Family Tree

As I sit in Starbucks contemplating the job application before me, I overhear a little nugget of information that sticks in my brain. Two middle aged people are having a chat next to me. “I couldn’t imagine sinking that low that I would need a job like that” I take a side glance at the photo on the iPhone belonging to one of these people. It’s a meme of a McDonald’s employee, the caption reads “do you want fries with that?” They both chuckle at the absurdity of working for minimum wage.

Instantly, I feel out of place in this space.

My mind starts to wander to my working class roots that are still trying to get a foothold in this soil.

My dad grew up in a diner that his mother managed. His first job was working in that diner at 13 years old. He was a short order cook, dishwasher, waiter, cashier, cleaner, busboy, and a bouncer when he had to be. Since that diner my dad has had more jobs than I have years. Factory worker, mechanic, delivery man, driver, oil delivery man, waiter, bartender, bouncer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, police officer, housing authority officer, forensic photographer, criminologist. My father is a high school dropout with no college degree.

He has spent so much energy trying to make sure his descendants fall far away from this family tree.

My mom is the complete opposite she got her first job as a social worker at 24. Her mother was a trust-fund baby. And lived in the social and educational circles to match. Her parents would have fainted if anyone even suggested they didn’t want to go to graduate school let alone drop out of high school. When my mom fell for my dad and brought him home to meet her parents at age 30, he was subjected to a 4 hour in-your-face interrogation by my grandmother. My dad would later remark “the Nazis were nothing compared to my mother-in-law.” My grandmother did not like that my dad was of the working class. They felt that my mother was “above scum like him.”

They didn’t like that he had his GED instead of his diploma and never finished college.

The fact that he was one of the most respected forensic specialists on the east coast meant nothing.

The fact he treated my mom with respect meant nothing.

The fact that he helped set a precedent benefiting rape victims in Connecticut primarily by himself meant nothing.

They threatened to disown my mother if she married him. She did it anyway and they didn’t disown her but their relationship with my dad was always icy.

3 years after they were married my mom had a miscarriage. She had to have to the fetus removed at the hospital, it was technically an abortion.

Afterwards the phone rings, it’s my grandmother. She screamed at my mom for murdering her grandchild, she told my mom that she was going to hell for having an abortion. According to my grandmother she should have left the fetus in her uterus to fester so that they both would die and go to heaven.

It was my dad, the working class scum that calmed her down and told her how those beliefs were antiquated and asinine. He told her that no woman should feel that she has to carry death inside her for salvation. He told her women should be able to do what they need to do with their own bodies.

So when people ask me why I identify more with my dad’s family than my mom’s, I tell them that they’re more in line with my working class beliefs. And that I’m proud to have fallen close to this family tree.

Silhouette

In the early hours of the morning, my room is dark and quiet. My five year old mind wakes and even though it is much too early to be awake, I cannot fall back to sleep. I can hear the faint sounds of my father rustling papers and rummaging through his drawers in order to get ready for work.

I watch as he walks across the hall to my room and stands in my doorway. The light from the bathroom shines brightly through the window but the shades on my windows keep my room quite dark. My father stands silhouetted, his short but broad and stocky frame filling up the space. He is watching to see if I am awake, I give no word or sign.

He softly pads across the room to my bed, careful not to step on any of the creaky floorboards. I shut my eyes, knowing that this moment would stop if he knew I was awake, and I could sense that he needed this.

Once at the side of my bed, I feel the mattress move slightly as it takes the weight of his hand. He drops to one knee and rests both arms on the bed. I feel the mattress move a little more. My eyes open just a crack to see what is happening, his head is bowed as if he is praying, face in his hands. Tears well up in my eyes. Even at five years old I am not used to seeing him so vulnerable. I squeeze them tight as he raises his head, so he will not see the tears. His strong muscled hand reaches out and gently traces my hairline. I feel the mattress move again as he leans on it to stand up, his damaged knees are not as agile as they once were. Once standing, he leans over and softly kisses my cheek, whispers in my ear before pulling away, “I love you and don’t you ever forget that.”

He turns around to walk gently out of the room, he stops at the doorway to turn around and stare once more.