I’m inordinately proud of my nephews. In most cases, I can’t take much credit for their upbringing but With Ron and Hugh, I had a good hand in their teenage years.
I saw Ron last Saturday and was pleased that he had found a nice woman friend, with girlfriend and maybe even mate potential. This is an accomplishment for Ron because he’s had to work hard on his self-esteem. He’s twenty-five now, and for the first time, I saw he had left the awkward teen persona behind and was a man in his own right – tall and broad of shoulders, dependable, building on the good principles and ethics that he learned at home.
I remember one anguished teenage evening when he defiantly said he wanted to learn from his own mistakes. I remembered my own rebellious teenage years and the grief I must have brought to my parents as I waded through some moral dilemmas and didn’t always come out on the right side of it.
What I provided to Ron at the time was this bit of safety net that I’m never felt I had in my growing years.
I said to him, “Ron. I love you as if you were my own child. I know you have a good heart and you know right from wrong. You are at an age when you have to try your own wings. You may fail sometimes, but if you keep trying, you will also learn to soar. You must go and do that now. But remember that your Auntie will always be here to listen to you and to help you straighten out your ideas.”
“I wanted to learn from my own mistakes when I was your age and you can bet, I made them. There is little that you could do that I don’t already know about it. If you want my advice, you can come and ask for it. You’ll do fine on your own.”
I went on to remind him, as he went into his first love relationship that was horribly one sided, of his responsibilities towards his new housemate. He listened to all of it, acted on none of it until somewhere it must have echoed in his brain just in time, and he split from this most damaging relationoship before the year was out.
We elders could see that they were not right for each other, but hormones speak a language more powerful than reason. For all their vicious scrapping and name-calling, Ron slowly began to stand up for himself and understand that he deserved that respect.
It took three years, but I no longer hear his first love’s name in every conversation. She’s gone. A very lovely woman has taken her place and perhaps, just perhaps, that will develop into a new and strong relationship.
This aunt is praying for him to find a steady and loving woman. He deserves a good one.
I was telling this to Hugh tonight in one of our weekly long distance telephone calls. Hugh, you may remember, is studying for his Masters in Ottawa.
Hugh came through childhood a little less scathed than Ron. He was academically bright and could hide behind his books when his home and school life were threatening him. He had better self-confidence and was able to fend off the taunts and attacks that teens test each other with.
Hugh has heard that same speech that I gave to Ron, though the circumstances were somewhat different. Hugh is single-mindedly driven towards his goal and never got caught up in wanting to move out and live with someone. That’s not to say he didn’t have a girlfriend and all the heart ache and doubt of a first love. But he knew that his career depended on him achieving the very best he could do academically or he would not have the job he wanted to have.
Hugh is also very steadfast and determined. While Ron was interested in having the appearances of a well dressed man and spent his hard earned money on clothes (which he kept impeccably, by the way) and couldn’t get out of school fast enough to go to work, Hugh was interested in getting his higher education, even if it meant living creatively under the poverty line to obtain it.
So as we were talking tonight, Hugh confessed that he was going to have to get a student loan to be able to continue on. In fact, he had already submitted his application and was waiting to hear about its approval. Not desperately, he hastened to say; and then continued on to tell me about trying to find some creative way of making rice and a can of stewed tomatoes into an interesting dinner. He prided himself on being able live by his own means; and not to depend on others to see him through.
Shades of my student days! I remember the last week I was in my apartment on Sixth Avenue in Kitsalino. I’ve told this story already so I won’t repeat it here. Briefly, I’d tried to use up most of the food in the cupboards so that I wouldn’t have to move a lot of food when I left, and ended up with a can of yellow beans and rice which did me for dinner for the week. I had a job lined up but, due to a Woodworkers’ strike, the job disappeared, so then I was without food and also without resources. I was too proud to go to Welfare for help and just stuck it out, somehow until I got a job. I must say that I had some understanding friends and that saw me through.
I offered Hugh a tide-me-over injection of cash to his account which he refused, saying he thought he could manage. The only thing was, if nothing came through by next week, he would need some money for his medication. It was the only thing he could not live without. By the end of the conversation, he reluctantly said he would feel better if he knew he could get next week’s dosage; and so I will do that tomorrow.
After our call ended, it set me to thinking.
Hugh knows my financial situation because we have been open with each other on this account. But I, when I was in college and later, while I was travelling in Europe and got myself into financial scrapes – I had no idea about my parent’s finances. I only thought about my own precarious situation.
When I set off for Europe, both my parents were retired. Pensions were good but not like they are today, and it was not like they had oodles of back-up, having seen four progeny through University. They had just their own hard earned savings. They had lived frugally to raise us; had made us earn our own fees and pay for our books while getting our higher education, but they provided us with room and board. They came from the first generation where pensions were a part of collective contracts and they were loath to depend on them. Saving for their old age was part of their generational ethos.
Our Granny, when the first Old Age Security pension was distributed, held the cheque in her hand incredulously.
“This is for me? They are sending me money for having done nothing?” She could not believe it and had to be convinced that it was meant for her and that she was able to deposit it to her bank account – and that one would arrive for her every month thereafter until she died.
Now these social privielges have become universally available, at least in Canada and other countries with social safety nets.
So, going back to 1978 during the first oil crisis, when I called from France at the community pay phone and asked my Mother to send me money to tide me over, I was blithely ignorant of what this meant to them. I remember vaguely some hard questioning about what I needed it for and why I hadn’t been more careful with the money I had, and when I would pay it back, etcetera, etcetera.
I had no idea, and really I still don’t, whether or not my request would have put them in an awkward position. I was only concerned with my fear of being with out money and losing my place to live and having no food to eat. Without question, they sent it to me and I took it and really, I don’t even think I was properly grateful. I learn too late that I was a spoiled, unthinking brat.
Youth is a very odd thing. Teens straddle childhood and adulthood, desiring ardently to leap entirely to the adult side; but when a hardship comes, they are only too eager to hide behind mama’s proverbial skirts and consider it their due. Youth can be a wobbling mass of inwardly looking emotional material on one hand, and ardently passionate towards the underdog and worthy social causes on the other. They can be full of pep and energy with as much vigour as they can be indolently slothful – in equal parts. There is such a dichotomy of feelings, opinions, actions, and desires as to confuse themselves and anyone who has to live with them. They feel they are invulnerable to all risk and danger. They are inconscient to the undercurrent of people’s lives.
I listen to these two nephews whom I lived with for five years and sometimes see myself in them – that description in the paragraph above is an accurate description of a teenaged me.
And so, Auntie that I am, I was proud to hear Hugh tell me how he was coping with little; how he was trying to see his situation as an opportunity to develop self-reliance and creativity in managing with what he had.He’s been at it for five years in pursuit of his goal and he is still willing to strive towards it despite the hardships.
Both boys in their own ways have become fine young men, have learned to be independent, have learned to respect others, to live within their means, to reach for their goals. For that I am eternally thankful. Bless them both.
I’m proud of them and grateful to be their Auntie.