That’s what the headline I just read asked me: Am I more successful than my parents were? When I read it, it was weird, the answer called out by my inner-monologue was swift and immediately, “Yes!” But when I thought about it for a few more seconds, I realized: No. I mean, monetarily I am way less successful. Societally, I am not successful at all.
I am 37, a first time newlywed, I have only held down a handful of “real jobs” since college, at least two of which involved a uniform. I am childless. I still wear concert t-shirts to “go out.” I only own one actual “outfit.” And my car has twenty three dents that I am aware of, a cracked spoiler, a faulty defogger and no heat or air conditioning.
So then, why did my brain immediately default to, “Yes,” when met with that little question? My mother had a graduate degree in education, two kids, a dog and a nice home with a porch when she was my age. She had a really good haircut, at least six blouses and a closet full of expensive shoes. My father meanwhile was a practicing physician with two kids, was well on his way to opening his own practices, buying a summer home and a speed boat with a closet full of weekday suits and weekend flannels. He bought Mercedes cars outright, without a lease.
There is no sad story here. My parents were in every way successful. They had, if not a perfect marriage, a nice one. My sister and I grew up feeling safe and loved. We were good kids, too. No one ever had to bail us out of jail or sit us down for “talks” and it wasn’t until I started making really bad choices in my late twenties when they were no longer responsible that anyone ever really had to worry. But by then I lived out of state so they never needed to know they had to worry until right now when I told them.
But I know that their life was in every way following the rules. They never said it, but I know they didn’t always ask questions before reacting to an order to jump. It wasn’t their fault. It was their generation. Success was defined differently then.
I feel like my life is as it should be. I guess that’s the reason the Pollyanna that lives in the recesses of my brain shrieked “yes!” upon being asked if I had exceeded my parent’s success. I had, because I had lived my life to this point in every way on my own terms. After college I moved to Europe and worked really insane jobs on which you didn’t have to pay taxes to make ends meet – but which usually involved excessive drinking. I moved to San Francisco where I helped my best friend start a business that ultimately failed but taught me a lot about failure (a lesson with which I am now intimate, thankyouverymuch). I moved to New York where I tricked everyone into letting me write a book. I met the man of my dreams and married him. I have a tiny Brooklyn apartment, a crappy car, two dogs who smell like dog, amazing friends, manageable debt and the promise, hope and optimism that someday I will pay it off because “They” will have turned The Stoned Family Robinson into a TV series starring Sean Penn (please, God, if you’re real…).
My parents might disagree, especially when I call and ask them to help cover a car repair or twelve…But I think in some ways they would also agree. Their choices weren’t bad, but I don’t think they were always on their own terms.
So, I feel more successful. Even if my retirement fund is a baseball signed by the Republican who owns the Texas Rangers and my great-grandmother’s fox fur stole that has a dried out fox head attached and terrifies my dogs…I look around and think: So this is what success feels like…It’s different then I thought it would, and sometimes includes the cheap chicken with a lot of hormone injections instead of the fancy organic kind, but I’m proud of it. Not always the chicken, but, you know…