When we are growing up, we just don’t question the individual character traits of our parents. They are who they are, sort of like the sun and the moon. Their actions are all-but-incomprehensible, how they developed into the people you experience a mystery. They just…are.
One of the major changes a person goes through is when they realize their parents are actual people, with thoughts and feelings and histories and motivations. It can be painful, or lead to conflict, especially when our parents are very different from the person we are developing into. We saw this on a societal level during the 1960s, when many of the Boomers revolted against the strictures—social, sexual, behavioral—under which their parents and grandparents had operated for decades. (That the Boomers, in Stephen King’s words, “could have changed the world and instead settled for the Home Shopping Network” is a whole different topic.)
My Dad has been gone for nearly a quarter-century now, taken at age 63 by colon cancer that he, in classic Silent Generation fashion, dismissed the warning signs of. (“If you ever see blood in your urine or stool, Doug, be sure to tell the doctor,” was his conclusion. The entire extended Moran family went for colonoscopies after he died.) And yet his influence over me has remained and, if anything, deepened in the intervening years.
As I have aged towards grandparenthood my own self, I have had a lot of cause to reflect on these influences. And one of the biggest I’ve noticed recently, in the aftermath of being laid off, is how I connect with people.
When I was little, I never considered it at all remarkable that my dad could chat just as easily with janitors, sanitation workers, and gardeners as he could with Admirals, Congressmen, and his engineering colleagues. He was DAD, and he did what he did. It’s only in the last few years I’ve come to realize both how remarkable a skill that was, and how much of it he passed on to me.
Recently, I was laid off from my job. This always comes as a shock when you’re a high performer with heavy expectations for yourself. Though of course at my age in this particular industry—high tech—which is notoriously both sexist and ageist, it wasn’t totally surprising. High tech is going through a lemming-like period right now where everyone is laying people off because…everyone is laying people off. The executives say it’s to cut costs and prepare for a (presumed) upcoming economic downturn. I don’t believe that for a moment. To me it’s clear that companies are doing it because other companies are doing it, with a side hope that this will relieve some of the pressure put on employers to be more reasonable to workers recently. They want their power back.
(I’m sure people like Larry Summers would go to great lengths to convince people I’m wrong. Fortunately, he doesn’t even know I exist, so it’s not a big worry on my part.)
Why am I mentioning this? Because I have been absolutely astounded at how many people have reached out tell me how shocked they are; how they can’t believe my company would lay me off; how it’s a stupid move on the part of my company; asking how they can help. This isn’t just friends; it’s coworkers, former coworkers, and even distant acquaintances. I received the following text from a person I am embarrassed to admit I can’t remember at all:
I’m not putting this in to brag—or not much—but rather to note that, somehow, I seem to make an impact on people, and they remember me. People from jobs I worked at 15 years ago are reaching out. People I’ve never actually physically met. I make connections somehow.
Like my Dad did.
I have only recently realized that my tendency to chat with anyone and everyone, to try to make connections, find shared experiences (“Oh really? I was born in Connecticut!”), ask people about their backgrounds, interests, and thoughts, is something I acquired from my Dad. It’s something I picked up subconsciously. Something that I have never, ever thought about, and that I’m incredibly grateful for.
People are interesting! Almost all people. And it is the incredibly rare person I run into who I haven’t found some kind of connection with. You’re from the Canary Islands? Don’t they speak French there? I’ve been to France and speak really bad French; can we speak French? Oh, you’re Jewish, too? Oh, you like to dance West Coast Swing? You like Lord of the Rings too? How old were you when you first read it? Really? Wow; that’s young! Like my dad, I don’t care if they’re a garbage collector or a CEO; a sewer worker or a high-ranking naval officer; a teacher or a waiter or a phone support person. They all have lives, they all have stories, there’s almost always something in common.
I’d like to say “I make the effort,” but really, it doesn’t feel like an effort. It’s something I’ve done for almost as long as I can remember.
And now that I’m a bit on my heels from being laid off, I’m finding that this gift I received basically by osmosis from my Dad is something that actually gives back. That’s not why I do it; it’s not a transactional kind of thing at all. I do it because I enjoy it. Because it’s part of me. And it’s just incredibly gratifying to find out, so many years on, that people appreciate it.
I have gone through most of my life thinking I basically blend into the background, don’t make a mark on the groups and organizations I’m part of, that I’m essentially the Invisible Man. This was engrained in me in Middle and High School, where it was absolutely true; when I wasn’t being ignored, I was being bullied. That this changed significantly in college, and a very different experience has been true since I started working in high tech, just completely escaped me.
To all you people out there who think well of me, I just want to thank you. Finding out after so long is an incredible blessing.