"12 Residences," Wesley Goldsberry (2007)
Twelve is the number of years one has usually attended school upon reaching the age of eighteen. Twelve is also the number of homes in which I had lived prior to my eighteenth birthday. This fun fact often provokes someone to ask the obvious questions, so let me answer those questions first; I am not an orphan or a product of a foster care system; my parents were not in the military or in a witness relocation program. No, the genesis of my youthful wanderings can be attributed to my father’s restlessness. I have no regrets for the trails my father put me through every time I was uprooted from a school and friends. From what I understand, childhood is tough no matter the circumstances. My numerous homes did instill in me a unique understanding of a home, an understanding that differs from my father’s.
Merriam-Webster Online defines “home” as "one’s place of residence, the social unit formed by a family living together, a familiar or usual setting," and finally as "a place of origin." By the first definition, home is simply a place one is when not otherwise occupied. The second definition implies, as the old adage states, “home is where the heart is,” and might not be specific to a place. Defining a home as a familiar or usual setting conceptualizes it into emotions giving meaning to a place. As a place of origin, a home is a place in one’s past. All the definitions can be inferred when one speaks of one’s home. When applied separately the definitions create differing views of home.
As a product of the baby boomer generation, my father’s view of home revolved around the idealized homes presented in shows like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, and The Andy Griffith Show. These shows depicted happy families with a working dad and a stay at home mother or pseudo mother character. They showed patriarch-centered lifestyles. Except for the occasional inconsequential scenario, all decisions passed through and were handed down by the father character. Tidy suburban or rural homes set in peaceful neighborhoods.
The neighborhoods and people portrayed in the television shows my father grew up watching didn’t exist for his generation; if they ever existed. Instead, when his time came to create a home of his own, an era of experimentation, individualism, and social change was already well under way. Economies had changed; it was no longer possible for the average man to support a family and a mortgage on a single salary. Despite all the changes, my father still aspired to the televised ideals of his youth.
At first my father compensated for the diametric situation in which he found himself. To allow my mother to stay at home and raise his two sons, he ran two businesses; a landscaping company during the day, and a janitorial service during the nights. He bought a three bedroom, two bath home in a suburban development with help from his father. He had provided an ideal home for his family, or so he told himself.
The home he provided his family was not truly his. He had no time to be with his family, as Ward Cleaver did. Instead, my father found himself sleeping through the moments he was home. His home was a place he stored his stuff; a place he went when he wasn’t working. Eventually, the stress and strain of running two companies and trying to have a family caused him to sell the businesses and return to retail. The reduction in income caused the sale of my first home and initiated the cycle of unrest in my father.
The cycle always began with my father trying to attain the dream home. He would experience an increase in income. A new home would be found and we would move. Something would cause his income to decrease. My mother would find a job while they looked for another place that would allow her to return to being a home maker. The cycle included twelve homes, caused my parents two break-ups and culminated in their divorce.
I can’t blame my father for the homes he provided any more than I can blame the oceans for taking cliffs. He was a force of nature. No matter which way the moon pulled him, he was determined to bash himself against the cliffs until he made them give. If only he could have seen then what I write today.
My home is in a 1970s suburban tract. A white picketed fence, in need of paint, borders a well cared for front yard. My wife, our cocker-spaniel, Sunday, and I occupy the three bedrooms and two baths of this single story ranch style house. Our backyard is large by today’s standards and, like the front yard, well cared for despite the stubborn weeds and frostbitten shrubs. Our furniture is an eclectic mix of styles handed down by relatives and friends. The few pieces of furniture we have purchased on our own were purchased for the first home we owned together which was much smaller and seem out of place in this larger space. Clean piles of laundry waiting to be folded and put away sit atop the couch. The oak hardwood floors are cupped slightly from moisture and are in need of refinishing. We’ve added some cabinet style closets and a door to the master suite that we have never gotten around to painting. My home is not a perfect home. It is a perfect place to call home.
I have no delusions that this home we’ve made for ourselves is my responsibility alone. Should we decide to have children, there would not be a question; we woull both continue to work. Indeed, should I ever ask my wife to quit work for my sake she would be quite offended. I understand that idealism applied to my home is not attainable. An Idealistic home will always be out of reach because I do not live in an idealistic world.
Had I been gifted with speech and foresight in infancy, I would have told my father to let it go. Let go of the catatonic idealism displayed in the 1950s sitcoms. Let go of the patriarchic attitudes that do not serve any purpose in today’s American life. Let go of the idea of a home that can never exist. Let go of all that and you can embrace any home that provides the small comforts and allows you to participate in the lives of your family. Even if the floor needs repair and fence needs painting. Then I’d give him the winning SuperLotto numbers to play in 1990 so he can buy me the Jeep I will pester him about.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: 17 March 2007 http://www.webster.com/dictionary/home