Anna was asking me who else in my family went to college. That wasn't too hard to answer, unfortunately. My brother and I were the only college graduates on my mother's side of the family. On my father's side there are a couple of cousins who took classes, and one who got a degree. My father attended college for awhile after he retired from the military, but he never finished.
"He never finished?" Anna asked. "Why did he stop?" I shrugged my shoulders and said that I never understood it either. It seemed foolish in the extreme to me. After my Dad retired from the military, we were barely getting by. We'd moved from the house we'd been renting in the average middle-class neighborhood into a house on the other side of town in a not-so-nice area. My Mom had gone to work part-time, and it was the only time in my entire life that I remember my Mom working. Dad's college was paid for under the GI bill, so when he quit a little over 2 years into his engineering degree, I thought he was just plain stupid.
He'd been offered a good job, out of the blue. Someone who used to work with him in the military knew of an open civil-service position that would fit my father's skills perfectly. It paid well, and he'd be able to move up eventually. He took the job, we moved out of that neighborhood, and Dad continued to work that job for another twenty-plus years until he retired fully. It always seemed like a clear-cut case of pennywise and pound foolish. He made more money in the short-term, but if he'd gotten his degree, he could have made much more money, and maybe have gotten into a company that gave him great retirement benefits. Civil service jobs don't count toward your social security payments, after all. He's been fully retired for a long time, doing fine on social security and his military retirement pay, but he's not rolling in dough by anyone's estimation. What was he thinking?
"What do you mean, a bad neighborhood," Anna asked.
I told her about the people next door, who had people stopping by at all hours of the day and night. The wafting smell of marijuana that came from their house, and the other house down the block. The boys in the neighborhood who beat up my brothers and cracked an egg in our gas tank. And about the day I was walking our dog in the desert area a block or so away - it was covered in scrub brush and trails. It was a great place to walk the dog, and thank God I'd gone there so many times. That day, some of the neighborhood boys (the same ones we called the cops on when they threatened my Mom after school one day) decided to follow me. There were five of them, and while I was a sheltered thirteen year-old, I wasn't stupid. I heard them talking, deciding to fan out and search for me. I knew that back in the scrub brush, no one would see them when they found me. I knew those trails, though, and I knew where my fort was. Deep in a thicket of thorny bushes, if you tunneled under you'd find a small, enclosed area where the brush was so thick, no one would see you unless they knew where to crawl under, too. I urged my dog through the undergrowth, followed behind, and used a branch to wipe out our tracks. I heard them go by once, twice... then their voices got less frequent and more bored. They finally gave up. I waited awhile, and ended up arriving home just as it was getting dark. My Mother was very angry at me for worrying her by being gone so long. My brothers had even been out looking for me. I told her what happened, and she told me I couldn't walk the dog anymore.
"Did they ever try to follow you again?" Anna asked, her eyes wide.
"No. My Dad got that job right after that, and we moved that same month."
We moved right after that.
Oh my God. After all this time, I finally see my foolish father for what he was. I used to wonder what he was thinking, quitting college like that. Now I know.
He was thinking of me.
And of my brothers, and my mother. He had an opportunity to get us out of there, and he took it, no matter what the long-term implications might be. He wasn't foolish. He was selfless. Maybe he figured he'd go back to school again someday, and life, like it does, got in the way. That's certainly what seems to happen in my life.
My life that might have been very different if not for my foolish, wonderful father.