This is a truly challenging assignment for me. I don’t think I have much of a support system, nor do I want one. My first and primary support system was my parents. I grew up in an upper middle-class home. My Dad was an optometrist. But he was also heavily involved in youth sports programs as a mentor and we grew up playing baseball, basketball, bowling, and even a little golf. This exposure to sports was a critical part of my evolving support system. I have spent many hours playing sports, both formal (leagues) and informal (pick-up games). I have won and lost thousands of times. I have many people that I consider to be friends as a result of sports. My father, by way of sports taught me to persevere and to be resilient.
Both my father and mother had high expectations of us, academically. I remember pulling an “all-nighter” for a class that I was already guaranteed an “A” in. The unintended result was that my brothers and I, although we are all quite successful (they are both MDs), have some pretty terrible boundaries. The work ethic passed down to me by my parents has me working hard when I really would rather be contemplating my mother’s life and recent passing. She never had the benefit of particularly nurturing sons, because we all became exceptionally hard-working sons. In this way a support is also a bit of “baggage”. I tell people that it’s my baggage though, and I’m good at carrying it.
My colleagues are another support system. I have been particularly fortunate to work with many wonderful, exceptionally dedicated people. Add another stone to the bad boundaries pile. And my dogs, we call them our “buttons”, I don’t know why, are very important support systems.
My wife understands me. She has a background in special education and has been a school psychologist and school counselor. And so, when I say she understands me, she “understands” me.
But I can’t say that I need any of these supports. I was raised to be able to stand alone. My family was very private, and so I don’t much need people. I’m glad to have them – but there’s no one I talk to on the phone regularly. I’m not checking Facebook regularly. Like I said, it’s how I was raised. I don’t consider what life would be like if they were gone. To me, life happens and you adapt – no regrets. I watch those movies where someone’s spouse dies – and they are so devastated. I sometimes wonder if I would even be capable of anything remotely close to that degree of emotion over anything.
That’s part of what I mean by the gendered ECE profession. I imagine that I must sound either monstrous, aloof, cold-hearted, or egomaniacal – and trust me, I’ve thought of myself in those terms at one point or another.
My parents did provide for me. I have no illusions about that. I enjoy the tremendous privilege of always feeling safe. If my career crashed, I always had a place to land. It’s a little different now that my Mom has passed away. I’m not feeling quite so safe. She invested a great deal of money so that I could be a preschool teacher and earn those preschool teacher wages. She subsidized my best year of teaching ever – an assistant teacher in Santa Cruz. I slept on the floor and ate peanut butter and egg salad sandwiches and quesadillas – thinking I was making it on my own. I know better now, as I’ve seen the checks she wrote to cover my debt during those years when I, a 40 year old man, “should have” been in my prime income years.
My physical support is my motorcycle. I don’t own a car. I don’t get stuck in traffic. I’m rarely late. I used to be able to say never late. And tequila is a support of sorts. I toast my friends (and my Mom) silently almost every night with a shot.
I have actually wondered what life would be like if I were blind. I wouldn’t be able to play the sports that I do. I wouldn’t be able to ride my motorcycle. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy this wonderful life as a preschool teacher. I’ve had to answer that question (I think it’s inappropriate) in those icebreakers that they do before a meeting… “Would you rather be blind or deaf?” I can’t imagine life without music though. I can’t imagine a world without poetry (I used to read poetry at coffeehouses in my younger days). Without hearing, what meaning does the word rhyme even have?
What would I need? I would need a better attitude, a more forgiving attitude, a quieter attitude. But I would also need my competitiveness and my perseverance. I would need that teacher that cared enough to make a difference by connecting with me. My parents would have been wonderful – it would have been harder for them. I’m guessing that they would not have sought out any special resources, but I could be wrong.
And I have had very special friends, a beautiful woman friend that was partially paralyzed, but painted beautiful pictures and lives life vibrantly; a friend that I have lost contact with that called me “Ba” when he was in the boys’ residential facility where I was a counselor. A girl from Watts, that is now a teacher. A sobrino that has “unsatisfactory residency status”.
Upon reflection, I have a wonderful and complex support system that I carry with me in my memory. Everyday.