It’s been awhile, but at one time I thought success and happiness hinged on attaining riches and fame. I wanted to be rich and famous – not just one or the other but both. I once told my dad about my dream. “I’m going to be rich,” I said. “No, you will be comfortable,” he said. Was this an admonition, a correction, or a path he set before me?
For most of my life these words tumbled around inside my head. Initially, I thought he had concluded I didn’t have the skills to be rich. Later, I considered that he must have meant something in keeping with the old joke about a guy attending to the needs of his guest. “Are you comfortable?” he asks. “I make a nice living,” his guest replies.
Dad had a perspective gained over a lifetime of hard work with a goal to provide and not hoard and hide. Like most of his generation he had known hard times during the depression when money was tight and jobs were scarce.
To provide a comfortable life for his family Dad had worked a variety of jobs. He farmed; for Red Owl and Indianhead he drove truck “over-the-road;” he drove bus for Greyhound and the school district; he was a mail-man; he installed water softeners and he was an insurance man.
For Mom and their five kids he worked to put food on the table, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads. Plus he put five kids through school. His goal was never to be rich, and yet our lives were filled with everything we needed. We were comfortable, and therefore he was. Maybe that’s what he wanted for me.
But where does that leave fame in the fame and fortune partnership if being rich is no longer a target or attractive? To be famous means to be recognized. But lately when I introduce myself people gasp and question me.
“You’re not Jerry Kucera. Are you?” “What happened?” “Did you get a haircut?” “Really, I never would have recognized you.” That’s what happens when you don’t update your photo. The picture you see with this column was taken in 2006.
I liked the picture as much as I like any picture of myself, (given the subject matter) so I kept it and never changed it. But during the last six years a lot has happened in my life: both my kids graduated from college (the picture was taken at my daughter’s graduation), my mom passed away (Dad in 2003), I turned fifty, both kids became teachers and my daughter got married.
And somewhere along the line my beard turned grey, and to avoid being mistaken for Larry Fine of The Three Stooges, I keep my hair shorter. I no longer look like I once did, nor am I the man hiding behind the curtain. I am who I am. I am not rich or famous, but I am comfortable with my lot in life. And with that comes contentment, as a man has all he wants when his family has all it needs.