Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Being Poor

By Jonathan Dunnemann

High School Photo (18 years old)
Let me assure you there is no dignity in being a poor person. It is a rough road to travel. You will find yourself lacking in many material things, conveniences, and many of the common courtesies that you might expect and that others take for granted. Like "Good morning!", "How do you do?", or "How may I help you sir or madame?" Depending on the clothes you wear, how you walk or how you speak you may be immediately devalued by others. However, such a condition does not have to be your life sentence. More importantly, your attitude and efforts in life have everything to do with whether or not you will end up having a standard of living and significance that exceeds that of your parents.

Take my life for example. My mother, God bless her, had children with four different men. One of her offspring, a male, I've never met. At this point in my life, I probably never will have the privilege of meeting this sibling. What a shame.

My last name, "Dunnemann" is that of my mother's first husband with whom she did not have any children. You guessed right, that clearly makes me a 'bastard' because my mother was never married to my father. This is just one of those small yet significant details that my Grandpa and Nana finally shared with me one summer day when I was eighteen years old after encountering tremendous difficulty in trying to obtain a copy of my birth certificate.

Older brother Jeffrey, and younger sister Michele and I were all raised together by my mother up until I was twelve years old after which I left home. That's a more lengthy story which I have chosen to share elsewhere in an expanded biography titled "Runaway" which I am currently working on getting published.

My father, William Keith, father to Jeffrey and I was not actively involved in our lives when we were young. He fathered a total of six children with four different women. Through him there is another male sibling to whom I have spoken on a few occasions but never met. Up until now, I have generally been too embarrassed to share these very personal details. I suppose that as is so often said, the truth will set you free. On the other hand, just maybe I can turn these liabilities into assets that can contribute to a better road ahead for you or someone else.

Because my mother was a single parent raising three kids she often found it very difficult to make ends meet. She was primarily employed as an hourly factory worker even though she was formally trained to become a seamstress. Quite often, my mother was depressed, physically ill from what was later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis (MS), and she became unable to effectively work. After frequently becoming unemployed, our family was forced to become welfare recipients. We got food stamps, government cheese and peanut butter, and the whole nine yards.

There were occasions as I recall in which we could not pay the months rent, the milk delivery man, or purchase groceries for the household were it not for the generous extension of credit by store keepers or the simple good will on the part of others. Our grandparents of course were always our first line of defense and we spent lots of time in their home. From what I can gather today, things really haven't changed all that much for a large number of poor African American and Latino American families. 

Living under these circumstances however does present a number of other difficulties as well, some with longer lasting affects than others. We were quite fortunate in those days to be able to see a doctor annually, get dental care, and eye glasses if they were needed. Being able to have issues of mental health, physical, sexual or substance abuse addressed was less guarantied. That meant that if, like me you were ADHD, repeatedly beaten and terrified of your parent, and sexual abused by a male counselor while attending summer camp then there was a good chance you had to simply find a way to live with those scars and do the darn best that you could.

Without a doubt, my mother was a very confused, young single parent who often succumbed to being depressed, lonely, and was prone to becoming physically and verbal abusive towards me following her excessive drinking. I recall regularly being told that I looked just like my father but that he was a good for nothing, deadbeat dad who had gone to jail and that I was probably going to turn out to be just like him. All-in-all, that is a pretty bleak picture for a young boy's future when only twelve years old.

Yes, we were poor and life for my family was hard but I believed that I could do better and I was determined to prove it to my mother and foremost to myself. I am convinced that if you really want to have a better life than that of your parents then this is the kind of mindset that you have got to build for yourself and operate out of. It is difficult work but failure, submission, or flat out giving up is much worse because it thoroughly robes you of your dignity, freedom, individuality, potential and divine spirit: the nature of which is goodness and is meant to be made manifest in the world.

For a limited period in your life, you may find yourself to be comparatively poor on the outside but you do not have to ever live as one impoverished on the inside. I made the conscious decision that I was not going to be like my mother, my father, or the male counselor that betrayed my trust and stole my childhood innocence.  Take my lead, begin today, right now to feed your heart and mind, to seed your dreams and ideas, and to weed out all negative behavior, people, and thinking from your life.

Become the best you. And, do it for you!!!