SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2005        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Tina Mars

Lessons Learned in Life

My voice, My Father Willie’s voice

There was a great deal of family turmoil that engulfed my childhood. Even with this turmoil, I was a surprisingly productive and involved student throughout elementary and middle school. Things changed when I entered Ilwaco High School, which was located on a beautiful dark-as-night lake often contrasted by snow-white swans. My enjoyment and interest in school rapidly spiraled downwards. By my senior year I was skipping about 50 percent of my classes and partying all the time. Just as the white swans contrasted the Black Lake, as it is called, the variety of students at Ilwaco High School contrasted greatly.  As I looked around, I noticed that not everyone in my class was doomed to the same lack of interest and enjoyment in school. In fact, many of my peers were enjoying themselves and actively participating in high school. They were joining sports teams, student government and various clubs. The parents of most of these students were also participating in their teenager’s high school experience. They participated in the Parent Teachers Association, the Boosters Club (a club to raise money for sports in our area) and were consistently volunteering. These parents were taking an active position in their child’s life and most of the children were benefiting from it.

My Father decided to raise his children in Long Beach because the town represented certain values that he wanted to instill upon his children, such as a low crime rate, a wide playground in every backyard, trust, seeing and appreciation of beauty, family and community. Although these values were instilled, there were many financial difficulties within my family. My Father’s childhood, the lifestyle he planned on providing for his children were at odds with the childhood he could provide for his children.

Some of the contradiction was due to the fact that my Father’s childhood was much different from mine. My Father was born in 1954 and was raised in a two-parent home. Both parents worked in a very successful second-generation family business. They ran a restaurant, a curiosity museum and gift shop and practiced buying real estate and renting it all over Long Beach. They still own one block of Long Beach’s main street that stretches all the way to the beach. My grandparents could provide the necessities and luxuries for their children.

My Father wanted to pursue his own interests. He did not want to work in the family business. He took a culinary curriculum in college and strove to open his own bakery. He met a woman named Carolyn in college, married her, graduated from college and decided to start his perfect and successful life in Long Beach. One of the few ways to be financially successful in Long Beach, as he learned from his parents and grandparents, was to run a business. With the financial help of his parents he bought a bakery. My Father and Mother planned their first child, who was I, and things were going great. They had two more children Mandy and William within three years and didn’t have adequate time to devote to the bakery, the children and their relationship.

Consistent with the shift in the impact of economic necessity on family values emerging in the 1980’s both my parents worked full time to provide a middle class life style. Ironically, given his occupation, my Father was not the primary breadwinner; he could not make a “family wage” alone, both parents worked together to provide economic security for our family. My Mom worked alongside my Father while trying to run the family. Their relationship ended in divorce in 1985, within two years of having their third child. Not able to run the bakery alone, my Father closed his business. This left both parents struggling to find good paying work in Long Beach; neither did.
The choice I made to move in with my Father in 1992 was the result of a, “looking for love Mother” who couldn’t get it together and had a disorderly house. My Father had a well-maintained house that allowed me, my brother William and my sister Mandy to achieve a sense of order and self-pride, which was impossible to achieve while living with our Mother. The problem was, my Father wasn’t around much.

As a result of being raised in a single parent home (from age five on) neither of my parents had enough time to become active participants in my live. I don’t remember either of my parents ever making an effort to get to know me. Nor did they see my potential and guide me, as I believe a parent should, along a more positive path. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I had a chance to get to know either of them. Recently, I asked my mother if she remembered what my interests were as a child. She could think of nothing except, “You liked to beat up your sister.” This comment was hurtful, but helped to substantiate my original opinion.

As I compared myself with my more successful and happy peers, I noticed a “difference” between children who had parents that could afford and had time to become active participants in their children’s lives and those who didn’t. Many times, at least in adolescence, a more successful child is created when parents have the time and money to be interested and active in their child’s life. This “difference,” rooted in class, has affected me so much that I am committed to being a stay at home mom and an active participant in my three-year-old’s life. I am committed to getting to know him and allowing him to get to know me. From my experience, an active parenting style, often made possible by a moderate social economic standing, produces happier more productive teenagers.   

My father saw things a bit differently.

My wife and I decided to raise our family in the same small, rural, beach side, tourist town that I was raised in, Long Beach, Washington. We had our first child Tracy at 25. Surprises Mandy and William were born within three years. Long Beach, a small seasonal town, offered very few options to make a decent living. We decided to open a bakery, which supported our family fine but was very time consuming. We became worn out and started to grow apart. This along with difference in values led to our divorce in 1985.

We closed our bakery; Carolyn worked cleaning motel rooms for $6.00 an hour. This was hardly enough to support the three kids she had won in our divorce. I sent sufficient child support monthly but this money never seemed to benefit the kids. Each time the kids came over for visitation they were dirty and in dilapidated clothes. Due to Carolyn’s situation all three kids were living with me by 1992. I continued to pay Carolyn child support to help her stay afloat. This was a great financial burden and further inhibited my ability to provide for my children.

After we closed the bakery I decided to work on tugboats, in the nearest metropolitan area Seattle, which was three hours away. I was out of town for two weeks out of every month. When I was gone and the kids were living with me, my [erratic tempered] live in girl friend took care of them. I missed out on so much of their life. Each time I came home it was as if I knew less and less about whom my children were becoming. I didn’t have the time or money to be a regular participant in my children’s school. In 1996 my live in girlfriend had enough of raising three unruly children and left. How could I provide for my kids with the employment options available in Long Beach?  I had no other economic choice and continued to work on tugboats. My high school age children were left at home alone for two weeks during each month. Their behavior got even worse.

They were in high school and my out of town job didn’t provide enough money for their luxuries such as dresses for dances. I couldn’t afford anything but the necessities (food, water and rent on a house). As I look back in time, I realize that it may have been a financial mistake to raise my children in Long Beach but the enchanting childhood full of play in the woods, leaving the front door unlocked and being close to extended family made it all worth it to me. Despite the financial hardship my children and I faced we all persevered. All of my children, now grown, are moral, successful, productive members of society.

Circumstances that my Father and Mother did not take into account changed the life they imagined they could provide for their children. My Father envisioned the same upper middle class life that he was raised in but was only able to provide a lower middle class life. The transition from a two parent to single parent home resulted in a dramatic class level decrease for my family.

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