When I was little, my family, by my memory, was on the border of poor. My parents did a good job of pulling us out of that as fast as they could manage, but it meant compromise and sacrifice, and I'm afraid I never did a very good job of understanding that. We wound up somewhere in the neighborhood of upper middle class, I think, and I just sort of accepted that as a generally improving quality of life for everyone in the world. Until I moved out and got slapped in the face with reality.
My mom spent most of her time at work for a few years, during my childhood, trying to get us out of a rough financial situation, but that was temporary. In contrast, for nearly my entire life now, my dad has worked eight hours plus, at least five days a week. I say "plus" and "at least" because it was rare that he worked only forty hours a week, but it probably happened at least once. I resented his job, his choice to work so much, and naturally, him, for what I felt was a selfish choice. Spending time at work instead of with his family, caring about money and things more than us, etc.
It took me a long, long time to figure out that what he was doing, was, in a very real way, loving me. He was loving me the best way he knew how. He was loving me by the example set by his father. I would fall asleep every night under a roof that existed because he loved me. In a bed that existed because he loved me. Clean because he loved me enough to earn the money we needed to pay the water bill. To buy soap. I would leave the house every weekday morning wearing clothes bought with money we could afford to spend on them because he loved me.
Don't get me wrong, here, I'm not trying to be heavy-handed with a crude metaphor. If you're too young to know, you'll figure it out soon, and if you're too old to remember, I'll remind you:
You don't want to go get a job. Nobody wants to go get a job. You do it because either you want the money, or you need the money, or your parents won't get off your case, and it's just simpler to get a part time job so they'll leave you alone. At some point it becomes normal, and you forget what having a job really is, but the reality of it is that you prostitute yourself, most of your waking day, most days, selling the majority of your life, for a paycheck. Whether you walk the street or paint houses, you're selling your time, your life, your happiness, your health, and when it comes right down to it, your body, either way.
You might be thinking, "But I like my job!" -- That's fantastic. For you. Most people don't like their jobs. And hardly anyone actually needs their entire paycheck to get by. People in Africa live on $0.30/day. Yes, they live in mud huts, but when it comes right down to it, you could live in a mud hut too. One of my friends told me recently that he spends several hundred dollars a day, not counting rent or utilities, and he has no idea where it goes. He's working himself to death, for money he doesn't need, and can't keep track of, in a job he can barely stand. He would much rather be doing whatever he wanted every day. That's most people.
Why do these people do this? Depressingly, for a lot of my friends, they do it because they want a bigger flatscreen TV. Or more gigahertz, or terabytes, or FPS, or horsepower, or decibels, or whatever. That's fine, if you have no other reason for working your ass off, and if your free time doesn't fulfill you in the ways you think it would if you just had more inches in your living room, that's your bag, and I won't judge.
But that's not why my dad worked. My dad worked because he loved me. And I get that. I figured it out a while ago, and I told him a few months ago on the phone, but I don't think he really understood what I was trying to say.
My dad has some medical issues, he's getting on in the years, and he's just left for India to bring god to the heathens. They violently do not want his god, so I think that's a phenomenally bad idea, but that's his thing, and I'll save my thoughts on it for another rant. The point is that I want to get this out. I want to engrave it in photons, electrons, and whatever else, and I hope he gets a chance to read it. Because I want him to understand that I get it.
I recently had a daughter of my own, Hope Springs, 5lbs 15oz, Oct 25th 2013. It'd be poetic, in a way, to say that she was the impetus for this revelation, but I can't say that honestly. I figured it out before I even knew she was growing inside my girlfriend.
What I can say with honesty, is that I was thinking about Hope before I ever knew she was going to fall into my lap. And thinking about her led me to reevaluate everything I'd thought about my parents from my childhood. That's why I get it. Truly thinking about having someone who is completely helpless in your arms, that depends on you for everything, and who you love with everything you have, makes you reevaluate your life a bit.
So now there's Hope. And the question is obvious, of course. Will I work all the time, so I can buy her all the things? Honestly, probably not. I understand what my dad did, and why he did it, but that doesn't mean I'm going to do the same thing. I intend to maintain a different balance with her. I plan to spend as much time with her as I can. One reason for that is that I'm a bit older than most parents when they have a baby, and I've got health issues of my own. I don't really expect myself to live long enough to see her graduate high school. It might be depressing, but it's a reality I need to face and account for. So I intend to spend every moment I can manage with her.
The other reason is that I want her to never have to question my love for her. I want her to know, every day, every minute, that she is the most important thing in my life. I was told this fairly often, but I never actually believed it. I never understood how my dad could love me, and yet never be around. Never have time to spend with me. A lot of people reading this may well not be able to grasp it either, but trust me, there's logic here. But to avoid this problem with Hope, so I never have to try and convince her that I do actually love her, I'll do my best to provide for her without leaving her side. I'll hope every day that I can keep finding ways to never have to sacrifice time with her, for her. I will probably not have a flawless record, but I will try.
To my dad -- I get it. I understand. I don't blame you. I don't resent you anymore. I started understanding you when you stopped the van in the street to run across five lanes of traffic, risking your life to help a total stranger, just because it was the right thing. It took me my whole life to understand why you do what you do when and how you do it, but I'm finally in this place of understanding. I know who you are, and I get it now.
To Hope -- I hope I never have to give up time with you, for you. I want to be there for you, in person, for every moment of your life, scary, sad, happy, exciting, all of it. I want to be a constant for you, because I know that one day, I won't have any say in it, and I will have to leave you. I will do everything I can to make you strong for that day, so you can stand proud without me and face the world. I hope I do it right. And no matter what you do with your life, no matter how you turn out, or how you choose to live, I will love you. I will be proud of you. You are the most fantastic thing I've ever made. No matter what.