Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lying Parents

I guess it’s just the way things are. Parents have kids so they can mind fuck ‘em every which way. I try to be honest with my adult daughter, to not make promises I can’t keep. I only wish my father had done the same.

My dad died in 1996 from complications of chemotherapy for treatment of acute mylogenous leukemia. He was 67 years of age. He did not expect to die, and left his multi-million dollar estate as a class A clusterfuck. He created a copy and paste “will” before he went into the hospital, I assume trying to save a few bucks. He’d had previous wills drawn up by actual attorneys; I saw one a couple of years before he died, and the only reason I saw it was because I was one of the executors. I had to sign some paperwork associated with that will, and I never read the will nor was I given a copy—my dad told me that there was no need for me to see it, that his estate was being left to his “children” (at the time me, my brother, and sister, and one of his stepdaughters, who was in the process of being “adopted” by my dad, God knows why. Well, actually I do know why now.), but that he wanted income from certain family investments to go to his widow for the duration of her life.

There was real estate that he was leaving to his children (including a subdivision of property that was owned by my dad’s family before I was born), and he intended that each kid received one lot to build a home upon. The income-generating investments, an apartment complex built in 1972–73, a mobile home park, built before my father married his second wife (not going to call her stepmother, because that assumes she’s acted anything like a mother to me, which she hasn’t), and a water company that provided water and sewer treatment to about 5,000 homes, were to stay in a trust, with the widow getting the income.

My paternal grandfather, my father and his brother were farmers. My grandfather was born in West Virginia, and worked in the coal mines as a youth. He came to California in the 1920s, and got work as a barber. He married my grandmother, who was born and raised in the same small community I grew up in. Her family’s claim to fame was her father James McCoey, who was active in the community. My grandmother made much of telling us kids that her father donated the flagpole in the city’s cemetery, and that’s why he was buried underneath it.

When I was very young, my dad and his brother used to run a few head of cattle on a 350+ acre ranch they bought in the early 1950s. I have a vivid memory of being in the barn after a cow had delivered a calf. I was maybe 3 years old at the time.

I’m not sure when exactly they got into farming, but they leased a couple of different ranches from something called “The Land Company.” The property owners lived in Southern California, and the rural roads that lead to and bisected the ranches had names like Hobson and Lagomarsino. The acreage my dad and his brother farmed was Hobson Ranch.

Only I don’t remember my uncle actually working … apparently he had some sort of nervous breakdown and was unable to work. So my dad did, working 12+ hour days while his brother stayed home and started to dabble in real estate.

As kids, my dad and uncle would drag the six of us (my siblings and I, along with our three double-first cousins) to the ranch to weed crops. The ranch was right off the freeway, and I was teased too many times to count for being a “farmworker” when classmates’ families drove by on the freeway and saw the six of us, all blonde, weeding and thinning crops. We were saving money, you know, sacrificing for the future. So said my dad and uncle.

We never went on family vacations. My dad said we had to sacrifice things like that for the future. So while classmates’ families went away during Christmas vacation or even had summer vacations, we didn’t. I think I was probably 11 years old when we had our first family vacation—but with my dad’s brother’s family, one of their business partners and his family (4 kids), and eventually my mother’s brother (2 kids at the time). The vacation consisted of a winter outing, and between the 3 or 4 families, they’d rent a house at Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows and stick anywhere from six to eight adults AND 10 to 12 kids into a three- or four-bedroom vacation house. There is no way that “vacation” was any fun for the adults—I remember my mom and aunt doing not much more than cooking and keeping clothes dry for us kids.

That was the “family vacation” for about three consecutive Januarys. Throw the kids and dogs into a station wagon, load up one of the farm pickups to take clothing, rented skis and toboggans, and foodstuffs from coastal central California to the Sierras. We did get to miss school, though, because my dad and his brother made sure to not rent around Christmastime—to save money for the future of course!

The first “vacation” where we stayed in an actual motel happened when I was 12. Of course it wasn’t just my family; my dad and his brother’s family came along, too. We stayed in three rooms across from Disneyland (my dad and mom in one room, my aunt and uncle in one room, along with my 6-month old cousin, and the six of us older kids [four girls, two boys] in one room with two beds).

That’s just the way it was, my dad and uncle told all of us kids we had to sacrifice for the future, so they could invest in real estate and be financially secure someday.

I believe they started buying properties when I was 13 or so. The first was acreage off of I-80. They sold that and reinvested in a pair of good-sized lots in Fremont and in Watsonville. The lot in Fremont is now a multimillion dollar office building. The property in Watsonville is housing. My dad and uncle didn’t develop it. My uncle’s pipe dream was putting himself and my dad into position as investors for a world-class hotel in Monterey, on Cannery Row.

That property is now a parking garage.

In 1972 they decided to build a 26-unit apartment complex at what was then the edge of town. It was the nicest apartment complex at the time it was built, with a swimming pool in the courtyard, and covered parking. To save construction costs, my dad and uncle would drag us kids to the property and we had to clean up for the next week’s construction. I was in high school at the time. We’d go in and pick up nails and scrap lumber and cut-up sheet rock and sweep the concrete foundation so things were nice and clean for the builders. We weren’t paid, because “You need to pay into this, because someday it will be yours.”

Again, it was humiliating work, especially for me, a high school junior. Classmates would drive by, stop and honk and get out and laugh. I endured it because this was something that belonged to my family.

Eventually my uncle's family started taking vacations on their own. I believe their locations of choice were Catalina Island and Palm Springs. My family, of course, didn't do vacations. Gotta save for the future, you know!

Fast-forward to adulthood. My parents divorced when I was in my mid-20s. My mom just wanted out and let my dad keep pretty much everything, he threatened to hurt her and he told her if she took her fair share, there would be nothing left for “the kids.”

Cautionary hint: If there are sizable assets between a couple, and they divorce, the woman should get everything due her, and not let the husband tell her she’s harming her childrens’ future. ‘Cause she’s not. She’s harming them by NOT getting what’s due her, because the man will have enough to look attractive (financially) to other women, and then we have the “new” family who is now worthy of inheriting those assets.

My dad married a woman with three daughters. They became his second family, the perfect family. My dad was in the process of developing several properties, and always assured me that I needed to be patient, that he’d make sure I’d receive the acreage from the 350+ acre ranch, just like his mother had wanted. He built and sold houses, built a mobile home park that paid for itself quickly, and became a wealthy man.

His new daughters benefitted greatly. The family went on vacations a couple of times a year. Hawaii, Mexico, Ireland. One of the girls went to Russia; the youngest (the one who was "adopted") I believe got a trip to Hawaii when she graduated from high school. When the middle and youngest girls turned 16, they received cars. They never worked in the fields or cleaned up after any construction crews. No sacrificing for the princesses, no siree!

When my father died, long story short, his wife (of less than ten years) of course inherited the beautiful 5,000 square foot home he’d built for her, with only $40K left on the mortgage. She also inherited the family home, the house I grew up in. She promptly sold that off, keeping every dime of those proceeds. I knew my dad wanted her to receive the income from the apartments and the mobile home park, so no fighting there. But the bitch got greedy, and she ended up pretty much owning everything: basically 50 percent of the 350+ acre ranch, and she quickly sold off those lots, grossly undervalued. Her extended family bought several of them.

When the funds were dispersed, she received 50 percent of the funds; the four “heirs” each received ¼ of the remaining 50 percent. To do the math, she received $200,000 from selling an asset that was part of my family from before my birth. She had written in the “settlement” that I was never allowed to buy property or live on the development, because she was delusional enough to believe I was going to have her killed! Where she got that idea, I have no idea. I was never anything but nice and respectful toward her while my father was alive, and even afterwards.

The estate attorney’s fees were over $250,000. The estate paid for the widow’s attorney’s fees. My brother and I scraped to pay what little we could afford to an attorney who rolled over and played dead—$8,000 that took us two years to pay off after the estate was “settled.”

Oh, need I remind my readers that during the 1990s, I was unemployed and unemployable because of my on-the-job back injury in 1989. I never asked my father for a dime after I got hurt at work ... nor did I receive a dime, either.

Today the widow receives $10K a month from my father’s assets. (She also has his social security benefits, her teacher’s retirement benefits, and her own social security.) I earn … not a dime. Her daughters all own homes that she’s bankrolled. They want for nothing. She lives in her mansion on the hill like a queen. In the 12 years since he died, I received about $30,000, with 1/3 of that paying “inheritance taxes” and going toward my attorney’s fees. At the time of my dad's death the estate was valued at nearly $2 million, mostly in real estate.

I was supposed to receive my grandmother's sterling silver flatware (I am the oldest grandchild). I don't have it, I have no idea where it is. Shortly after my dad's death his wife said I could come up anytime and get it. Only thing was, she lives behind gates and I don't have the code. Nor would she pick up the phone if I called. Lying bitch.

I worked in the fields, picked up construction trash, and accepted the need to sacrifice while I was growing up because it would “all belong to us kids” someday. My dad lead me to believe my sacrifice was the right thing to do, that someday I would own something (even as partners with my cousins which was fine, we used to get along) and giving up things to ensure that future was the right thing to do.

I lie awake nights trying to remember one truthful thing my father said to me, one promise that he made that he kept. I can’t think of one. (Which explains the time of this posting; I am on such shaky ground financially, no matter how hard I try to get into a better situation, to work harder, to find more work. I want to get my daughter through college, at least through paralegal school, and perhaps be in a position to help her if she decides to do law school in a few years.) Did my father consciously choose to lie to us? I want to think not, but it’s entirely possible he did. Heaven knows he wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone except his biological children.

And people wonder why I hate my dad, why I’ve not gone to his grave, and why I moved away from that community. To see his golddigging widow and his precious second family live like wealthy people (‘cause they are!) while I have memories of working so my dad—our family—could have those things they all have now, is just too painful. And I was sick of explaining to people why, upon my dad’s death, I wasn’t all of a sudden “wealthy.”

And for the rest of my life, I am tied to his second family, those three girls who got the vacations we didn’t do because of “the future,” the girls who got the designer clothes while my mom shopped at Spiegel mail order because of “the future,” the girls who each have homes bankrolled on my father’s estate because he was able to lie to his kids and assure that the sacrifice was good for them.

I guess at least I have nothing to promise my kid, so nothing for her to sacrifice for. My father even promised college money to my daughter. That never materialized either. (He promised college money for all of his grandchildren. Only my deceased sister's kid got any money from the widow, because her father kissed the bitch's ass. I have no relationship to my sister's kid, and that kid has made it clear that she considers my father's widow "her grandmother" and the widow's daughters "her aunts." Hope she never needs any bone marrow ...)

My father was cold and selfish enough that he never once attended a single swimming competition that my daughter participated in—she was his only grandchild who took after him in the swimming ability department. He was chock full of excuses why he never could make it. But if one of the stepdaughters did something, you bet he was right there, beaming!

I wish I could retrieve one positive memory about my dad that didn’t end up having strings attached. And I know it’s not cool waiting for karma, but I pray that I live long enough to see my father’ widow pay for her greed and cruelty.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sins of the Parents

photo from SF Chronicle

There was an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about a little boy named Gavin. Gavin is thought to be four years of age, and he’s homeless. He spent much of his time panhandling with his mother on the mean streets of SF and at the Embarcadero BART Station.

After months of watching this child live this life, SF’s Child Protective Services finally got on board and took Gavin into protective custody. The article is here if you want to read it.

Gavin is the child in the picture. Yes, he’s clean and clothed and looks fed. Apparently his parents are together, but he’s seen with his mom nearly every day, asking passersby for money.

But does he deserve to be on the streets begging for money?

From prior articles in the Chron, plenty of assistance has been offered to Gavin’s mother. Temporary housing, beds, child care so Gavin doesn’t have to hang out on the streets. She refuses. No doubt there is a mental illness component, probably even drug abuse, and for now in the United States, you can’t drag people off because of poor decisions like she’s made.

Obviously handing a monthly check over to these parents isn’t going to get the job done. Taking care of Gavin is probably way down on their list of priorities.

I’m not saying that Gavin’s parents don’t love him. He’s just perhaps not their #1 priority in life.

The foster care system in this country leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s certainly better than having no system at all. One can’t help but wonder if group homes/”orphanages” could be better places if they were given more public funds. Where do those funds come from? They are the funds currently handed over to adults in the form of Calworks, SSI, and any other “entitlement”* program out there that sends a check to a family so the child can be taken care of. No doubt there are people out there looking to work with children, people with degrees in early childhood education who would relish helping children get on their feet, help them grow into responsible adults and not end up like their parents.

Weed out the foster parents who like getting the check from the county and who don’t necessarily have the children’s best interests at heart.

Kids don’t ask to be born, but some adult humans have the thought processes of a cat or dog in heat. No idea of the long-term consequences of having sex and the implications. In the case of a dog or cat, those babies learn to fend for themselves quickly. Human babies of course cannot. A four-year old should be playing, carefree, secure in a home with at least one parent who puts the kid’s care as the #1 priority, not worrying about his next meal or where he is going to sleep that night. The kid gets fed before the grown-up. The kid gets clothing before the grown-up. The kid goes to the doctor before the grown-up. The kid gets shelter before the grown-up. the kid goes to school and is given every opportunity for an education.

So why is it that irresponsible behavior gets you a check from the government (in various forms) for 18 years?

The kid deserves to be cared for, and if that’s in a group home (or loving foster care) where he or she will enjoy a stable life, so be it. Perhaps streamlining the adoption process would encourage more people to open their hearts and homes to children in need. Sometimes severing parental rights are the best thing for a child.

As a society we seem to forget who the victim is in Gavin’s scenario. By forgetting who the victim is, we set up a child for a life of failure—no education, no sense of personal responsibility. Gavin's parents' choices are what keeps them on the merry-go-round cycle of homelessness, joblessness, perhaps substance abuse. Gavin has no choice but to follow his mother to her day job of panhandling, and face it, he's an adorable prop. I'd give my last dollar to that kid, knowing he will be giving it to his mother for whatever it is she wants first. Maybe Gavin gets a Happy Meal out of it ...

One child at a time … someday Gavin may understand and thank CPS. For now, I hope he is surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to hug him and tell him that things will be better.

* I really really dislike the use of the term entitlement. No one is entitled to anything—government is not the teat that nourishes us all. It kills the productive members of society and keeps the dead weight fed, clothed and in some situations, housed. I’m not talking about someone down on their luck, someone who has lost his or her job due to the current economic situation our wonderful government has gotten us into—I’m talking about the generations of families who believe entitlement programs are a way of life.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Racism crap: Oh My God, You are Racist!!!!

I love it when I have the intestinal fortitute to face the 900-pound gorilla in the room.

I made a comment on a blog regarding racial differences in the jury and perhaps that might be why that jury is having a hard time coming up with a verdict.

Okay, I should have used the word “cultural” because the term “racial differences” is a crock of crap. There is only one “race”: Homo sapiens, human beings. We are all the same regardless of skin color; our genes are the same though different groups manifest different appearances, different health problems.

Cultural differences are a very real thing though. If they weren’t, why is it that so much time is devoted in a liberal arts-based education on looking at cultural differences, and why it is so important to be understanding (but not necessarily accepting) of different cultural norms.

People, we live in the United States, and unless you are a 100 percent Native American (I guess the proper term is “Indian,” but I get confused between “Indian” from North America, and “Indian” from India), you came from somewhere. As your family assimilated into the U.S., you kept hold of some of your cultural things (usually associated with food or cultural celebrations), and others went by the wayside. There are cultural norms in the United States that are just “how things are done” and frequently there are laws that back up what those norms are.

Those laws were written by people WE put into office.

Just because something is a cultural norm back where you came from does not make it acceptable here in the U.S.! Tripping horses as a Mexican rodeo event is not acceptable in the U.S. Nor is dog or cock fighting. But we tend to shrug and say “Oh it’s cultural” and that makes it sort of okay.

Here’s a good example that I wrote about earlier this year:

Just because it's normal to marry a 14-year old girl back "home" doesn't make it right. "Not knowing" about the law because you are living on the fringe of society because you are here illegally doesn't make it right. I'd be expected to adhere to laws in Mexico, and for me to scream "but I wasn't culturally aware what I was doing was wrong" simply doesn't cut it.

Now here’s my concern with this case I made the blog comment about: It’s a child molestation case where the victims (that were presented) are all WHITE males. The accused exclusively abused males aged 9 to 14 or 15. The jury is a nice representation of the Bay Area; however, there is only one African American juror who is actually an alternate. But I digress.

Right now white males are the lowest of the low. They have been for some time. Basically they are the scapegoats for everything and everyone because they have “worked” to keep everyone else oppressed. (You need to appreciate my sarcasm here—white female is just one rung above white male. I’ve experneiced plenty of “sorry, but the position is filled” only to learn the person hired was not white and not really able to do the job, but because of racial posturing, that person was hired. So much for color blindness.)

So could there be people on that jury trying to send a "message" to middle and upper-middle class males that what they experienced was nothing compared to being a "person of color" every damn day? I don't know. But I'm thinking like an anthropologist here, and why not? It's a valid thesis question that might need answering.

I argue that we need to become more color-blind. Seriously. I do not identify friends and co-workers by a description of their skin color or family’s place of origin. But I understand (from non-white people) that is the wrong thing to do. So what am I supposed to do? I don’t make a decision to be someone’s friend (or not) by a cursory glance at their skin or eye color, or their accent. I don’t walk down the street and when I see a group of young Hispanic men, quickly go to the other side of the street, though I guess I need to rethink my way of doing things. I do NOT look away from an African American person walking down the street toward me. I usually smile at everyone, even if they are not making eye contact.

So I’m the idiot. Guess I will be if and when one of those groups of people thump on me because I'm white and I was there.

When does a person become aware of “cultural differences?” I’ve written about the hurt I experienced in 5th grade when some of my friends came back from Christmas break and decided since I was a gringa, I was bad. To this day I wish I knew what happened those two weeks we were away from school. I tried to stay friends; I tried eating lunch with them, inviting them to my house for overnights, anything to keep them my friends. But I was bad now, not their friends.

So that’s okay because I’m white?

Why is it that so many classes in a liberal arts education are all about “race” and culture? I had to take cultural anthropology to get into a nursing program (of course those peoples studied were not anywhere near North America; I got so sick of hearing about Trobriand Islanders I could puke! I wasn’t going to trip over a Trobriand Islander in my nursing practice?), and then within the program, cultural awareness coursework within each specialty. Back when I was in nursing school, there was much education given to us about the Hmong, a group that had immigrated in large numbers to our area. It is vital to give people space in the health care setting; their cultural norms help keep balance and are a source of comfort.

I then moved on to a “media and race” class earning my undergrad degree, and that class was the biggest waste of time. Anytime I tried to say I do not pick the people I know based on race, the teacher, an African American man, said that was bullshit.

Was it my fault I didn’t grow up around Asian people or African Americans? I grew up in a white and Latino community.

During my master’s program, I took two semesters of “sport and culture,” and my classmates were black, Latino, and white. I got more insight in that class than any other, because I was able to ask those black and Latino people “what do you want from me? What can I do?”

Eventually once you pour through the shit you get “Treat me like anyone else, and accept me for what I am.”

I know everyone’s perceptions are different. We are products of our generations, our parents (though I am not like my father, who was notoriously racist against black people, and I could not get why.), our educational upbringings, and our life experiences. I don’t want to be less tolerant, I really don’t.

But when I am damned for my skin color and my sex and my disability status, I can’t help being a bit bitter and suspicious, now can I?

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