Monday, January 23, 2012

Norms and Culture are Personal

Donald was a Baby Boomer, born and raised in a suburb of New Orleans. And while no suburb of New Orleans could ever be truly Americanized, this one was as close it got. He grew up with children whose last names reflected the region’s French, Spanish and Italian heritage (and accents), and children whose fathers came from all over the country to work at the huge NASA assembly facility. His friends had names like Hebert (pronounced A-bear), Melancon and Sardelli, and also names like Clark, Pollock, Phelps and Miller.

His own family reflected the same dichotomy. His mother was born and raised in New Orleans, from a large family with French, Cajun-French and German ancestors with both Catholic and Lutheran overtones. His father had been raised in Shreveport, in a family that was hard-shell Southern Baptist and still fighting the Civil War.

Both of Donald’s parents had been married before, his father twice before. He had a half-brother who was part of his family and a half-sister who both was and wasn’t. He was the first child of this new marriage, and he eventually had a younger brother. What both of his parents prized and extolled for all of their children was the virtue of hard work. All four of the children would exhibit and practice the same belief, although each would learn that hard work was no guarantee of personal success, and that other factors could play a large role as well.

His father was something of a family black sheep, and often the despair of his grandmother. His father struggled with authority issues his entire life – the Baptist church, his parents, his employers, the Navy, the government, local New Orleans police officers looking for protection money. That struggle translated into a suspicion of all authority by the children, including Donald.

He spent more time with his mother’s family than his father’s, but his father’s family had the relative Donald loved the most – his grandmother. Every summer, from the time he was 7 to the time he was 13, Donald spent a week with his grandmother in Shreveport. He adored her, and she adored him. He was many things his own father was not – studious, respectful, never getting into trouble, among others. His grandmother often wondered how Donald could have been produced by her son, and decided that while he looked like a carbon copy of his father, he must have been more influenced by his mother. Donald loved Shreveport; it evoked a sense of the almost magical because of his grandmother.

And that was true. Donald’s father worked hard and worked long hours, six days a week, trying to make a go of his small business. When a small child, sometimes weeks would pass before Donald would see his father, getting up after his father had left for work and going to bed before his father got home. And what he learned from his mother included a strong sense of romanticism; he substituted as his mother’s movie partner because his father just didn’t care for them.

When Donald began dating in high school, the girls were varied in background. Some were natives of New Orleans; others had moved with their families to the city and were from all over the United States. Most came from a similar middle class background; a few came from wealthy families who lived on prestigious streets. But there was no longstanding high school sweetheart.

For college, he attended the state university, whose student body drew a majority from Louisiana but had a significant number of foreign and out-of-state students. His dating patterns, however, varied little from high school, and he found himself dating girls mostly from the New Orleans area, until his senior year, when he met and started dating a girl from the magical city of Shreveport. And this would be the girl he married.

Over at The High Calling, we’re reading The Social Animal by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Today we’re covering three chapters – on norms, self-control and culture. These three chapters are about Erica, who comes from a lower economic class family in New York that is Chinese-American on one side and Mexican-American on the other,

 The Social Animal is a non-fiction book largely told by telling the stories of fictional characters. My post today is an example of how Brooks has written the book, illustrating his fictional stories with numerous psychological, sociological and other scientific studies. The “Donald” is this post is based on my own experience.

To read more posts on these chapters, please visit The High Calling.


Laura said...

And you hooked me right in, Glynn! You have a gift for developing interesting characters, for sure. These chapters were heavy-laden with so much information--all good stuff, but hard to incorporate in a post. I've enjoyed getting to know Erica. Love that character of Brooks'.

Louise Gallagher said...

You always enthrall me with your reviews/reflections.

S. Etole said...

You make things seem so believable.