This is Part I of a 3-part intermittent series on education, success, and how I fell through one but still landed in the other. Part II will show up some time down the road.
My Father’s Path…
For a majority of my life I have had a conflicted perception of the word success, and all that goes with it. Like his father before him, my father raised me to pursue excellence in life. He dedicated much of his life to providing my brother, and I opportunities to create successful lives. He did this with diligence, and a great deal of love if not with an overwhelming passion.
My father’s idea of success was linear, direct, and had a clear progression; college, business, suburbia – man in a gray suit kind of stuff. What he really wanted, I believe, was for my brother, and I to take his path, but to find better results than he was able to. I have often wondered if my father sacrificed his visceral idea of success to better enable the superficial idea of success that society, and his own father immersed him in.
What my father had really wanted in life, he confessed to me in his later years, was to have taught school in the winter, and run a camp for kids in the summer. At some point though, with a wife, a mortgage, and kids of his own, I believe he became driven by dollar signs rather than canoes, and campfires, and the gravity of the business world drew him in.
Against The Grain…
My definition of success has always been murky, malleable, and has evolved through the years. By the time I was in my late teens though, my definition of success began to solidify, and was in obvious contrast to my father’s intentions for me, and to the flow of common American culture.
As I began to explore my idea of success, the distance between my path, and the path my father laid out for me grew further apart. Looking back today, I am better able to reconcile my father as a young man, with the man he would go on to become. When I was younger, I couldn’t comprehend this.
By my father’s standard, and by the standard of culture art large, the first step on anyone’s path to success is obtaining a college degree. My father had been down many career paths, but he began as an educator at the high school, and college level. He would often say to my brother, and I,
“Get your ticket punched boys, and you can go anywhere”.
Inferring that a college diploma was guaranteed a ticket to success. This was so heavily instilled in me that by the time I was in my early teens I came to believe that people without a college degree were a lesser form of life, and less worthy of life’s rich pageant.
In truth, I believe my father wanted me to feel this way. He would often take time to impress upon me the toil, and struggles of those went through life with a wrench in their back pocket, pushed a broom, or drove a municipal bus. Because he was my father, I believed him. I have only recently come to see that this isn’t true, that there’s no shame in hard work, and that success is simply a state of appreciation.
My American dream has always been more simple than most; I don’t want to be forced to do the goosestep down Main Street. That’s it. I would like to have access to water, shelter, and to have the opportunity to work hard for anything beyond.
One does not need a college degree to pursue shelter, food, and a few nice things. One simply needs to have ambition, a good work ethic, and reasonable expectations of life. Those too, are qualities my father instilled in me, and they have served me well.
I recognize that I’m a minority with this way of thinking, and I don’t wish offend anyone who has worked hard to reap, and enjoy the finer things in life. That has just never been my trip. I have always been content with just enough. I often suggest to friends that my dream house has four wheels, and gets good mileage. I am approaching that dream house, and hope to move in within the next 3-5 years.
School Is Out Early…
I struggled with school from an early age. In elementary school, reading could be so strenuous that it often lead me to nausea. My math skills were several years behind, and I barely survived middle school with Ds. Despite this, I was advanced into high school. In high school it became clear to me within weeks that I would probably never graduate. The text books I used seemed to be written in a different language. I failed typing, Art, and even PE.
With an open campus, and a modular schedule, I could go to high school every day, never walk into a class room, and just sit and visit with friends in one of the three cafeterias which were available. This was my existence for a year and a half. I would register for school, never go to class, get Fs, and placate my parent’s attempts to get my head right by promising I would try harder. In a school of 4,500 students, I fell through the cracks.
At one point I was even put on the short bus to study with all the other challenged learners. Unfortunately, most of them were there out of laziness, and not need. I was surrounded by stoners, with teachers who weren’t dialed in, and nothing was being done to help me improve my lack of learning skills. One day at 16, I just released myself on my own recognizance, and never looked back.
I would spend the next couple of years working odd jobs, sleeping with the television on, lifting weights, and trying to figure out what success truly was, or if it would ever be within my grasp – largely disbelieving that it would be.
Though I would ultimately take my GED, and attend college, my father’s notion that success, a college degree, and a suburban mortgage were synonymous, became a poison in my veins that has worked against me more than it ever served me.
Please check back in a few weeks for Part II of this series. Oh, and there’s this from Albert King. Enjoy…