Remember your Roots

In my latest Blog post I discussed “the things that I’m most grateful for from 2021”. However, soon after posting the piece, I realized I made a grievous omission, which I intend to now add to the long list of things I’m grateful for. I can’t believe that I forgot to include my Parents.

Some of you have noted that I have an interesting personality. I don’t really know what you think of me (hard to know how people see you), but I have an idea. If I’m not mistaken, you may marvel (or perhaps grimace) at my ability to effortlessly toggle between being serious and logical and just outright silly. They may note that I’m “fairly” decent keeping things organized. Though my intellect and organizational skills pale in comparison to my parents, I do possess a bit of a hybrid mix of my mothers knack for planning and organization and my fathers propensity for logic. My Dad’s tough upbringing made him tougher. And he has a seriousness to him born of a man who has seen terrible consequences result from simple mistakes. Mistakes that he worked hard to keep my brothers and I from making. Oh, and he’s literally the smartest person I know. My father is that guy who can pretty much untangle the most complex issue and break it down into neat airtight logical chunks. But he also has a quirky sense of humor and he’s just fun. Such a great dad to us. As for my mother, I think she could have single-handedly orchestrated the entirety of the Apollo Program. I am of course my own person, but the impression my parents had (and continue to have) on me are part of what makes me who I am.

While I flippantly suggest that I’m not afraid of anything, my father has actually been to hell and back. The man simply has had a difficult life, and he’s handled it about as well as anyone could. The youngest of 4, my father was born into poverty. As a child his family moved about as frequently as the debt collector came around. His drunkard father left the family before he ever knew him and ended up dying as the result of a fire. My Dad’s mother, who struggled mightily to make ends meet was simply too overworked to be around much. Often left to their own devices, my Dad and his siblings had many, shall say, “adventures”. I can only imagine how being the youngest child in that situation must have resulted in some quarrelling, that more than likely resulted in his “torment”. As a result, my father developed a fiery self-reliance.

When my father was still just a young boy, his already beleaguered family had to endure another horrible tragedy. His then 16 year old brother was in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the waste down. Through all the difficulty, and without the benefit of a father figure to guide him, my dad managed to make the good decision to go to college. Only, he had to pay his own way through. He earned degree in Physics from the College of William and Mary. My Mom and Dad met and got married while my Dad was still in College.

My mother was the 2nd child in a family of four. She also had a difficult upbringing. Her father was not really engaged with his children in much of a meaningful way. Worse, he was short tempered and (as for as I know, only verbally) abusive to my Mom’s Mom, my Mom, and her siblings. As a result, my Mom was basically raised in large part by her oldest sibling, her Sister Debbie. As it was much less common for females to go to college in those days, she didn’t attend higher education. But she should have. With her organizational skills, my mother could have fit in easily with the best logisticians or planners. Trust me, having herded my Dad (the ringleader) and my 2 brothers and I through our upbringing, she could have managed just about anything. When she married my Dad, he received the greatest gift he could ever get.

As the oldest, I was born while my Dad was still in College. My middle and youngest brothers followed in turn with a few years between. When I was still a young boy, my Uncle, my dad’s paralyzed brother, took his life. I can’t imagine the pain this must have caused my grandmother, and my Father. My Dad’s mother also passed away when I was fairly young after a difficult bout with cancer.

Despite their challenging upbringings and continued difficult times, my Mom and Dad were great parents. As my brothers and I grew up, they were always very supportive and involved. Not surprisingly, my Father has had a great career. His first 20 years spent doing interesting and important work for NASA, the final half of his career has been at Jefferson Lab helping facilitate ground breaking research at the Particle Accelerator there. He’s really the one who inspired me to pursue engineering. I think my unique form of stubbornness comes from him as well. My Mom was (and still is) a caring Mother. The older I get, the more I appreciate them both. Also, the more I realize how much they protected my brothers and I, nurtured and guided us, provided such a safe environment for us to grow up in. So amazing given these are things that they themselves did not enjoy. Finally, they are great grandparents for my kids.

Unfortunately, as good as they were at being supportive parents, my middle brother surprised all of us one day by walking out on the family. To make a long story short, my brother and his wife had a disagreement with my parents. The issue wasn’t really even that big of a deal (I can’t even remember what it was now), but It escalated far beyond what it should have. But to our great surprise, it resulted in my brother swearing he would never have anything to do with our parents again. He’s kept his promise for what must be at least 10 years now. Obviously this is a source of immense pain for my mother and father.

My Mothers big Sister Debbie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a number of years back now. Unfortunately, she’s not doing very well. I’m sure it’s a source of pain for my Mom to watch her sister struggle with this disease, and worry about me.

In short, I have really awesome parents that have had to endure plenty of hardship. Parents that worked hard to guide my brothers and I down a path to success. Parents that managed to carve out a better life for my brothers and I than they themselves had. I have every reason to be thankful for them. Only, my gratitude for them them isn’t limited to 2022. I will always appreciate and love them!

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