We've been hosting my wife's 15 year-old niece all week on her spring break.
Being around a teenager makes me remember my own youth.
I was 16 when I met my future wife, who was 14 at the time.
I was a Junior in High School, and she a Freshman.
She was the first girl I ever dated seriously.
After our third date I asked her to "go steady,"
in the now archaic parlance of those days.
I hadn't even received my high school ring yet,
so I gave her my Junior Civitan pin to wear that night,
and the next day I went to the drug store
and bought her a simple silver ring
to wear on a chain around her neck.
I first had my mom try on the chain
to see if it was the right length,
since she was about the same height as my girlfriend,
and this was the first piece of jewelry I had ever gotten for a girl.
I remember my mom was very happy for me.
The date was January 12, 1962,
a date that we celebrated ever after
as our "first anniversary."
We celebrated 31 of those
before dissolving our union 1994,
but that's another story for another blog.
Being around a giggling, silly 15 year-old this week
who's actually a year OLDER than my ex wife was at the time
that I formed what I thought would be a permanent relationship
makes me wonder about the forces drove me
to make that commitment
so early in my life.
I was desperate to break out of the prison of my parents' home,
to get away from the constant criticism,
never being able to live up to my dad's expectations,
always disappointing them.
I was a constant disappointment,
never living up to my potential.
("Potential" meaning my ability to get good grades
and compete in life's rat race
for the biggest prize.)
But I've learned through 60 years of living
that I never will
meet those expectations.
I was desperate then for someone to love,
and for someone to love me.
She too was desperate to escape from her parents,
their petty bickering with one another,
the lopsided way they treated her like a house servant
while lavishing unconditional affection on her younger sister.
She wanted to feel my arms wrapped around her
and to escape into a world
that we would create
The Vietnam War was raging at the time I graduated from High School (1964),
and young men like me were cannon fodder.
And so off to college I went,
on the parental dole for four years,
safe from the Army's clutches
and the embrace of the body bag.
I never knew why I was there,
except to try to fulfill my parents' expectations,
stay out of the trenches
and earn a sheepskin
with which I hoped one day to support a family.
That was supposed to be enough of a reason,
for the son of a man who had pulled himself up
by his own bootstraps,
coming to DC during the Great Depression
with $50 and a suitcase
to put himself through law school
with no help from his own father.
By the middle of my college years
I had committed myself to my girlfriend
by the purchase of an engagement ring.
We kept it a secret from my parents,
fearing my dad would pull the financial plug on me,
forcing me out of college
and into the military
and likely death or dismemberment.
But he found out through a friend we had told,
who told his father,
who was a friend of my dad.
He was very disappointed in me,
and sad that I didn't tell him first,
but like I said,
I was always a disappointment to him.
So we continued our engagement through my college years,
marrying the day before my graduation in June 1968,
six weeks before my induction into Navy Officer Candidate School.
The Tet Offensive had occurred just months prior,
so it seemed like a safer bet to be on a ship instead of in a foxhole.
And so I applied for Navy OCS in my Junior year in college and was accepted.
Four and a half months later I was commissioned as an Ensign.
After just 11 1/2 months of commissioned service,
the Navy decided to let me go
two years ahead of schedule.
And so, after a frantic search
I landed a job with C&P Telephone Company,
and within six and a half months we started our family.
I worked hard for 29 years at the phone company,
never knowing exactly why I was there,
except I was lucky to get the job,
it was a steady paycheck,
and it supported my family.
Now, after all these years
I look back and question my motivations.
Did I do the right things for the wrong reasons?
The wrong things for the right reasons?
The wrong things for the wrong reasons?
or the right things for the right reasons?
I suppose maybe it really doesn't matter now.
I did keep the family together for 26 years
and raised two children to maturity
who are today reasonably healthy in mind and body.
I have established a rich and loving relationship with my son,
which is more than I can say for my own father
or his father.
And now that I review my own actions
and the motivations for my actions as a young teenager,
I must conclude that I was very mature for my age
and chose wisely
from the choices that were available to me.
Sure, I can second-guess myself,
about choice of mate,
about choice of college versus professional musician,
about choice to comply with my dad's wishes
instead of openly rebelling,
but who's to say that any other choices
would have worked out any better for me
than the ones I made?
I think I made a pretty good life for myself
and my family.
I think my dad would have been proud of me,
but in the end
it doesn't matter what he
or anyone else
or would have thought
Because I'm the one
who must live my life.