Friday, February 7, 2014


At this stage in my life I often look back and see how it was directed by random events. This is an activity that causes discomfort for most, but I am at heart a naturalist and find it enlightening - especially in comparison to the stories that people make up to calm themselves.

I like to say that I wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for Adolf Hitler.  My father was a lieutenant in the King's Dragoon Guards, which was stationed in Greece at the end of World War II.  He would not have met my mother if there had been no war.  Even my mother's presence in Athens could be called a chance occurrence.  Three of her grandparents were Armenians who had fled Turkey to escape massacres under the Ottoman Empire, and one was from Strasbourg, France.

Having entered the British Army at age 18, my father was not a good candidate for leading a responsible adult life.  His only brother and many fellow soldiers died during the war, and he may well be described as having post-traumatic stress disorder, though that was not a recognized medical condition at the time.  My parents moved to England after marrying in 1946 in Greece.  That is when my father's downhill slide began. He was unable to hold jobs and was fired even at the company where his father was a director.  In 1957, the family, now 5 strong, moved to the U.S., where my father continued his pattern of being fired.  By the mid-1960's he was a serious alcoholic, and in 1974 he committed suicide.

Needless to say, I was not anxious to stay at home when I graduated from high school in 1968.  We lived in a relatively affluent, though socioeconomically mixed, suburb of New York City, and most of my friends went to college.  The wealthier ones were sent away to private schools for high school, and I saw little of them after that.  Neither of my parents were academically oriented or had any college experience, and they were almost useless as sources of information or guidance.  We siblings did not pay much attention to academics, but for the most part got acceptable grades.  My elder sister had no college plan, and even though she was accepted at Duke, she ended up studying at a two-year college in Paris and finished with a secretarial diploma from a school in London.

I had little idea what to do about college and randomly ended up at a small liberal arts college in Indiana.  It was not a bad college, but in hindsight I would never have gone there if I had had a college plan well before 12th grade. My study habits were poor, and I did very little reading in high school.  The fact that I attended this particular college had significant consequences for a large chunk of my life.

Being an introvert, I did not circulate widely, and had only one girlfriend during my 4 undergraduate years.  I became emotionally attached to her, and we moved in together in 1973 after I had finished college and she had a year to go.  Her parents were conservative Indiana Republicans, and though they apparently found me satisfactory, they could not abide by our living together. By the end of 1973 I was under intense pressure to marry, and though that was not my inclination, I gave in because the alternative seemed to be an end to the relationship.  Thus we were married on February 2, 1974, a few weeks before my father died on the Ides of March.

The marriage proved to be a mistake, but it lasted for 11 years and produced 2 children. Again, in hindsight, I ought to have changed course, broken up, and not married then. I have been living with what I consider to be the consequences of my ex-wife's mental illness ever since. Unchecked mental illness in those we know adds enormous variability to our lives, and in itself produces almost unfathomable disarray.  It is present everywhere but is rarely acknowledged or discussed except in the most severe cases.

My lack of academic orientation led me to simply study subjects that interested me, and I majored in Philosophy. I vaguely thought that this might be a career option, but abandoned it entirely when I became completely disillusioned with a graduate program that I entered in 1975.  Here, in hindsight once again, I would have done best to take what I could from a liberal arts education and earn a living with a job that required unrelated technical training. That is more or less what I ended up doing, and all these years later I have somehow wound up with just what I wanted: idyllic living conditions. But what a circuitous path.

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