I don’t think anyone owes me anything. I think I deserve to reap the rewards of that for which I have worked. There have been times when I have needed assistance and there have been times when I have been a provider of assistance to others but, as a general philosophy, I believe in independence and creative thinking. I also believe in private charity and kindness to others in need and I know I live in a country that is populated by some of the most generous people in the world.
My parents, who were children of the Great Depression and young adults during World War II (my Dad served in the Royal Air Force), immigrated from England when I was 5 years old. They did this legally by following the requirements as set forth in the US immigration laws. The only help they received from anyone was a brother-in-law who agreed to be their “sponsor” and room and board (not for free!) provided for 11 months by my mother’s parents, who had immigrated three years earlier. They both worked full time during that 11 months and saved every spare penny so they could buy their own home, which they did.
- All they had when they moved into their little house was some second hand furniture, household goods they brought with them from England, and enough money set aside for passage back to England in case things didn’t work out for them in the US. They bought a refrigerator and a TV on layaway. They had no car and no washer and dryer. For the first year my mother walked about 3 miles, round trip, to use her sister’s washer and dryer. My father, an electrician, was allowed to take one of his employers old trucks home. I never heard either of them complain about what they didn’t have or make any comments to the effect that they were being treated unfairly if things didn’t go their way or were entitled to anything other than what their own honest efforts could yield. When they had been in this country long enough they applied for and were granted US citizenship and, since I was under the age of 12, I became a legally naturalized citizen
Over the next 38 years my father worked – often 6 days a week, 10-12 hours per day – first for other people, then to establish his own small electrical contracting company. During those years he also went to school at night (on his dime) to learn air conditioning and refrigeration and also to take annual required classes to keep his license. In his late 60’s he began to downsize his business to a one man operation and, at the age of 74, he retired.
It was important to both my parents that I have a stay at home mother so my mother didn’t work outside the home, although she became my father’s secretary/bookkeeper when he started his own business. It would have been much easier on them in those early years if she had earned money from a job outside the home but they had their own priorities and were willing to sacrifice to live by them. These days it seems that whenever I hear the word ” sacrifice” I often hear a lot of whining attached to it. My parents, and millions of other people in their generation, were not whiners. They both worked hard and honestly to build up my father’s business and they took great pride in what they accomplished.
So, I was raised to be honest, fair, to work for what I wanted and to take responsibility for my actions. I wasn’t allowed to blame others for my failures and mistakes – and that included teachers. My parents would have defended me against any kind of unfair treatment or abuse but, other than that, I was expected to figure out how to get along in the world. My mother was the major influence in my childhood because my father worked such long hours supporting his family but my father’s basic principles of hard work, integrity, honesty and treating people fairly became an important part of my fiber. My mother encouraged me to be an individual, be independent, and think for myself – she taught me to question authority, which, of course, didn’t always work in her favor. She was doing what any good mother should do and that is to teach her child how to be self-reliant; how to survive without her.
I realized when I was older and working in social services that I was very fortunate to have the parents and upbringing that I had because not everyone is so lucky. They were not wealthy so it’s not about money or material possessions – it is about the love and support they gave me and the example they showed of how to live a good life. As an adult I always knew I could go to my parents for help if I truly needed it but they had taught me, by example, the value of pride of accomplishment and being self-reliant and that has always been my preferred path. I think that is what a good government should offer – the environment for the individual to grow, thrive and succeed with the secure knowledge that assistance that is paid for by their tax dollars is available when they are unemployed, disabled, or made vulnerable by a natural disaster or even by old age. I never liked to be treated like a child by my parents and I don’t like that treatment from my government either.
My parents immigration story of hard work and success is not unusual – it has been and continues to be repeated millions of times. I believe at the core of all those success stories is a love of freedom and a belief that we are all personally responsible for our own destiny. You can be given opportunities and the tools to succeed but no one else can do the work for you. We are so blessed, as Americans, to live in a country where it is still possible to come here with nothing and build a good life for yourself and your family. Some people even start with nothing and become millionaires! We are also fortunate to live in a country that has a Constitution which protects our rights and a government that provides safety nets for its citizens in times of vulnerability but, the message I try to get across in my Confidence Clinics is that we each have a tremendous power at our disposal and that is the ability to create the life we want. With our own thoughts, creative energy, and actions we can do amazing things because we live in a country where anything is possible. As soon as you start blaming others or expecting others to do the work for you, you have given your power away.
Next time I’m going to write about what I have learned from adopting an old dog – and it has been a lot.