As I look around, look back, and look forward, I see many more things for which to be thankful than I see things that are detractors in my life. I have made it a decade past a half-century of life and feel grateful for--especially--these last 10 years... But it all started with a couple of young college students at George Williams College in Chicago in the post-World War II boom in America.
I was the second child born into my family. This is not, in itself, unusual among families with multiple children--someone has to be second...lol. In my case, though, I am not only the second child but also the oldest surviving child. You see, I had a sister--Caroline Martha--who was born 18 months before me but lived only a few hours. I have two younger sisters--Nancy and Suzi--both of which I am proud for their own accomplishments and tenacity; yes, I am the only boy in the family 😎 and even have the only son between among the five children of me and my siblings!
My parents were good parents. My father was a social worker by trade and my mother was a physical education teacher. I suppose that is where my philosophy of service became ingrained in my life. My mother became a stay-at-home mom after I was born, but had activities in which she participated--she started a "Newcomers" ladies bowling league for women to get to know other women in the area, especially for those who moved into the surrounding neighborhoods. She was an avid supporter of school activities throughout my life, always making the time to be involved in my education. She taught me a love of learning--a love that I still have today.
She was always there whenever I needed her, without fail, and always encouraging to me. I
had the misfortune of having to bid her farewell in 1985, when she passed away from breast and lung cancer--something that is so very much survivable today 😢. I remember taking emergency leave from the Navy while she was in the hospital for treatments--with every day that I spent there, she grew a little stronger--her little boy was back home. Six weeks later, however, while on a detachment to Scotland, I was flown home for her memorial service--she was finally at peace. My father told me that her last weeks were filled with love and that he spent a lot of time by her bedside...she had family every day until the Lord brought her back home. [NOTE: The photo of my mother in her wedding gown is my favorite. It hangs inside the entryway to our house as a reminder every day of her.]
My father was--and always will be--my mostest hero. He taught me a love of sports--golfing and bowling. He introduced me to the world of work and the importance of a strong work ethic. He was always willing to spend time with me to help me learn about life, whether it was learning the "best way" to mow the lawn (yes, one of my "chores," although once I was able to do the whole yard by myself, he never had to mow it anymore and I was glad for that).
My father was a social worker, first working at a YMCA in Little Rock, Arkansas, where my mother taught at a local school, and then later running the Chatham YMCA on 83rd Street on the South Side of Chicago. It was there that he met some of his life-long friends, including George Stevenson (a former Harlem Globetrotter) and Ernie Banks (also
known as "Mister Cub"), who came to the YMCA to do free clinics for neighborhood kids during the off-season--a real role model for the kids to emulate! It is where he helped me start learning to swim and yet another way that he showed me the value of every person, regardless of race--a principle I hold dear to this day and I have friends, acquaintances, and colleagues from a multitude of races, ethnicity, religions, and backgrounds around the world.
His last year at the YMCA, my father was a "loaned executive" to the Chicago Crusade of Mercy (now United Way). He loved it so much that he retired from the YMCA and eventually became Director for Corporate Gifts at the United Way of Metro Chicago. Offered a promotion to Vice President, he turned it down--he did not want the added stress of what his boss had to do--nor the politics--and remained in his position until retiring years later, about 5-6 years following my mother's passing.
I hope that I am able to pass on to my daughter and son the values that my parents instilled in me. To be sure, it is a different time, a different age, and concepts like respect for parents and the importance of family have been diluted by "do your own things," modern youth entitlement, and a lack of respect for boundaries and laws in America. It is my hope that my
grandchildren will be able to learn good qualities from my children--things that they have learned as they grew into adults and became professionals in their own right. My daughter already has a daughter who she teaches these boundaries, importance of learning, and respect.
Finally, the legacy that I carry on from both my parents is that of service. My grandfather (mother's father) served in World War I. My father and uncles all served in World War II in the Army, Army Air Corps, and Navy. My mother served as a teacher.
Because of that, I always had a respect for our military--even during the Vietnam Era, when it was unpopular, which I could not understand and still do not condone. I chose to serve in the Navy, which I did for three decades, from the Cold War to the Wars of Terror. Today, I continue to serve with Disabled American Veterans, hopefully being able to help our Veterans with their transition to the civilian world (yuck, IMHO) and receive the benefits they and their families have earned through their service and sacrifice. I continue to learn, from formal education to learning from the experiences of colleagues and friends.
And it all started with two young college students falling in love...