Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bad Starts & Second Chances

My husband grew up in the hippie years. He married the first time in high school, and you know why.

They went to college on his dad’s money, but that marriage fell apart. His ex-wife straightened herself out and went back home with their child. She eventually married a very nice man and lived in her old neighborhood.

It took my husband longer to grow up. Dad's money abruptly dried up. So he worked in a convenience store, a grocery, drove a delivery truck, other jobs. One year he was fired from three different jobs. He said it got his attention, at last. And he started up a road, past the things he hadn’t handled well.

He could tell me that he’d been clueless as a father, but he was too ashamed to tell me that he didn’t pay child support for a number of years. He told me everything else around it, though, so it wasn’t hard to figure out.

When I met him, he was working on a Master’s degree and then getting a Psych Associate’s license. He’d made many mistakes, so he wasn’t horrified by people who’d made mistakes. He also had a streak of sensible a mile wide. He was a good counselor.

Starting before we dated, he took off for a month every summer to go camping with his son. They did it every year, and it was not conflict-free, but they managed to joke that out and be happy. They had a deal: one night, my husband picked the camp site. The next night, his son would. My husband always wanted to go to nature preserves or state parks. His son wanted to go to commercial camp grounds that had soda machines and pretty girls. But a deal was a deal. They stuck with it.

Eventually his psych work didn’t give him the chance to help people as much as he wanted, and he went to medical school, an older-than-average student. It was like watching a rocket get rocket fuel. It gave him everything he needed to pursue his calling. That was a ten-year journey.

In the middle of medical school, the mother who had raised a good son got lost letting him grow up. She couldn’t let him go, to make his own mistakes. And he started making even worse ones, to pay her back and assert his independence. Finally he lost his driver’s license. That meant no job, no effort, no relief for either one. No independence.

We took over then. My husband didn't waste any time on blame for past actions. He said life was doing that, and his job was to point out opportunities. That's not to say there wasn't direction, anger, sarcasm:

 "I would think, seeing how you've been booted out of one home, that gratitude would propel you, almost Against Your Will, to the sink to wash those dishes."  They laughed. Dishes were washed.

So his son learned to save, cook, do laundry, apply for jobs. Within months, he got work, moved out and supported himself. He rode a bicycle my husband bought used and they fixed up, until his driver’s license could be re-issued.  He had no phone. He couldn't afford it. But he was happy, independent. He made friends.

All my stepson needed was that finishing experience. He went back to college for a little while. Married a nice lady and got a steady job, a promotion, a house, and a cat bigger than most dogs. He later gave his sister a similar safe haven for the false starts.

Your high school counselor and your television tell you it goes one way, in one order. But life goes in all kinds of order and can still have a good result. It’s real life, still successful, maybe more so.

My stepson and my husband both found the life they wanted.

But that must have been hard to imagine, in the year my future husband lost three jobs, all of them for laziness, when he had a child to support.


Slamdunk said...

Excellent message in your post. I was thinking about this topic the other day--the different roads that many of us take.

I had a friend in undergrad who was smart, especially with physics and math, but simply unmotivated. I remember in my junior year he tried to talk me into skipping a few of my classes to attend a concert with him, but I wouldn't budge--I wanted to be a police officer and had vowed to attend and excel in every class.

My friend eventually dropped out of school, and made more lousy choices, before changing. He worked his way back into a different school and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree. He is now married, has 2 kids, and is a VP at a manufacturing firm. It is funny how things pan out...

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunks,
I do think it helps when a family has a good background. I mean, maybe it all falls on deaf ears the first 100,000 times, but then it gets reinforced by real life. And people start growing into that early training.

Good parenting has to be the biggest knuckle-chewing experience of them all. Talk about bravery. I honor you for it.

Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.

Anonymous said...

There are lessons here I wish I had learned earlier in life.

Masterfully explained.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
I could say that about so many things--learning earlier. Still trying.

So, recently I have been thinking that people struggle within themselves so much and that issue looks like the main battle.

So then we don't understand why the things we do successfully are hard for others--or--

We don't understand why it's so easy for them but hard for us.

I don't know, that's what I'm thinking today.

Thanks for stopping by,
Ann T.