I was not alive when Kennedy made his famous speech, but I was raised by the people who were. I was born 12 years after his assassination, and 10 years after the civil rights movement… smack dab in the middle of women’s lib. I was raised by a single father who understood that his son and daughter were different, but also understood that we could both be whatever we set our minds to.
My father was only 2nd generation American. He remembers his grandfather’s brogue. He remembers how hard he worked. My grandmother would tell me stories about her father and how he used to sell fruits and vegetables out of a horse and carriage in the middle of South Boston. How proud she was of him. Even after his wife died and he was left with 5 kids to raise on his own.. he worked and supported his family. He taught his children to go out and make a life for themselves. All of his sons, a lot of his grandsons, and now his great grandsons did just that.
My father was not educated. He dropped out of school on his 16th birthday, and went out to get his GED so he could help support his single mother and sister. His father had taken off on them a long time ago. He signed up for Job Corp and learned skills that he could use to create that life his grandfather used to talk about. He got married and had two kids.. and yes, eventually also became a single parent when my mother got sick with schizophrenia. He eventually realized that he would also need to strike out on his own and start his own business. With his last commission check he filled out all the right paperwork. Contacted a supplier and the day after Thanksgiving he headed out the door to ring up old clients that he had sold powerwashers to and offered to sell them the soaps that went with it. He worked a lot.. at some times in my life it was 7 days a week. He worked hard. He was always banged up and burned from the acid. He was the best man that I’ve ever known.
Look back our lives were not what people would call privileged, but it was.. it was very privileged. Not because we were white. Not because we never had to struggle.. but because we were born into the richest more free country in the world, and we never forgot it. When we slacked off in school my dad would tell us that you get nothing for free, that everything worth having is worth working for, and that no one is going to do it for us.. and when I say us. I mean me.. my brother was a nerd. When I would say that I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up he would tell me that it doesn’t matter. “what ever you do. if you work hard and are the best at it.. you will succeed.”.
He never told me that the government would take care of me. When I was looking at schools we discussed different options, but decided on starting with Community College so that I could pay as I go and not collect debt, because no one was going to pay it back for me. I was born in the 70s but we were taught that with hard work and discipline we could accomplish anything.. the skies the limit. This included me. The girl from a small town with a single parent family. We all came from single parent families.. and unfortunately my son is following the pattern. His father died when he was 6. It was really sad, and really tragic.. but not an excuse to give up.. and not an excuse to not give life his all.
I look around today and everyone is talking about privilege.. and in the same breath claiming that they are some how OWED things. They are OWED higher education. They are OWED free health care.. they are OWED what ever they want because they were born in this country and this country is a country of privilege.
All I can say is WOW.. you are right.. this is a country of privilege. You have the privilege to say what ever you want. You have the privilege to practice whatever religion you want. You have the privilege to protect yourself from the State… and you have the privilege to become whatever you choose. What you do not have is the privilege to take things from other people who have worked hard for it.
I look around and all I see are grown people who were never allowed to be hurt. Who were given trophies just for being alive. Who were given good grades because it’s not fair not to even though they didn’t do any of their work. I am seeing people who are being taught that to be human means that everything is owed to them. That because other people have things that they should be allowed to have things too.. that “no one else has it as bad as us”.. yet, if you look around the world.. if you look through the history of this place.. no one, not ever, has had it as good as Americans. Even the most poor. Even the most damaged. They are still better off than 99.9% of history every.. and of most of this planet now.
If you think you deserve to go to college and earn a “women’s studies” degree on the rest of the country’s dime.. or that you deserve to have all of your medical expenses paid just because you happen to have the good fortune to be born in a particular hemisphere you are very mistaken. Now I’m not opposed to a state run medical insurance.. my family has had the need for medicare or mass health since we live in Massachusetts. I had student loans eventually when I went for my BA and I was glad that the the government could help. The difference is that I am grateful. I understand that I am lucky to live in a such a place, and I do all that I can to give back where I can. I don’t just complain, and expect it.
Gratitude goes a long way in life. It makes the difference between someone feeling as if life matters.. and feeling as if only privilege does. So I ask you to check your privilege.. and if you can volunteer at a local homeless shelter and see how they live.. and then travel to a developing country.. and see how the rest of the world lives.