An Open Letter to Uncle Carl

Dear Uncle Carl:

60 years ago? How could you have decided my future for me, 60 years ago?

Allderdice High School required students to do a term paper on the career they most wanted to follow. Then the parents had to go to a meeting and sign a declaration of intent for their high school age students.

We were given two choices of tracks to follow. The boys were steered to the college track and the girls were advised to go on the secretarial track. The counselor talked with us and worked out a Combo program for me – which was quite unheard of in those days. I took the college preparation classes even though I didn’t like, and was not very successful with chemistry and calculus.

My parents admitted they could not afford to send me to college. However, they insisted I be put on the college track because we were going to figure it out, one way or another. We signed the paperwork.

I filled in the elective choices with the more practical girls classes such as typing and short hand. Typing was such a good fit that I sold my 2 wheel bike to buy a used typewriter. I was not riding the bike anymore, so it was a good idea to sell it to someone who would enjoy it.

Short hand was like poking me in the arm with a sharp stick. I felt tortured every day I attended that class. No way was I going to sit in some man’s office and write down what he wanted to communicate to a business associate, type it up, have him proof read it while I quietly fidgeted, then sent out what was supposed to be his letter. Bah Humbug!

Today I admit I’ve used the principles behind shorthand to create my own short style of phrases that were repeated in various industries. For example, my scribble notes include a capital B with a circle around it meaning someone’s Birthday and a capital A with a circle means an anniversary.

Yes, I know I’m rambling on and on as I remember more events from those days. Time to get back to the story of how Uncle Carl helped me to decide my future career.

My career research project was definitely not a run of the mill plan. Even though it was possible for a girl to become a Social Worker, no one else in my class of 500 students had that goal in mind. Local girls were not brought up to concentrate on giving of themselves to help others. They were supposed to go to college, meet that special boy, get married and have a family. Sounded lovely to me, but that’s not a career path.

When you, Uncle Carl, read my research project on working as a Social Worker, you shared a large verbal list of why that was not a good choice for me. The words I remember the most were when you told me I could not become a successful social worker because I’m such a softie. I’d give away the shoes off my feet if some one near me was shoeless. I cried in bed that night and felt lost and confused for weeks. Maybe you and Mom worked out this plan, I don’t know, but I do remember going back to the beginning of the project to research being a teacher, as a new plan. It wasn’t about the potential monetary earning power, it was about fitting into the right place at the right time.

As Frank Sinatra said, “I did it my way.” Update the story to the past two years. I taught writing classes with seniors citizens (silver sages) at the Adult Center. This year I’m giving monthly presentations to members of my creative writing group and mentoring new writers. No doubt now, teaching was/is definitely my calling.

I left the Los Angeles Schools when Hal was born because integration in the 1980’s forced me into a path of teaching in Watts, which is about 53 miles away from home where I would have needed to leave my miracle baby with a stranger as his babysitter.

The struggles I endured during those post public school teaching years were from working in the private business sector, which left me working in environments that did not match my creative, intelligent, independent personality. Maybe I could call that the Shorthand Syndrome.

One business owner fired me after 8 months because she said I was smarter than she is and it upset her everyday to see how much I could accomplish, especially when I succeeded in helping to grow her business – my way, instead of her way. She criticized me everyday to get me to dress like her, talk like her and even smoke like her. To this day I don’t understand why a business owner would fire an employee who was improving the business. I guess the answer remains ego, ego and more ego!

Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Thank you, Uncle Carl, for being willing to risk our relationship by talking with me that fateful day about my career choices. You were/are correct. Even though I never earned an academic degree in Social Work or the job title of Social Worker, I’ve always worked to help those in need. Right now I’m searching to find a donated car for a long time unemployed man so he can drive to job interviews and get back to working on a full time job.

We rarely articulate clearly by telling anyone they are right. It’s never too late to acknowledge and express appreciation for spreading the love. Thank you for being right.


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