Or in this case, it might be me who felt like the other end of the horse, depends on how you look at it.
I picked up the kids last night and for whatever reason, we got on a discussion of how my oldest daughter is going into drama/theater/acting/writing/directing . . . whatever direction her dramatic career takes her. I’ve been fully supportive of this as: a) she’s very good at it; b) she is totally motivated and c) she knows what she’s getting into by entering the entertainment world. She’s fully aware that the meteoric rise to the top is neither likely (particularly for our family) nor healthy. The instant fame that has so many reality stars chasing more attention than work is dangerous and it’s also not my daughter.
We did discuss on how there’s a drive to make a mark on the world. She informed me she wants to get older and tick off all the things she’s done, and referenced that I’d done that . . . only to see how many things I’d never realized I’d accomplished or faced and how amazing it was. Yet, the drive isn’t to make the list, it’s in doing the things that get on it.
But we also talked about how this was never in her mother’s plans for her. Andrea, my wife, who passed away in 2011, had a tendency to do things that made her feel secure. The things that made her feel secure, though, all involved quick results with high risk and lots of money. The risk wasn’t what she craved, it was making a good amount of money. She felt that making money would make her safe and secure and make her happy. As a result, on a dime, she quit her job and went to pharmacy school. My kids all thought that was a simple, easy, wonderful thing about their mother.
“Mom worked hard to get through pharmacy school,” my middle daughter said.
“Well…she worked hard in pharmacy school,” I couldn’t help but say. “She didn’t work hard to get there.”
“What do you mean?”
This sounds harsh, I know it, and it wasn’t something I should have discussed in front of everyone, I know, but the kids also needed to know that I made mistakes; their mom made mistakes and nobody is perfect.
“Your Mom wanted to go to school so she enrolled. She never really discussed it with me, other than asking what I thought. I told her, we had a new house, a new baby, I just had a new job . . . we weren’t making a lot of money and her not working wasn’t going to be a good thing. She did it anyway.”
My kids were quiet.
“But I loved your Mom and wanted her to succeed. She liked the money she made as a pharmacist, but she liked being in college even more. So I worked at my TV job then I delivered newspapers at 2am every day and holidays. I gigged with the band, which she hated, but the three of us ate some months because of that gig money. There were times I was awake 30 or 40 straight hours just to make ends meet . . . and we didn’t make ends meet a lot of the time.”
My daughter looked up and asked “why?”
“Because when she went back to school you couldn’t get loans if you’d already graduated. So I had to pay for her to get her prerequisites and then her first year of Pharmacy school. It was really rough.”
My kids were all quiet. I should have stopped there, but . . .
“…and by the time we’d moved to Texas, she didn’t want to work full-time any more. She’d reached a point where the job stressed her out and it wasn’t fulfilling.”
“Because she wanted to be a reporter?”
“Well . . . yes, she did, but she admitted, even that was more because she liked being on TV, not because she liked telling stories. She wanted, again, to make money. Her father had told her that was what you did. He quit being a musician and stopped what he loved doing because he said it was best and just stopped. He was able to do that. I can’t. Neither could your mother, but she didn’t realize that early enough. Still . . . that’s why she didn’t want you, Abbi, to be in drama or me to play music . . . she thought it was frivolous and wasn’t success. Your grandpa, grandma, me . . . we all measure success, I hope anyway, in how happy you are. I see that makes you happy.”
One of my boys was quiet and meekly asked: “do you think Mom would have been upset with me wanting to do stop-motion movies?”
I knew I’d gone to far now. I took a deep breath and realized that you can’t criticize that much. For my wife’s faults, she had 10,000,000 benefits, and she would never have made the kids unhappy willingly.
“No, monkey, she wouldn’t have been upset at all. That’s why your Mom and I were married. I can tell you the things that were wrong, but at the end of the day, kiddo, she would have let you do what makes you happy. She might have harped on you here and there . . . but at the end of the day you should give what you want to do a shot. You can always do something else, but you can’t go through life miserable with your job or your work. You have to make a living, but nothing says you have to be miserable doing it.”
It wasn’t an attempt at appeasing my kids, I believe that. Andrea loved them, deeply, and she would never have consciously made them miserable.
“The reality is, kiddo, we don’t become parents just to make you do what we want. We want you to succeed. Your Mom wanted you to have a better life than she had. So do I, hard as that is. My life was pretty darn good. Your Mom wanted you to be successful and have all the things she always wanted. That’s all. Sometimes she didn’t do it the most casual way, but it was always because she loved you.”
The kids all agreed, too. The point was not to bad-mouth my wife. I loved her with all my heart. She wanted us to succeed and be happy. She succeeded, too. We are better off than we’ve ever been, five of us stumbling along the road . . . and we’re happy.