My mother and father were married for eight years. For all eight of those years my dad went to work every day, they purchased a car, bought a house in a good neighborhood with some help from my mother’s parents, they had 2.5 kids, they fought for their part of the American Dream. During those eight years they sat down at the end of each week and took a look at the bills and the money coming in, they wrote checks and if it was a good week we all got in the car and went to McDonald’s for dinner. That was making it for a young family in America in the late 70’s, early 80’s—own a home, pay your bills and maybe have enough money to go to McDonald’s at the end of the week.
I never wanted the life my parents lived. I never wanted to live in the suburbs; I didn’t want to fight so damn hard chasing a dream that even at eight, I questioned; I sure as hell didn’t want to end up divorced and have to start over again. It’s supposed to be every parent’s dream that their children live a better life than the one which they live, it’s every child’s right to reject that life. I wanted to move to the city, I wanted excitement, I wanted the exotic, I wanted sophisticated parties and nightlife. Damn right I wanted a better life than my parents. For me, a lot of that was tied to where I lived, how I lived and with whom I lived.
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I live right outside the city, so close to it that the rest of my family who still live in the suburbs constantly tell me there’s no difference between the city and where I’ve chosen to live. I own a home. I own two cars. My son eats McDonalds whenever we choose for him to eat it. We have satellite TV. I’m not divorced. By all estimates I’m living a better life than my parents. And yet…and yet…I’ve got to tell you from where I’m standing this isn’t making it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these sort of things because of the Republican primary and all the conversations taking place on the evening news and radio and newspapers about where we are as a country, a people and whose ideas are best to lead us to that golden city on a hill. As Bob Dylan said, I don’t need a weatherman to know everyone running is full of crap and couldn’t give a hill of beans about me. Their America doesn’t exist. In their America I’m not even a factor. I’m a liability. They’ve chosen to ignore me. I don’t make enough money to be rich, I don’t make too little money to qualify for their social aid programs they’re so anxious to take away. I am the barely functional middle class. I go to work every day, I almost pay all my bills, I have no credit card bills, I’m a schmuck in their book. Their world, their America disgusts me. I’m supposed to be a quiet consumer. I live better than my parents in their estimation so I should just shut up.
I see it in their eyes, there is a firm disgust when they look about me. In their opinion I don’t have the drive to be one of them, to view people as a currency, to understand that some people have to fail for others to succeed. I don’t believe the world is a better place when we keep just a little more money for ourselves by denying others basic needs like healthcare because they can then take a portion of their generated wealth and donate it to a free care fund. I don’t think that outlawing marriage to one group of people makes the bonds of my marriage stronger. Because I don’t agree with their vision of utopia I’m not a part of their America.
I’ve kind of rambled here. What’s my point? If this is making it, if being able to go to a fast food restaurant and own the basic requirements of life—a car, a house, etc is making it then there’s something wrong with where we are as a people. My parents were viewed as a couple on their way up, struggling but damn it, they were scraping out their part of the American Dream. My whole life, that dream has been not dying it’s been decaying. The fact that I acknowledge the smell when I crawl past the graveyard bothers these people running for office and their supporters. That I have the ability to see the stains on the aprons they wear in the Eisenhower kitchens while cooking for their families enrages them. This isn’t what I signed up for though and I don’t think it’s what most my age believed they were getting themselves into. The system is broke and it needs fixed. It’s time to begin the conversation about what now, how do we move to a new stage where more people don’t view the American Dream as dead and decayed, how do we engage my son so he gets to live a better life than me and gets to enjoy the life, not kill himself on a wheel fighting to keep the whole thing from tumbling around down around him? When I write these columns I don’t usually know where I’m headed until I’m there. This is one of those times. My point for the ramblings this week is to get everyone to think about how we can create a better world for our kids. It sure as hell isn’t in the campaign stops of the Republican candidates. It isn’t in the halls of congress. It seems pretty simple to me but no one has listened so far. The stakes are too high now, someone better listen soon.