hough I’d been looking for a new job for months, when the question finally came, I was stumped.
“What is your dream job?”
Instantly my mind went blank, save the small image of me at my current desk. What I knew for certain was this: it wasn’t what I was doing.
For all the talk Americans have of living out one’s “dream,” many of us don’t know what that is, or might be. I have friends ready for new careers and seeking “opportunities.” We all follow a popular axiom that implores us to follow our passion. “Do what you love,” it whispers, telling us the secret of success probably lies in what we wanted as children. None of this has helped me, and I think I know why.
Yes, bills. What makes it hard to return to dreaming is something simple and adult: the cost of life. That means a mortgage, insurance, planning for retirement, groceries, electric, Internet and cable. Dining out with friends ends up on an American Express card, as do vacations and retreats. Fun too, becomes a bill.
Knowing that life, whatever it is, is a cost that must be paid for has constricted my dreaming. It’s the genie I keep in the bottle and it’s why it’s no help going back to what I wanted to be when I was six.
As a kid, I was immune to the world of bills. My father arrived like Santa, arms filled with bags from the grocery. We emptied them eagerly looking for cookies or ice cream. My mother put the cans of peas and corn in the closet and the eggs in the fridge. At 5:30 p.m. she transformed these ingredients into pots of food we scooped from while my father encouraged us to “eat for the hunger that’s coming.” My mother added lots of water to the soups and stews to make them stretch. I never noticed. Dessert was a pie she had made from the neighbors’ discarded apples. It was the best part of the meal.
After dinner, we’d pile on the couch to watch “I Dream of Jeanie” and “Bewitched” on television. Magical stories made possible by electricity. I had no notion that turning on the television cost money. I thought that watching the commercials did that part. And we turned the lights on and off at leisure with a rare admonition from my father who shouted, “Turn off the lights, don’t burn a hole in daylight.” This adage didn’t convey the fact that he was actually concerned about the electricity bill or even the cost of replacing the bulb, which of course he was. I thought he cared about the sun.
In the winter, the family house was heated by oil with help of a wood-burning stove. With my brothers, we hauled wood delivered to the house to stack on the front porch and carried in armloads to keep the hearth burning. We loved to sit around the fire and play cards, poke at the coals, and simply be mesmerized by the dance of the flames. From my young eyes, this was not a budget-stretching plan to conserve the expensive oil. It was togetherness and bonding, character building. I loved to see how many logs my young arms could hold and exhilarated at the ability to build the fire myself.
These memories make up the priceless quality of my childhood.But they were not free of cost. My father worked in a factory making auto parts for Delco. He achieved the rank of Machine Repairman, a supervisory position that got him off third shift. From this profession, he lost his hearing from the constant din. “Everyone in the shop did,” he says simply.
I can’t say this was his American Dream but it paid the bills. I’m not sure what he’d say today if I asked him what his dream was. Chances are he’d reply simply that raising us kids was all he wanted.
I wish an answer would come as easily for me.