I was writing to a friend of mine this morning and part of the letter took me way back to 1985, a time in my life when very big things were happening. My father died in March and I filed for divorce in September. I have long known that the two events were inexorably linked by more than time.
I am sure that you have events that when resurfaced to our conscious, linger longer than we’d think and many times want.
As I was drying my hair, my thoughts drifted back to snip-its about my dad. I reminisced about hearing the story when my dad ‘won the pencil’ when he spoke about me at his public speaking course. That was when it hit me. My life and his had parallels I’d never seen before. Let me explain.
My father married his high school sweetheart and was married to her for ~45 years when he died…she was heart-broken and his five daughters were left high and dry without their dad. I still cry when I think about it.
His sweetheart’s father was a very successful German immigrant (which, given his businesses were flourishing when WWII broke out…) who successfully navigated those tough financial times (both because of the war and because he was German). When he died in 1950, he left a thriving bar business to his widow and incompetent son. My dad had a job as a lineman for Ma Bell (New Jersey Bell Telephone Co) with plans of climbing the corporate ranks. But because he loved his sweetheart and his sweetheart wanted her father’s legacy to continue, he left his career at Ma Bell and took over the business which he ran until ~1969/1970 when he’d had enough and was fortunate enough to get his job back at Ma Bell, at an inside job as a line tester. By that time, even though he was now 50-ish, he still had management aspirations. After all, he had run a very successful bar business for twenty some odd years and thought he’d make an excellent candidate. Feeling that he probably needed some polish, he signed up for a Dale Carnegie course where each week, each member had to give a speech; a 3-5 minute speech, if I recall correctly. His sweetheart didn’t tell me that the only time he won the pencil was the night he spoke about me until after he died. So I could never find out whether he’d spoken about how proud of me he was, or if it was about how as the middle child, like him, I drove him crazy. Maybe.. it was both.
But as I stood there this morning, I realized that he’d had his life highjacked. Because of the responsibility he felt for his family and love he had for his wife, he gave up his dreams of a successful corporate position with vacations and a pension on which to retire and enjoy his life after 65.
He died 11 days after his 65th birthday.
It’s a strange thing when a realization strikes. As I pondered the notion that ‘he’d had his life high-jacked’, I realized that I used the same expression when I described my life. “My life was sort of highjacked”, I’d say. You see, I was a very happy IDEA sponsored special education teacher until I, too, had my life highjacked by a first husband who saw no conflict-of-interest in having a 5-year affair and being so angered that I had the audacity to leave him that he conspired to split up my children so he’d never have to pay me a dime in child support or alimony. Tax returns I’d never signed, false income statements… things that movies are made of. I left teaching because I was financially destitute; I’d lost my son, my daughter lost her brother, I’d lost my house, and was fighting hard not to lose myself.
When I finally resurrected myself in teaching again in 2005, I set my sights on those leadership roles I’d thought about so many years before. I went to graduate school, graduated magna cum laude, and thought all my successful years in business and Wall Street would make me a candidate to die for.
Not so much.
I was 60 by the time I graduated; my life had once again been hijacked a second time; this time cancer was the thief.
So… as I stood in the bathroom this morning, drying my hair, I saw the strange cosmic link between my father’s life and mine. It left me awed by the parallel and I wondered… could he have known that when he won the pencil ?
This blog is dedicated to my friend, Barry Saide, who put the grease on the wheels that got me thinking this morning.