What Drove My Father and Drives Me?

There aren’t many hours left in 2022, and I just finished an hour-long call with my daughter, Michelle. Often, I can do my Rogerian counseling without assistance. I am Carl Rogers and also his client. However, as “the days dwindle down to a precious few,” I needed a therapist to listen to my emotional unpacking and observations of the past eighty years. Michelle listened intently as I pondered the past and looked forward to the New Year.

When I was a fair-haired youth, I was more like my mother. She wasn’t like my father. He was left-brained and did things by the book. My mother was far less task oriented. She got things done but enjoyed the process more. Those were the days when we lived in Pennsauken, NJ. Those were the days that seemed like Camelot, as I remember them.



My father was always driven, and my mother enjoyed living in the moment. However, that was when my life was lived in that spot called Camelot. However, we left that spot when we moved to Mt. Lebanon, just outside Pittsburgh, PA. My father got a promotion, which meant moving from the Philadelphia office to the corporate office in Pittsburgh several years after WWII. We moved to Mt. Lebanon from Pennsauken, NJ, a lovely middle-class community and school district where I was doing well in school.

Due to the war, my dad couldn’t attend college, but he was determined to ensure his children went to college. He asked a real estate agent which area of Pittsburgh had the best school system. The real estate agent said Mt. Lebanon. It wasn’t merely the best in the Pittsburgh area; it was the 19th-best school system in the entire country and the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania. Moving to Mt. Lebanon radically changed my Weltanschauung. Getting Bs and Cs in Mt. Lebanon felt like a failing grade. I pushed myself to compete with students who had lived in Mt. Lebanon all their lives. It was not only a golden ghetto but also an academic one. That feeling of inadequacy haunted me for much of my early adult life.

Mt. Lebanon taught me two things: I was dumb and poor. Midway through my life, I realized I had made a mistake about who I was. Even today, that feeling dumb and poor still haunts me. More importantly, it also is a motivator. I’ll turn eighty in January, and I am still teaching. Why? When I’m teaching a class, it takes me back to many decades ago, and I recall my feelings. Granted, I made a mistake, but most students are also making similar miscalculations about their academic abilities.

While I ponder about this year, another issue arises within my psyche. I see the similarities between my father and me. My parents moving to Mt. Lebanon meant they left Camelot. Gone was Camelot. My mother’s health deteriorated, and she finally wound up with lupus. Over the next couple of decades, her condition worsened. Her last several years were times of nearly dying and getting better. That pattern was so engrained in everyone’s mind that being warned by my dad that she would die wasn’t taken seriously.

My father finally called me and said that I needed to come back home. My mother was going to the hospital. I quickly returned to Mt. Lebanon. My mother and I talked for a while, and I left. A couple of days later, I got a call. It was my mother. She was home from the hospital. Less than a week later, she died.

The parallels with my life are haunting. I got divorced over a half dozen years ago. I’m happy and living my life in the manner I wish. Six years ago, I got my second Irish Setter puppy. I got my first Irish Setter as soon as I returned from the University of Edinburgh and got my first job. Ginger was her name. In my twilight years, I got my second Irish Setter. You guessed it; her name is Ginger. Strangely, she is like a wife. We work as a team. I care for her, and she cares for me. It is a fascinating symbolic relationship.

But again, Camelot didn’t last long. She has been to Purdue’s veterinary hospital three times in the last several years. I didn’t think I would return home with her on one occasion. She spent several days in a canine ICU. I am replicating my parents’ lives in Mt. Lebanon. It is identical to what happened to my mother. Ginger gets sick and recovers, which haunts me. That situation is bad enough, but it reminds me of my mother’s suffering. She would get slightly better and then relapse. I get worried about Ginger when she has been doing well for a couple of months. I know that it won’t be long before she is sick again.

However, I finally unloaded my angst regarding Ti Ti and my family in Myanmar to Michelle. Michelle is aware of the transformation within my life due to my family. She could have repeated every data point regarding all three trips.

When I returned from my first trip, I had an appointment with Dr. Marshand, my cardiologist. It was a routine checkup for high blood pressure. My heart was fine, but I asked Dr. Marshand why I felt so wound up, having just returned from Myanmar. Dr. Marchand understood that I wanted to know. I am different from what I was before going to Myanmar. He paused, looked directly into my eyes, and said, “You have seen the light.” While our eyes remained locked on each other, he paused for a moment. Once Dr. Marchand knew I got his message, he told me he would see me in six months. Like Vincent van Gogh, I had seen the light.

Starry Night

Starry Night

In my twilight years, I have a purpose in life. I want to help my family in Myanmar. I need to help Ti Ti get a student visa. Last semester, Ti Ti took an online class from me and aced the class. However, a couple of years ago, almost to the day, she emailed me. As I read it, her letter rattled me. I realized that we were clones of each other.

Ti Ti is signing her up for another online course where I teach. I need to get the name of the textbook the professor will use during the spring semester. Then I will contact the publisher and have them send Ti Ti a PDF file. Shipping a hard copy to her would never reach her due to the military coup. I had my textbook publisher last semester send Ti Ti a PDF file.

I summarized my conversation with Michelle by saying I am doing exactly what my father did for my brothers and me. I am determined to provide Ti Ti with a college education in the States.

Then I added a slight caveat. Anyone who stands in my way will face the same determination my father showed with his drive. I want to warn anyone that gets in my way that I won’t be stopped. Bobby Kennedy said, “Hang a lantern on your problem.” Trust me; I have.

The lantern signaling for help

The lantern signaling for help