Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Legacy of our Fathers

In a culture with highly reinforced gender roles as is ours and has been for centuries, men were expected to provide a clear path for their families survival. Men were expected to teach their sons how to hunt or manage the flock and sons were expected to take up the bows, arrows and swords of their fathers, or learn from their fathers a traditional craft and direction for its use.

The fathers of the last generation were expected to pave the way for our future by providing the means with which we could afford an education. More than that, fathers were the expected role models for their sons, creating a legacy of tools for success as well as secret back entrances to the castles of opportunity, where the front doors of those palaces are bolted securely against the rest of the huddled masses.

The living fathers of my friends and distant relatives are well in their retirements, and basking in the glow of their healthy grandchildren. Their legacies constructed comfortably in ways that may protect them financially for many generations.

My father’s legacy for me was a precarious footpath shrouded in smoke and dimly lit along a precipice of extinction by the glint of shattered dreams and discarded bottles, leading directly to early pauper’s grave. I was forced from that path when I joined the military and found new mentors. For the rest of my time I scratched and clawed my way through life with no gain at all until finally my mother realized what should have been done so many years ago. She paid my way through college.

Now at age 43 I am finally a college graduate. It turns out that I’m not so stupid after all. I’m not the family member that failed anymore, I’m now the family member with evidence that points toward someone else as the cause of my problems.

My parents divorced when I was in the third grade at elementary school. Following that, my mother fully expected that I would still learn what I needed to know from my father. His business went bankrupt when he was the age I am now. Ironically, he and I both moved in with our mothers at or near the same age. In my case I was laid off and couldn’t find work to sustain my own home anymore.

He finally found a state government job, bought a condominium and was eventually forced to retire. He racked up credit card debt and finally drank himself to death. Would such be my legacy? Is that what is expected of me? Am I pushed toward that end by the expectations of others?

I’m left with the feeling that I have no path, yet I also see evidence of being pushed along the old one. I have a newly acquired education, but it may be too late to make a different path for a son, or even myself. This means that I will never marry because I refuse to perpetuate a legacy of failure. This branch will fall from the family tree never to bloom.

In reality, most of us scratch and claw our way through life and find ourselves at the end of a cattle ramp waiting for the final slaughter that comes in the form of taxes and funeral expenses, never having really lived at all, but only worked.

We find ourselves at the locked front gate of the castle every time we apply for a job because it was advertised in the classifieds, not because our father’s friends were making offers of employment. But remember, there are many more of us, and castles always have weaknesses.