Self-made

Do you think “outside the box”?  In other words, when you were a child were you chided for coloring outside the lines in a coloring book or for using “wrong” color crayons for subjects?  Did you ask a lot of questions? Were you someone who could ace your tests in school but were bored with rules, homework, and projects that “wasted” your time?   At work, do you get easily frustrated with the forms, chain of approvals, and eventual denial of your ideas for improving productivity?

Why is it that some of the best marketers and entrepreneurs came from humble beginnings, school dropouts and the like?  Perhaps these individuals are an anomaly.  Scholarly articles on the subject of entrepreneurship indicate that past success, “coloring outside the lines”, and stellar educational credentials predispose a person to be a successful entrepreneur,  it is not necessarily required to make a successful venture.    Some of the people I  am familiar with personally have built businesses though focused effort and personal ambition.  Yet many of today’s workers never achieve a level of comfort that is not mortgaged (homes,  cars, recreational vehicles).  We all become chained to our standard of living because of company health plans, steady paycheck and known, if not satisfying expectations.   Whatever happened to the people who threw everything they owned into a covered wagon and headed West into the undeveloped land in the 1800s?

What happened to the “American Dream”?

As one of the last Baby Boomers,  I have spent more than forty years. half in the military and half in the private sector, employed by someone else’s vision.  A year before I turn sixty,  I am wondering whether playing by “rules”, following the “Baby Boomer” model of (1) get a good education, (2a) join the military,  (2b) get a good job ,  and (3) through hard work and long working hours/effort  buy into the “American Dream”.  Is getting married, raising kids to have the same dreams, sending them to college; and retiring comfortably at some age around sixty or sixty-five still possible?  Somehow in the  past forty years, everything got more expensive,  taxes, fees,  and legal restrictions got ever-more difficult to compensate in order to obtain that retirement.  And so, for many, a second-income became necessary just to stay “even”.

Entrepreneurs are self-made

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was not born into wealth.  He was the son of a teenage mom, and adopted by his mother’s second husband (who had arrived from Cuba a few years earlier knowing only a few words in English).  He held a variety of jobs growing up.  Brilliant and obsessed to make a better life, he was a garage-inventor.  Perhaps the early struggles in his family, helped him focus on academic achievement, which in turn lead him to Princeton. When he decided later to follow his passion, it was then he founded what would become Amazon.   And we know how successful Amazon has become.

Richard Branson, son of an attorney in England, has childhood dyslexia.  He dropped out of school and at sixteen founded a music magazine.  The billionaire founder of the Virgin group began with money from that venture to found a music studio.   Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Corp, was a brilliant college dropout who created the company in his parent’s garage.  While Mark Zuckerberg attended Harvard after very impressive scholastic achievement, he certainly built Facebook from a combination of intellect and ambition.  Logan Green and John Zimmer , former college students, created the ride-sharing service from improvements they learned from a service Zimmer built to help college students get around via Craigslist and Facebook linking.

At the end of the Nineteenth Century,  my maternal great-great-uncle, Philip Ward, an impoverished immigrant from Belfast (then Ulster) Ireland, established a mail-order business ( Bullock and Ward), in Chicago and the Mid-West, a rival to Sears, Roebuck and J.C. Penneys.  It did well until the beginning of the First World War.   Other maternal Irish family forebears had built businesses in the linen trade and chocolates (confections) in Ireland that prospered up until the Second World War.   My paternal ancestors came to New York from Poland and became tradesmen and entrepreneurs, engineers and shopkeepers.

Members of my family and extended family have been motivated by necessity  as well as intellect to have successful careers.   A Registered Nurse and single mother who went to school, worked, and raised her children, excelling at each to create a balanced life.  Mothers who achieved position and higher income with the largest corporations to support their families.  Entrepreneurs and marketing trainers who helped a national network improve their businesses.   And  some have followed a path a little more  “outside the lines” to create opportunity for themselves and for others through a nationally recognized  network marketing firm.

Find your why

What sort of vacation have you taken this year?   What trade-off have you made to have that new(er) car so you can get to work?    How often have you used that 5th wheel in your driveway since you signed the payment plan?    What size apartment have you been limited to because of income?  Are you working harder and longer to pay for the child-care for your kids?  Do you spend more time ill or seeing a specialist than enjoying mid-life?

For me,  I have driven eighty (80) miles or more every work-day for eleven years to my employer.    And that employer pays me enough now, to pay for my home – small that it is – and my new used car, but also means that my wife also has to work very long hours to  pay our bills and hope for retirement someday.    We do not have a pile of money.  And the years spent in search of “retirement” is perhaps the motive for wanting something better.

 Finding “time and money”

The old saying about being able to have time OR money, but not both has certainly had some application in the second decade of the Twenty-first Century.   But the additional reality is that your Government will take its cut of whatever you do extra.    However, the way to continue to earn is through residual income. That is income that continues  and increases beyond your own effort and time to earn it.

And with health problems for the last twenty years, a focus on healthy living and exercise – so I can afford to “retire” and ENJOY it – are reasons I chose to get involved with Beach Body.   I’ve seen what a niece has built through diligent effort -hard work- over eight years, in that she overcame health issues, and can work from home – a home her business afforded herself and her husband, while being mom to her two kids.  And she has been actively involved helping about 1600 people through her business build income and better lives in the process.

Like everything else in life,  the amount of effort put into an education, a career, a business venture, or a personal life is directly responsible for the achievement.   In the military, just about everyone who maintains an “average” performance can retire after twenty years with an average stipend. But additional effort and preparation can result in someone being selected as a Chief Petty Officer.  And of those,  even more effort, preparation, and focus, someone may retire as a Senior Chief ( or Master Chief).   With effort, and single-minded focus, someone may achieve an Amazon,  an Apple, a Facebook.  or a Beach Body enterprise.    Or even the 6 AM commute, ten-hour day, and 5 PM commute home.

Entrepreneurs.   Work Ethic plus an American ( or Latino, Canadian or British) Dream.

I have to go.  I need to go workout.

If you want to know more about an opportunity to get healthier, or help your child who loves the gym but is working double-shifts all the time,  check out  BeachBody

 

Concert apart

The dictionary defines concert, so the director said Saturday night, as “a musical performance given in public, typically by several performers or of several separate compositions. (2) agreement, accordance, or harmony.” It was an opportunity to enjoy an evening with a thousand fans of symphony music. From the audience standing and singing the Star Spangled Banner to a medley of famous themes like the Sound of Music, the night and the performance were wonderful. And the point in the concert where the conductor asked military veterans to stand and be honored was wonderful.

The night was planned several weeks ago for our friends and us, to have dinner and enjoy the season-opening concert, San Diego Symphony at Bayside – on the waterfront downtown next to the Convention Center. The evening featured famous American composers and included masterful choral singing. Yet the night was unnecessarily in competition with a harbor cruise “party boat” going back and forth in the harbor all evening. While the symphony conductor was the picture of grace and civility, the operator, just offshore of our venue, was deliberately negligent, blaring the distracting beat, “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum” over and over, and over again. The conductor made light of it, and yet many of my fellow veterans in the audience (from 20 to 80 years in age) were visibly ready to form a boarding party.

It was a great metaphor for the “endangered species” of civility – particularly in America in 2018. On the way home by trolley, a young person zigged and zagged to step in front of us “old people” ( I spent 4 seconds before inserting my card in the ticket-dispensing machine) to try to get her trolley ticket first (until I harrumphed and she demurred). On social media, a person makes a comment both insulting the fans and actually containing some painful truth, of a particular topic (politics), and gets his (insert characteristic here) questioned. But the comment was deliberately meant to provoke anger.

frowny_face

I regularly encounter both Prius and BMW drivers who act as though they are the most important dignitaries on the road -tailgating, careening across lanes – to get two car lengths ahead – in rush hour. When I hold a door open as a courtesy for females (as I do for males) even among my workmates, there is a occasionally a woman under thirty who seems irritated that I did so. But age is not a predictor of civility. I see men my age with yard signs or bumper stickers that declare other human beings idiots, criminals or ignorant. It is common now for people to pick “sides”. There is no tolerance for differing opinion. And there is no standard where dialogue has to be reasoned, calm, and well-supported by easily (verified (and unbiased) observers.

How do we revert to civility norms?

I think that this decline in civility has both been inflamed by social media as well as our education system. For fifty years we have groomed people to believe they have the right to say what they want without consequences. A Utopian desire for harmonious acceptance, order, and a pain-free existence for everyone everywhere is not through government control.  Either some are forced (Constitutional guarantees are repressed by power-brokers; disagreement is labelled “hate speech”) or are bribed (“living wage” increases worker support, recipients of “public assistance” are encouraged to remain on the “dole”) to be obedient, and the result is a lack of civility toward those who have different views.

One christian’s viewpoint

Most among the secular world see the faulty application of Christian theology by many as evidence of a faulty theology rather than faulty human beings.  Any government that promotes officially-sanctioned multiple languages, cultural norms, legal precepts, and political ideologies, is not elevating civility among dis-unified people but instead further isolating individuals and groups into opposing factions. History is full of these lessons. “Balkanization” is a term where multiple ethnic, religious, linguistic, and religious fracturing is present. The first World War all the way through the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslav (Balkan) states in the 1990s were due to this fracturing. Fear and paranoia of people who will not assimilate is thousands of years old.  But governments that accommodate the noisy separatists and neglect the “deplorables”, risk permanent balkanization.  It has been the national identity, as “Americans” regardless of all the other factors, that has maintained unity in the United States since the Nineteenth Century.  The resurgence of socialism in American culture, in the absence of a truly spiritual understanding of brotherhood, respect, looking after the ill and the truly desperate, leading a peaceful existence and having a strong work ethic, is not going to achieve a concert in America or elsewhere.

Secular proposals to restore civility in America

Americans can try to restore a civil culture through man-made effort.   But how do people restore civility?

  1. Restore ONE NATION: Celebrate our diversity in ethnic heritage but unify everyone who comes here – through the established immigration policies – to become AMERICAN. Stop using hyphen american in all our identifiers.
    1. Establish ONE language.  All business, education, judicial dealings, social interaction should be performed in English.  Teach different idioms and language, but everyone who wants to be a resident must read, write and speak English in everyday situations.  Make it mandatory to pass an oral and written exam within 24 months of arrival – with intent to remain – to reside in the United States, and become a citizen.  Make the language a requirement to obtain any public assistance.
    2. Restore the ONE culture. Quit the divisiveness of public – and public-funded institutions promoting ethnic separatism.  Whatever color, race, creed, or political leanings,  celebrate differences in the context of making the “melting pot” better.
    3. Prohibit any public official or lobbying group on behalf of any non-citizens, extra-national allegiances, from campaigning to support non-citizens, foreign governments, or business interests seeking to change immigration policies without a national vote.
  2. Restore GOD and belief in a Creator as acceptable teaching. Permit use of public property for the exercise of religion as with any other use.  Get government out of the Belief business.
    1. Spiritual beliefs that do not contradict the good order an unity of a nation, are not legally barred.
    2. Atheism does not trump the rights of others to practice their spiritual beliefs in private or in public spaces.
    3. Non-government employers and places of employment that express particular religious beliefs cannot be forced through legal redress to change policies (adding “abortion coverage” to a health plan for an employer that publicly “pro-life”).  Employment conditions are still voluntarily accepted by both parties – employer and employee.
    4. Public (government) employees are barred from expressing support for, or opposition to, insulting, belittling, or deriding a particular religious belief.
    5. The judicial branch of government only decides whether an action violates the law, not whether it is moral, ethical, proper, or the “intent” of the law-makers
  3. No elected official can refuse to enact voter-approved legislation that does NOT
    1. cause physical harm to individuals or groups
    2. bar individuals or groups from activities that do not seek to cause harm (violence, rebellion) or deny others their human rights
  4. No institution of government can be used to manipulate public information, sentiment, or coerce support for a particular national political entity in power. This also means no institution of government can be manipulated to deny another political entity the fair and equal opportunity in elections.
  5. No entity or institution serving the national interest – media service, local, state or national educational institution (public or privately-funded) can bar exercise of the Constitutional “freedom of speech”.
    1. Civility is a voluntary ideal but some focused practices could improve civility:
      1. Practice, starting in the home, schools, and social organizations  that disagreement with the policies of a government official does not condone any action, outburst, or display abusing that office.
      2. Accept the outcome of elections.  Bring change through the ballot box.
      3. Public figures or celebrities should not incite street protests and violence against law enforcement and other public safety officers.
      4. Leaders of religious orders should promote peaceful doctrines, respect for authority, and practices among their adherents.
      5. Engaging in personal attacks on or inciting abuse of the family members of a government official should be restrained by peers and not promoted as entertainment by media business, celebrities, and public officials.

 

What has “comfort zone” to do with “success”?

In the United States Navy,  and by extension, the other military services,  an individual has fairly equal opportunity to rise up the advancement ladder, and to qualify for challenging assignments.    Leadership, as practiced by some I have had the great fortune to be mentored by, has been recognized by their being awarded positions among the highest authority and responsibility in that service.   By mentorship I mean, demonstrating integrity,  fortitude (in spite of personal hardships), a commitment to excellence and encouraging others to reach beyond “comfort” in doing.

“Every Sailor has the potential to lead. I don’t care if it’s a seaman recruit or someone higher ranking than myself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. ” (All Hands Call, Norfolk, VA 01 May 2007)

 

“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other in dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself; while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
LTG John M. Schofield, 1879

Ask people whether they have a dream visceral enough they want accomplished.  Material possessions,  security, education, or a deeply-committed and loving marital relationship.   Then ask those same people if they were willing to do whatever it took, in terms of work,  being sleep-deprived, learning difficult lessons, memorizing, practicing, enduring criticism and overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams.   Fewer might push on.  Of that reduced number,  how many would endure whatever life handed them in the pursuit of that dream, as days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years?   Fewer perhaps.  In an article in Forbes,  a contributor has published eight traits to predict future success.  These include delaying gratification, being seriously motivated and organized, believing that they make the choices which affect their outcomes, and having fortitude during adversity.   Predictably, past success leads to future success.

To achieve “success”,  whatever that may be in terms of the dreams one has,  requires steadfast devotion.   Integrity.  Mental and physical toughness.   And determination that there is no “giving up or giving in”.   It may be an enlisted member’s goal to become an Officer or senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO).  For others, it might be to earn membership into the ranks of the SEALs.   The few Navy warriors who complete the BUDS training to become SEALs achieve their first qualifier.  Training continues from there.  Other services have their special forces as well.

But it can also be the single mother who is raising three young children,  in school for a professional certification, who then cares for her children,  studies all night, and maintains the family chores all at the same time.  And excels.    Or it can be the aging sailor with a dream to become a Chief Petty Officer who  commits to every training session,  early morning fitness challenge, seeks, finds and puts into practice the guidance from others with decades of leadership expertise.

“Success” can be the married young engineer, father of two, one a newborn, who spends time with his children and wife at those critical “family-building” times.  Yet he is working early or into late hours, and finding innovative and productive solutions to technical challenges simultaneously.

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19: 28 -29 (NIV)

And then there are the spiritually-rewarding opportunities that define “success”.  The young graduate of a university with a business degree, sought by several businesses, who voluntarily goes to aid the victims of a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian earthquake), as an unpaid volunteer for a charitable organization,  finds a mission and a calling that becomes a career.

“A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.”  –Richard Branson

Many of the most-recognized entrepreneurs today did not find instant reward and acceptance when they began.  Whether it was Ray Kroc and McDonalds,  or  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple,  or my company’s CEO, Mark Dankberg and his team,  it took determination, confidence,  a pursuit of excellence, and vision for the people they attracted, and the customers they served.  But each built multi-billion dollar, world-changing enterprise.

Do you have the integrity, the guts, and the desire to improve others with a dream you want to achieve.  Are you willing to get out of your “comfort zone” to achieve them?

a motto for marriages

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2: 1 – 4

Your spouse did not come in your seabag

Up through the late 1980s,  the military services did not yet offer the kind of training and support that married service members need.   When training was introduced,  the first programs were the ombudsman that informed the unit commanders about the family support systems for the military members in their unit.   Classes through the Family Service Centers in life basics, credit, budgeting, child-rearing, shopping, nutrition, and employment opportunities for the military spouse started a little more than two decades ago.

Is marriage outdated?

For 2017,  the U.S. Government (CDC) issued these statistics for marriage and divorce in the United States:

Number of marriages: 2,245,404
Marriage rate: 6.9 per 1,000 total population
Number of divorces: 827,261 (44 reporting States and D.C.)
Divorce rate: 3.2 per 1,000 population (44 reporting States and D.C.)

One-quarter as many divorces as weddings in 2017!   While divorce statistics have declined a bit, the number of people cohabiting and not getting married may be part of the statistics.  And what factors contribute to divorce?   Without going into the data,  it is probably the same things that people all say – financial difficulties, different goals and attitudes, infidelity,  mental or physical abuse,  health issues, and so on.   People whether gay or straight, and if examined, probably in any other country,  have the same issues.  A lack of common, unifying principles, beliefs, or values that treat each person with  respect and  worth.

The recipe for a failing marriage is actually based on our human nature.  Take two self-interested emotional people and put them legally together.  Remove intimacy,  common goals, and a support network of family and friends.  Add long separations due to the nature of the military job, a culture that is generally foreign to a civilian spouse, and the dangers that any day,  a training accident or hostile action can mean a complete life change for either person in a marriage.

Semper fidelis is not just a Marine motto

Always faithful.  Regardless of someone’s spiritual understanding or lack of one,  there are means to learn how to not merely survive, but thrive as a married couple.  It does take effort and common goals of both persons – daily – to have a successful marriage.  And it is not enough to be a member of the same spiritual, ethnic, or career community either.  It is the commitment to learning, practicing what one learns, treating one another with respect and love and honoring your vows.

Self-paced training

This week, our fellowship in church began a series of lessons from a book by Dr. Gary Smalley,  If Only He Knew, for husbands and for wives, For Better or Best.    The married men began with lessons on checking our tongue, by not spouting off sarcasm about things that irritate us,  and not sharing your “fix it” strategies when your spouse is sharing her frustrations and needs.  These only serve to alienate our children and spouses at home, and those attitudes can also negatively impact your work environment.

A second part of the introductory workshop covered protecting our spouse physically, emotionally, her honor, financially, and with sound principles.  To which were also included our spiritual involvement.  A husband should provide a safe and secure home by regular upkeep or maintenance.  Vehicle maintenance, especially with working spouses is also part of that physical protection.  Emotionally, we should learn to recognize the signs when our spouse is burdened.  Sometimes, husbands can neglect the shared responsibilities for childcare and home.   For most of our spouses who also have careers, this can be overwhelming. It is also a fact that many people suffer chronic depression, so recognizing the symptoms and seeking care for a spouse may be a responsibility of the husband.

Protecting a spouse from negative attitudes or disrespectful comments by other family members is protecting her honor.  Financially,  husbands need to protect our spouses – whether or not they are a two-income family- by setting sound financial goals, spending habits, communication and mutual agreement.  Too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” spending more than their income each month.   And then there are the sins that plague us as men – greed, lust, selfishness, envy, and arrogance or pride that if we men do not actively control – or apologize when something occurs – they can ruin our marriages.

Additional study

The first book  I read on the subject of developing a vibrant marriage was  Strengthening Your Marriage, by Wayne Mack which I bought a few months before I got married eighteen years ago.  This was the basis of a class that friends of ours, married then six years, taught us starting while we were engaged and then for  several months into our marriage.   In a future blog post, I will summarize the lessons from this book.

Over nearly two decades, our church has held several “marriage workshops” for members and invited guests.   The principles that the speakers have shared  cover the mistakes that even biblically-centered couples made.  And the successful application of the principles in this article’s biblical quote.  While I know that Christian couples who do not actively work at the principles for a strong marriage can fail,    I am aware of couples married for decades who do not attend church but with the help they got and the lessons they learned from biblical principles and these sorts of helpful books and seminars,  grew closer to each other and to God.

Scoundrels, Sailors, and even a spy

Only in America would circumstances bring a first generation Polish-American Jew and a Scot-Irish Protestant together, fall in love and marry.   My parents met in New York City; I was born in San Jose, California. What little I knew of my father’s family, particularly my grandfather’s story,  began with his fondness for fisherman style caps, and a Russian phrase I later learned was a soldier’s response to orders given.   Only from clues from my aunt and searching the internet, was I able to tie a few of them together.

Since my Polish grandfather and his betrothed came to the United States through Canada in the early 1920s,  I can only imagine he learned the Russian if conscripted by the Bolshevik Army after the Revolution. They occupied part of Poland in those days.  He obviously escaped and made it to New York City becoming a U.S. citizen and finding work as a shipfitter at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.    I am particularly grateful, as I might have been Italian-American and an Army veteran, as my mother was previously very smitten with an Italian-American soldier,  given several pages of photographs and a few old letters I found after her death.   Then how would I have ever obtained the wife I have and become a retired crusty Senior Chief?   Like my eldest son today,  I am not great at marching nor am I particularly suited to running miles in combat boots.

My mother’s ancestors in Northern Ireland were mainly merchants and businessmen in the flax or finished linen industry.  In Scotland, some were town leaders (burgesses), maintained order, were metal workers, or were in the ministry.  However, in almost every generation going back to the early Sixteenth Century an ancestor served in the military, was involved in combat or insurrection, or had some colorful story that was almost lost to history.  One fought the British Army in a late-Eighteenth Century uprising in Ireland.   Some forebears served in the British Army,  some died in Colonial America, and some went to Australia.   While the British Empire exiled folks there centuries ago, it probably was due to military service or to seek one’s fortune.  And some others went to sea.  There is a story of  James Blaw,  a ship’s surgeon,  who was shipwrecked in the South Pacific and subsequently rescued, whom I identified from accounts digitized and made available online.

While my mother’s family line spent three hundred years in Ireland, they came from  Culross and Dunfermline, Scotland.    It was only due to the second son emigrating to Ulster in the 1600s  (and changing the spelling of his surname)  since it was his elder brother who inherited property.    But James Blow, as Scottish printer’s apprentice and then in Belfast, partner, who was to make the greater mark in family history.   It was his firm that printed one of the very first English Bibles in Ireland.

But our family is not without its scoundrels – or spies.  While descendents of the Ulster Blow  family pursued careers in the military, or life at sea, or emigrated to other lands of the British Empire,  a Scottish curmudgeon,  the printer’s elder brother,  John Blaw, was a courier and spy for Bonnie Prince Charlie, who at that time was exiled in France.

After that attempt to mount a return of the Jacobites failed, it seems Blaw, who never was the businessman his brother was, ended his days as a mean drunk.  After a bar fight -he was in his sixties at the time – he was imprisoned and tried for murder of another pub patron.   He apparently was also a horrible provider for his family.   After his conviction and execution,  his widow sold much of the family possessions.   And his granddaughter and her husband – a descendent of the trial prosecutor – sold the family estate.

Another ancestor of my mother,  sent out to live with a relative, settled in the early Nineteenth Century South, eventually founding banks and railroads.  Even after the Civil War and ReConstruction,  he died a millionaire.   However, his Scotch-Irish relations from Ulster swooped in and “appropriated” investments.  News clippings detailed scandal, the deceased’s questionable marriage, and a missing will.  In hindsight some of my forebears were indeed scoundrels.   But others served honorably. There is one commemorated on a wall in the Belfast City Hall,  to those who died in combat.  Flanders, Belgium during World War I.

Other family branches came to America.  Two from different families served with distinction during the Second World War.  One’s service was shrouded in secrecy- probably in Army Intelligence – he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Another relation, serving in the Merchant Marine, was awarded for gallantry during a fierce battle of Malta.   I never met him in person, but he wrote me a recommendation to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.  He is commemorated at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York.

My father was never in uniform, but he was a defense contract engineer on integral projects for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Department of Defense.  He helped design the C-5A Galaxy aircraft in the 1960s and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.   I may have found it easier to enter the Navy field that subsequently has given me a lifelong career due to a long family history of service.

this land (and sea)

In pre-war (WWII) Northern Ireland, the businesses that my grandfather inherited and ran made a sufficient income to have a generally comfortable middle class living;  in the post-war economy, those businesses collapsed and they were forced to emigrate, with little option but to start over.  My grandfather found work selling insurance and wanted his daughters to work as bookkeepers or in such work.   Mom applied, was accepted, and ultimately graduated at the top of her nursing class at Mount Sinai Hospital.

My father, son of a Polish immigrant, was born and grew up in the Bronx;  he excelled in school and ultimately pursued aerospace and mechanical engineering at college.  His, too, was an act of desperation.  My grandfather was a shipfitter at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during WWII.  He and my grandmother ran a small bakery for a time.  When my grandmother passed away relatively young – my grandfather was a restaurant -equipment repairman.   My dad had to excel in a profession to make his way.

 

Life was always complicated in America.  It went through successive struggles of growth, industrial expansion, war, and immigration open to the world.  Through the centuries, Dutch, English, German, Irish, Italian, and eastern Europeans (Slavs) arrived from the East.  Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and all over came via the West.   They came as Protestant, Catholic, Jew.  The came as indentured servants, slaves and refugees.  African-Americans after the Civil War spread out from the South to the  urban Mid-West and Northeast.  Before the influx of immigrants from the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia, life was quite complicated,  and particularly so after a World War.  The Cold War, Viet Nam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have colored the last 75 years of the American psyche.

It was no less complicated since the 1960s.  In my lifetime, I have personally practiced in elementary school for impending nuclear attack.  I heard the unusual reports of someone in high school bringing a firearm.   Metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs in schools and public places.  School mass-shootings.   A President in office while an Islamist revolution held American diplomats hostage for more than a year.  The first World Trade Center bombing.  September 11, 2001, in which a mentor and friend was murdered by terrorists using a commercial aircraft as a weapon.

The late Woodie Guthrie, folk singer, wrote a song that we sang as schoolchildren in California in the 1960s.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.
I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.