Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Dancing Lessons from God, Part 2

I was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, the youngest of three children. I grew up in one of those sleepy little bedroom towns you always hear about. It was called Litchfield, NH; it’s a suburb of both Nashua and Manchester, New Hampshire’s two largest cities. Nashua is a very modern city of about 80,000 people, most of whom work in the greater Boston area. Boston is about 50 miles south but Nashua is very attractive to a lot of people who work there for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a lot cheaper than Boston. Property taxes are lower. Schools are better. There’s a lot less crime. There’s a lot less traffic. It’s much quieter. New Hampshire has no sales tax so Nashua, being right on the Massachusetts border north of Boston, is a shopping haven for people from below the border. The southern part of Nashua is crammed full of shopping malls and car dealerships. For people who work in the greater Boston area, Nashua and its surrounding towns are perfect because they can work in Boston and enjoy all its advantages yet live in New Hampshire to avoid all of the normal disadvantages of a big city. In fact, it’s this favorable juxtaposition that led Money magazine to twice name Nashua as the number one city in the entire United States to live in, first in 1987 then again in 1997. My parents divorced when I was 3 or 4 years old and my mother received custody of us three kids. We lived in Litchfield while my father was one of the many people described above who worked in the Boston area yet lived in Nashua. My mother had no college degree or formal job training so she did the only thing she knew how to do for a living and ran a daycare out of our home. It didn’t pay very well and even with the child support she received from my father it seemed like she was always struggling financially. My father on the other hand had a pretty good paying job and dabbled in real estate on the side which allowed him to live in a nice condo and take yearly trips to the Caribbean to go scuba diving. We weren’t poor but I certainly never had anything handed to me. I learned from an early age that nothing is ever given to you easily, you usually have to make some kind of sacrifice for things that you really want.

As for me, I was born in 1971 which means that I was a bona fide child of the eighties. I’m old enough to remember a lot of things that happened in the seventies but my formative years all took place during the Ronald Reagan years. I was a below average student, partly because I never considered myself that smart and partly because I didn’t have a great work ethic. The only thing I truly enjoyed doing were sports. My sport was soccer. I grew up watching and playing and as far as I can remember, it’s really the only thing that I was better than average at. I played one year in high school but unfortunately my need for money to pay for things like a car, the prom, senior pictures, etc. superseded my need to participate in sports so rather than play my last two years, I worked. I mention this because it has always been one of my main regrets. I wouldn’t realize it until years later but soccer was the only thing that I ever really had any passion for and had I been born in any other country, I truly believe my fate would have been as a professional player.

My work ethic – or lack thereof – had put me in a bad position by the time I was a senior in high school. The year started and it suddenly dawned on me that I would be graduating in less than a year and I had absolutely no plan for the future. Most of my friends already had their immediate futures laid out and were applying to colleges. I had honestly never really considered college. However, a conversation that I’d had with my father a few times during my high school years crept into my mind. It had various versions but usually went something like this:

Him: “You’re going to college.”
Me: “Dad, I don’t really have the grades for college, I’m a C student.”
Him: “Doesn’t matter, you’ll get in somewhere, you’re going to college.”
Me: “I’ll never be able to afford it, it’s too expensive.”
Him: “Let me worry about that, you’re going to college.”
Me: “Well, I don’t really want to go to college.”
Him: “I don’t care, you’re going to college.”

My sister, three years older than me, had gone to work for the local police department out of high school and my brother, a year older than me, had joined the Navy. So in retrospect, it was obvious that I was my father’s last hope of having one of his children go to college. With the aforementioned, reoccurring conversation in my mind, and with no other post high school prospects, I figured I’d better go to college after all. I thought my father would be ecstatic when I told him of my decision but his only reaction was to inquire about how I intended on paying for it. It turned out that he did intend on helping me financially but that he certainly wasn’t going to pay for the whole thing. I would have to come up with some money myself. Had I known this before I probably would have dismissed the notion of going to college as soon as it entered my scattered little mind. However, by this time I had already been accepted to Franklin Pierce College and was starting to feel good about my future as a member of an institution of higher learning.

Well, I was crushed. The only jobs I’d ever had were menial high school type jobs; janitor, video store clerk, stuff like that. Certainly nothing that was going to allow me to afford whatever portion of the cost my father expected me to pay. My mother would have helped in a second if she could have but she was in no financial position to do much. So it was that I made my second major life altering decision that year and decided to join the US Army Reserves to help pay for college. It turned out to be a bad decision in the end but it was not without its good aspects as well, not the least of which was some financial benefits that allowed me to go to college.

(Click HERE for part III)

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