His Social Contract

June 22, 2017, Prescott- 

Dad left us, thirty-one years ago, today.  He sometimes told others, but not me, that he couldn’t quite figure me out, but that he was sure I’d end up okay.  I heard all this, from my less-reticent father-in-law, a few years after Dad had passed.

He did teach us all about the social contract.  His tenets were succinct:

  1.  Your word is bond.  The few times I caught Hell from him were mainly centered on not doing what I had promised.  I’ve made it a priority, as an adult, to keep my promises.
  2. Individual relationships are the cornerstone of all else.  His take was,  “What good is the ‘greater good’, if it’s based on everything bad?”  This was in reaction to both the left-wing excesses of the late 1960’s, and to the conservative backlash of the Nixon years.  Dad held court, each weekday evening before supper, in the screened front porch, during late spring, summer and early fall, while switching to his recliner, in the living room, during the colder months.  One or two men, either relatives, or guys from work, would show up and kibbitz, over a can of beer.
  3.  Women “did best” by tending to home and hearth; though he saw it as  good, that  Mom earned money of her own, by styling hair, in the kitchen.  She was a top flight cosmetologist and hair dresser, so it was a marvelous arrangement.  I also got to hear very interesting commentary, on a variety of topics, from the women who came for her services, whilst doing my homework or hand-writing my little “newspaper”.  He also forbade us from making messes or asking for clothes to be washed, on weekends.  His view was that Mom worked five days a week, on housework, and that was enough.  We learned, early on, to make our own beds, put our clothes away, carry anything that was on the stairs up to the appropriate room, and fix our own breakfasts and lunches. (I never did subscribe to the idea that a woman was best off staying home, but it was the reality, in the 1950’s, for many.)
  4.  A real man could party late into the night, (he seldom did), but would dutifully get up the next day and do a full day’s work.  I took that one to heart, even in my lowest days of drunken excess.  It was, to my mind, the best cure for a hangover, anyway.  Many a Saturday morning would find me out in the yard, making myself useful, after having come home a useless wretch.  He liked the first, as much as loathed the second.
  5. Don’t spend more than you take in.  He’d have been apoplectic, had he lived to see us go over the financial edge, in the 2000’s.  Then again, he’d have seen it coming, and raised his voice, well before we bought the house, while Penny was struggling with her health issues.  It would have been, “Stay the damned course!”.  He’d be happier with me now.  Some lessons are just that way.

11 thoughts on “His Social Contract

  1. It is obvious he took his responsibility as a parent and a citizen seriously. We all develop a moral compass – sometimes with clear guidance and other times through the school of hard knocks… either way a lesson is learned.

  2. Your dad seems to have been a very wise mentor. Times do change, and #3 does not work well in today’s world as it did before the feminist movement of the 1960″s, but otherwise these tenets are valid even in the jumbled world we live in now.

    • I would not be happy in a world where half of society, or any percentage for that matter, is shackled or limited, by statute. We are so much the better, for women having been raised to equal status, under the law. All four of you who have commented, so far, are prime examples of the truth of this.

  3. Nice reminiscing, Gary, on an important anniversary. Appreciate your honesty. We did all of that in my house, too. Every Saturday morning was cleaning day, vacuuming, straightening, laundry. We couldn’t ever go out to play til our chores were done.

    • The best and most enduring families are those which had/have such structure. Many people look back on their childhoods, with pride in the jobs given them, by their parents.

  4. I love hearing your history. Interesting to hear, too, that you got to hear ‘life’ from both the women’s perspective and the men’s, via your parents. The balance shows.

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