When you're right you're right
Thursday, November 02, 2006
  Something to be proud of
I'm a country music fan. Yeah, I'm kind of a good ol' boy at heart, even if I was born a New England Yankee.

I'm a particular fan of Montgomery Gentry's "Something to be Proud of", a song I've interpreted to be about the son of an ex-fighter pilot growing up in the South after the Second World War. His father was a member of our "greatest generation" who was raised in Depression-era poverty before he went off to fight World War II. Like most people, the singer's father only wanted to give his children a better future in which they wouldn't have to bear the hardships that he did in the Great Depression and World War II.

The singer was lucky enough to grow up in a world that his father's generation had labored to create. Still, he had to work hard himself, sometimes working dead-end jobs and struggling to survive.
I'm reminded of my own parents and grandparents. At least two generations of indomitably proud people worked hard so that I would have more opportunities. They provided for me and they raised me up the best they could. They showed me the way in the world, and they let me out to explore it myself.

They didn't grow up with the same privileges that I enjoy today. Between them, they were the descendents of Irish, Italian, and German immigrant stock. Their roots were labor, not management. When they got married at an age younger than I am now, my mom was just taking her first job teaching in Springfield, and my dad was probably working in trucking. He was always working in trucking. Or sales.

In my earliest memories, my mom was taking a break from teaching, and dad was trying to start his own business, which never really worked that well. I remember dad working at Radio Shack to make ends meet. I remember both mom and dad working as cashiers at the local gas station. I remember when dad went to work wearing his brown Riverside uniform, back before Six Flags bought the place. Putting food on the table was the first priority.

Just as my mother and father worked hard so I could have a better life, so too did their parents. Bill and Eileen Duffy, Albert and Anne Cervino (rest in peace, all), gave everything they had so that I could have better opportunities than they had in the Irish and Italian neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Springfield. Dad signed up for the Navy out of high school, but was disqualified because of old injuries. Uncle Jack was a naval officer on the rivers of Vietnam, earning a purple heart and commanding friendly Vietnamese forces in their own language. Uncle Jack was one of the smartest men in my family, and I only wish I could talk to him about his life, but he departed this world when I was in middle school.

If you haven't noticed, I'm proud of my family. Great people seem to pop out of our family tree like squirrels. You just can't keep us down. My brother's a Coast Guard officer, my sister was the valedictorian of her class, my other sister is an RA and an accomplished art student. Not bad for Irish trash; or Italian trash, or German trash for that matter. We've done okay for ourselves.

My favorite line of the song is, "'Dad, I ever wonder if I let you down, if you're ashamed how I turned out?' Well he lowered his voice, and he raised his brow, said 'let me tell you right now: that's something to be proud of, that's a life you can hang your hat on. You don't need to make a million, just be thankful to be working. If you're doing what you're able, putting food there on the table, and providing for the family that you love, that's something to be proud of. And if all you ever really do is the best you can... well, you did it, man."

Sometimes I ask myself if I am worthy of all of the sweat and tears my ancestors invested in me. I'd like to think that I've led a life that's "something to be proud of". I don't yet have a "family that I love," but I would like to have something like that someday. I just haven't met the right girl yet, but surely she will come along in time. Still, I sometimes ask myself the same question--"Dad, I ever wonder if I let you down, if you're ashamed how I turned out?" But I don't even have to ask that question. I worked for that Eagle Scout badge, I graduated in the top tenth of my class, joined the Army, went to Iraq, learned German. My mom and dad understand that "that's something to be proud of". That's why mom taught those years in Springfield, why dad drove those trucks. That's why we are who are we are today.

Hope you're proud of me, mom and dad. I'm more proud of you than you'll ever know.
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