I. Dream or Propaganda?
I don’t know. Sigh. What’s wrong with me? IS something wrong with me for not believing that the purpose of my life was / is to ensure that my kids’ lives be better—materialistically better, that is—than mine? Am I selfish because I thought / still think that the primary purpose of life is for each of us to evolve, to perfect ourselves as much as we possibly can, rather than to sacrifice ourselves / our lives for the sake of our children? I don’t believe in Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, I certainly don’t value selfishness as a worthy principle, and I believe we ought to take care of one another. But if everyone sacrifices their lives for the next generation, when does anyone get to live on their own account? It doesn’t make sense. And what about people who don’t have kids?
Was it truly a sacrifice “To build steel bars to the sky…and connect the world with the touch of a button.”? Somehow I doubt the motivations for such accomplishments were parental in nature.
It worries me that perhaps the problems in my life stem from not having done what They say we’re supposed to do.
Now that my kids are adults, one of my kids’ lives is better than mine, and one is worse. Neither of their fates can be attributed to what I did or didn’t do. Of course, I frequently blame myself for the more troublesome life—but if it were true, then I should be able to take credit for the one that’s better, and I don’t. Am I just an exception to the American Way of Life, the exception that proves the rule? The rule to which I’m referring, by the way, is the one Michelle Obama alluded to over and over again in the space of an hour, the rule that formed the foundation of her speech at the Democratic National Convention. It is, in a nutshell: If you work hard and play by the rules, your kids will have a better life than yours.
I like the First Lady enormously; she is beautiful and personable enough to watch and listen to endlessly—but the substance of her speech left me cold, just as it does when any politician gives it. The last time I heard it drummed out so insistently was by Mario Cuomo, whom I also liked and respected enormously, some 34 years ago. And it isn’t only politicians–last night the camera kept focusing on people in the audience, nodding their heads, their eyes tearing up, throughout the whole American Dream exaltation. Was something left out of my psyche, my soul?
Americans seem to believe in the “Stella Dallas” school of parenting.In the movie by that name, Mom lets go of her daughter completely, in an extreme version of The American Dream, so as not to hinder the girl’s progress up the ladder of success. As I said in my review of the film Spanglish, the only depiction of the immigrant story that, to my knowledge, turns the parental sacrifice plot upside down, Stella Dallas presents a depressing and dysfunctional role model for family relationships—and in a way it’s the role model for the dream Ms. Obama spoke about. I respect the mother in Spanglish much more for preventing her daughter from climbing so far up that she would become, as she says outright, “someone so different from me.”
I didn’t really know about this American Dream until I was an adult paying attention to politicians. If my parents lived their lives for the benefit of my siblings and me, I wasn’t aware of it. They were typical working people who “did the right thing and played by the rules,” but that’s what everyone did. I don’t mean to sound uncharitable, but they didn’t do anything specifically to give me a start as an adult, nor did they help me when I struggled financially and otherwise as a divorced mother. But I didn’t know anyone else who lived this sacrificial American Dream either. My parents’ friends and my friends’ parents, mostly poor and working-class, weren’t sacrificing their lives–nor did they pay all that much attention to their kids’ future. Even in hindsight all I remember is everyone just trying to get by.
I spoke to a photographer friend of mine about all this; like me, she’s lived the freelance artist’s life most of the time. We figured out that the “sacrifice” must be exactly this, that they didn’t go ahead and live their dreams, as we tried to do. They gave up any artistic dreams they might have had so they could hold down boring but well-paying jobs and raise their kids. Which is why they’re so pissed off now that they got screwed by the people who made the rules. Is this what everyone is talking about? If so, do the Democrats think I don’t deserve a safety net, since I’m responsible for needing one in the first place?
I guess I blew it. I blew my life by making the mistake of thinking it was mine to blow.
Readers: I would so appreciate your comments and insights on this subject. Do you believe in The American Dream? How do you define it? Do you live it?
(Coming Soon: In Praise of the Dems.)
- Watch Michelle Obama’s Speech at Democratic National Convention! (justjared.com)
- Full Text of Michelle Obama’s Speech Delivered at the Democratic National Convention 2012 (wildeyeq.wordpress.com)