't feel like he fit in, and he really didn't. But I never wanted him to fit in- I loved him just the way he was, and still do. He could do things that other dads couldn't do- like build me this totally kickass bookcase when I was in college. He says he just "threw it together", but it lasted through two moves, and when I graduated, I gave it to DH's best friend to use- sadly, it wouldn't fit in the minivan when we packed my apartment up senior year. Friend gave it to his sister when he graduated. I'm not sure if she still has it, or what. I loved that bookcase.
The other thing that he did when I was growing up that the other dads didn't do was come to all my plays, all my performances, all my school concerts. In junior kindergarten, your parents could come on your birthday, and they'd do things like read a story to the class, participate in activities, etc. Most of the time, the mothers came alone, but both of my parents came. All those kinds of things mean a lot to kids, and I'm really glad that he made such an effort to be a great father. I am a better person for it.