- They had six children and a seventh -- me -- about to be born. That's Seven. I have no children.
- They had to scrimp and save every penny to put food on the table. My wife and I both make very comfortable livings and, while not rich, rarely worry about paying the bills.
- They were devout Catholics. I do not participate in any religion at all.
- They ate out -- with all seven kids, mind you -- maybe once every few months. Getting ice cream after church or pizza from Shakey's was a Major Event. My wife and I eat out very often.
- My mother had severe chemical depression that went undiagnosed for years while my father was manic-depressive and an alcoholic; they had nowhere to turn to for help with their medical and psychological demons. While Annie and I each have our issues, we have been able to get good, professional, medical and psychological help dealing with them and, more importantly, we live in a time when seeking such help is acceptable.
- My parents lived in a very typical suburban type of neighborhood, where their kids knew all the neighbors, they all went to the same schools, etc. We live in the middle of the country with very few neighbors at all.
- My parents never had pets in the house. We have nothing but pets everywhere you look.
- My parents' home was filled with laughter and anger, cheering and crying, tickling and fighting, and all of the other thousands of sounds seven children can generate. Our home is quiet most of the time, and the sound we hear most often is our own voices or that of the characters on TV.
- My parents were partners, but the partnership was of a very certain kind -- Mom took care of the house and the kids while working as a full-time secretary, Dad went out and tried to bring home money, spending a lot of time out drinking and carrying on while Mom was trying to keep things rolling on the home front. Annie and I are also partners, but I do a lot of things my father would have scorned while Annie is outside shoveling manure, grooming animals, hauling hay, you name it.
But then, aren't we all? We are neither our parents nor our siblings, neither our friends nor our neighbors. We're the accumulation of thousands of decisions, large and small, that somehow, without us even noticing most of the time, wash us up on shore somewhere downstream. We emerge every now and then, wet and blinking and wondering how in the world we got there, usually just long enough to catch our breath before being dragged downstream by life again, hurtling towards a destination that we cannot imagine.
I've made different choices than my parents made and, while I am very happy with my life, part of me will always wonder "What if". What if I had seven kids, or what if I struggled with addiction, or faced any of the myriad of other challenges they did. Would I handle it as well? Would I look back decades later and be proud of how things turned out like they could?
And what if they, 36-years both, could open a window into my life now? Would they find it as full and satisfying as I do, or would they see me as sad and cut off from too many other people? Would they feel jealousy at our freedom or sorrow at our constraints?
I don't know, because I am not the person my parents were. I can only hope to make them proud of the man I am becoming.