Recently, I was asked to pen a personal essay (by a devoted – and much wizened- friend of mine) on my parents; and in particular on those qualities of theirs that make me consider them to be uniquely gifted. Before starting out with this venture, I put on my humility hat, and did a thorough web search (through my Spectrum Cable Company Internet service) to find out what other people had to say about their progenitors; and I wasn’t surprised to discover that the popular (published) narratives seemed to fall into either of two extremes.
Good Parents, Bad Parents
Children of parents (an axiomatic truth like no other) on one end of this observed spectrum happened to be incredulously (I would say deliriously) happy with their biological guardians, while those on the other side had nothing decent to say about them. I suppose that the large majority of parents occupying the middle-ground on this conjectured scale were decent-enough folk to their offspring (in an everyday, mundane sort of way), and so didn’t largely warrant (as per the surmises of their kids) any elaborate treaties to be scribbled in their honor.
Personally, I would say that I fall squarely into the former category, and in this blog I will tell you why.
An Introduction to My ‘Folk’
My parents, you see, didn’t start out with many material advantages in this world.
Both hailed from rural, predominantly horticultural, backgrounds firmly set against the backdrop of the great Midwest, and their own folks didn’t believe in inserting a silver spoon into the mouths of any of their young charges.
My father learned to earn his keep by the time he was fifteen, and at the age of 21, was selected for conscription in Vietnam during Nixon’s administration. My mother, on the other hand, managed to make her way (through a government scholarship) into a private secondary school in Atlanta, and from thereon – on account of her stellar intellect and studious disposition – went onto study in a public university.
Later on, she took up a teaching post in the same school where she had pursued her preliminary academic career – and this was about the time when she met my bedazzled father (who had returned back from the war, and was thoroughly disgusted by its progress and sheer scale of unforgiveable human casualties).
Two years after a hasty marriage, they had me – and so our small family of three was completed.
On the Rigors of Maintaining a Family…
Initially, my father had to scrounge away some portion of his pension funds to secure a small two-bedroom apartment for us in the downtown area of New York City – but when the rent got higher, we had to make do with smaller living quarters in an adjacent neighborhood.
During this time, my mother happened to be shuffling between two jobs, and making the best use of her baccalaureate degree in American history; by tutoring in her school during the daytime, and mentoring some of the students from her morning classes in our cramped living room lounge during the evenings. She worked non-stop for six days in a week, with only the much-awaited Sundays offering her some semblance of a respite from her intensely busy schedule. In many ways, she was our primary breadwinner, though my father did not lag too far behind her (in the monetary sense).
My father, ever since his stint in the army, had remained in a state of disquieting melancholy, and it was quite common for him (in those days when I was traversing through the first vestiges of youth) to wake up in terrifying cold sweats in the middle of the night to some horrible dream that he had seen. On the timely advice of a psychiatric practitioner (who had diagnosed him with PTSD), he had to take a daily cocktail of nervous system depressants (anti-anxiety pills) to beat the constant episodes of agitation.
At the same time, however, he still managed to get out of the house every day, and owing to his inability to secure any stable & paying employment position in a well-established organization (and also on account of possessing no higher academic credentials of his own), always remained occupied with one odd job or another. He never kept himself idle, and even when he was out of job on some days of the year, filled in after my mother as the most diligent house worker, cook, cleaner and driver that anyone paying in large bucks for such a household worker could hope for.
A Continuing Legacy of Warmth & Appreciation
Both of my parents, who are now 67 and 65 respectively, follow the same work-packed schedule that they have done for the last thirty five years, and during this time they managed to provide a psychologically, emotionally and physically loving home environment for me (despite all the challenges that the world imposed upon them). My childhood, I realize now – having children of my own, and the always-beckoning bills to pay – was enviable; in every sense of the word.
As a PhD scholar of the Humanities, I can categorically state – at this stage in my life – that none of my educational, co-curricular and professional achievements would have been made realizable for me; had it not been for my parent’s continuous support delegated towards me, and the harmony that they held for each other.
But most of all, it is the sheer grit that they successfully managed to take on the world with; a quality (one of many, actually) that makes them truly special in my book – and worth every commendation that I can give.
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