Saturday, June 10, 2006

An Explanation

I grew up in a household where broken things didn't get fixed.

My parents didn't have any money and my dad was intent on doing the work himself. So that basically added-up to the work never getting done.

One instance was when the ignition broke on my dad's old Volvo station wagon. He removed the plastic casing around the steering wheel base and (somehow) started the car with a screw driver. When that stopped working after about a year, my sisters and I had to push the car out of the driveway and down the street so he could jump-start it by slipping the clutch.

It was humiliating.

The broken dishwasher sat outside in the backyard for about 10 years. A gaping hole in the cabinetry was left open and void. It took over two years to fix the broken air conditioner, so we suffered through the hot summer nights with no wide open...all of the sheets kicked off the bed. The outdated motor home sat in the front yard driveway for more than 15 years. It had two flat tires and dingy old curtains that had slipped off their bracket and puddled into one heaping, spider-infested mess. The side panels were rusted and the entire vehicle heaved over to one side in a scary, it's-gonna-roll kind of way. In over 50 years, my parents painted the house exterior...twice. And when the overhead light in the kitchen stopped working...they replaced it with a table top lamp that was missing its shade...the extension cord running through the middle of the kitchen...always threatening to trip the unobservant guest.

Two nights ago I asked my dad why he didn't change professions and get a better job. His reply was startling:

"I didn't want to have to start from ground zero. I didn't want to waste my industry knowledge."

"But Dad, you kept getting fired from your jobs, so you were basically already at ground zero. Why couldn't you find something different that worked better for you and paid more?"

"I dunno. I never really thought about it."


Did Dad's inability to fix things extend to his career as well? How could he not see that we were forced to eat artichokes (and nothing else) for days at a time because we had no money? How could he not understand that we were immersed in poverty? And it impacted us in so many profound ways? The screaming matches about money between he and mom? Our inability to ever take family vacations? The items around the house that never got fixed because he couldn't afford the replacement parts? The dinners they didn't go out to and the five-member family that had to share 1lb pound of ground beef for dinner? (It was purchased for $1)

Instead of thinking about how he could obtain a job that he could keep, my dad spent hundreds of hours on his favorite hobby: Killing flies with a broken rubber band. There were plenty of them all over the he was able to perfect his unique skill. Some were killed mid-air. Most were killed against the house. Dad must have killed thousands of flies - and he was wholly satisfied doing it.

I suppose seeing the futility of Dad's efforts and time had a tremendous impact on me. I've always been competitive and driven, and I've always believed that I should be well paid for my work. This may make me somewhat of a hardass about following the plan and not stopping until the job is completed.

I have tried to understand my parent's choices, but I can't fully comprehend their acceptance of a loveless marriage, living in abject poverty and abusing each other with misery and spite for years and years. The decay surrounding all of our lives - both tangible and intangible- was suffocating and oppressing.

I am so happy and relieved and so very grateful that I have been able make a better life. Life with my parents was hellish, and they did nothing about it.