Pulling Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps and Other Tall Tales

Posted: August 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Comments Off on Pulling Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps and Other Tall Tales

Last night I responded offhandedly to a tweet about being a high school dropout. (The person to whom I responded actually had a diploma, I believe, but used the phrase “practically a high school dropout”.) Most tweets are fire and forget, but that one stuck in my head. So earlier today I ended up firing off a series of tweets on my own circumstances as a teen parent.

In the process, I pointed out that all the “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” stories are basically, as @niais so aptly put it, bullshit. I’m well-respected in my field among the people who know me and I make a pretty good living. I’m a long way from those years as a poverty-stricken teen parent, years that lasted into my thirties, though things steadily improved for the most part. I know how those stories work from the inside.

And those people who think they did it all themselves are simply self-deluded. I had quite a few “lucky” breaks along the way and help from other people. At least some of that I can probably chalk up to my privilege as a straight, white male since it’s unclear if the opportunities would have been afforded me otherwise. But I had the advantage of safety net programs, such as they are, to buffer some of the worst of it. The military provided me opportunities, a limited GI bill for part of my college education, and a VA loan for my first home. There were other structures and systems supporting and helping me, many of them geared to help someone like me.

So yes, I’m smart. I’m good at what I do. And I have worked hard to overcome obstacles. That part of the bootstraps tall tale is typically true and hard work, at least, is usually necessary. The best stories contain elements of truth. But those are not sufficient. Somebody has to provide the bootstraps. And the structures must exist to help keep you from falling on your ass when you pull them. Some of the people, structures, and systems that helped you achieve success will be apparent. Others will typically operate below your level of awareness. They are all necessary.

The stories are inspiring. And that’s not bad. It’s important to work hard. People need to know that it is possible to overcome hurdles, however high. But when we come to believe the lie that anyone is “self-made” the stories can become destructive instead.

Anyway, my tweets on the subject were apparently of interest to others, so I storified them below.


Empty Nest

Posted: August 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Comments Off on Empty Nest

I’m no stranger to watching my children enter their adult lives. My oldest daughter is 33 and currently working as a traveling nurse in California. My older son and foster-son are both 30. My son is married with his own daughter now starting sixth grade and my foster-son is an attorney and major foodie. My younger son is 23 and graduated magna cum laude from Baylor this spring with majors in both physics and mathematics. He’s now starting graduate school in particle physics at the University of Texas after receiving their highest fellowship.

Still, none of that has prepared me for my youngest daughter starting the next phase of her life and leaving us with no more children at home full time. I became an expecting parent when I was 15 years old and still a child myself. I learned to be an adult as I learned to be a parent. I’m now 50 years old and I’ve never known anything else. That ‘parent’ label lies close to the core of my identity. And through the good and the bad, I’ve never wanted anything else. I love my children as most parents do, but I also really like them all. They are very different from each other and I’ve made more than my share of mistakes along the way, especially with the older ones, but I still genuinely love, like, and respect each one of them. I’ve never been one of those parents who couldn’t wait for their kids to leave.

But now the youngest of them has left. And I’m thrilled for her. It’s been her dream for years now to study neuroscience and she’s excited to be at Baylor. So I’m excited for her, worried about her, and cheering her on all at the same time.

But I also miss her already. Which is silly, in a way, since she’s been attending Camp Mystic every summer since she was 10 and worked there this summer as a counselor. She’s barely been at college three days at this point. Still, this time it’s different. When she’s been at camp or on any other outing, she was just gone for a little while and then would be home again soon. From this point on, she’ll only be home with us for brief interludes in her journey. And that’s great for her!

But my heart hurts even as I’m happy and excited for her. I want her to succeed. I want her to achieve her dreams. But I can’t just knock on her door and tell her something. She won’t come running up to show me something funny or interesting. I won’t see her bouncing out of the corner of my eye. She’ll only sometimes be there with us at the dinner table. We won’t have many of those ad hoc kitchen conversations in the future. Our daily lives will mostly be lived in separate places from this point forward.

And I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m not ready. I don’t think there’s any point in my life when I would have been ready for this day. But inevitably it came.

I storified some of my tweets below.


I’m a College Graduate!

Posted: August 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Comments Off on I’m a College Graduate!

I finally completed the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree that I started way back in the 1980s. I enrolled at the Park University Austin Campus, then at Bergstrom AFB, when I was serving in the Texas Army National Guard. In fact, I found out about Park (then called Park College) through the military. Over the years, Bergstrom AFB was closed and the new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport opened on the site. The local Park campus has relocated multiple times. The main campus, of course, is where it has always been in Missouri. One day I would like to see it in person.

Before dropping out of high school, I had taken the ACT (32 out of 34 composite if I recall correctly). I had also already obtained my GED, so I had everything I needed to enroll. I never planned to spend as long as I did completing my degree, but life intervened, as it usually does. That’s especially true when you’re an unconventional student. Along the way I took many CLEP tests, and some courses at the local community college in addition to my night courses at the local Park Campus. I even took Calculus by correspondence course from UT. Internet classes made things a lot easier in the later years, of course, but I still ended up taking classes in fits and starts, often with lengthy gaps between those periods. But I never gave up on finishing it, which shows that eventually if you keep taking them, you will have enough classes to graduate.

Below are my storified tweets on my reaction and my thanks to Park for their military and veteran friendly policies that allowed me to finally accomplish this goal!