I remember growing up on the west side of Michigan. A little town called Holland, right on the coast of Lake Michigan actually. I can’t honestly say I grew up as a happy child; I lived the majority of my younger years not having a clue what it felt like to be loved by parents. How that came to be is for another time but I sure can tell you one thing, I remember what it was like to be free. To be free at heart is what makes youth so precious, and boy was I ever free. Of course back in the early 1980’s in a small town like Holland there was little to worry about. Today the city is like any other where parents don’t let their kids out of their site for fear of a child molester stalking them. Gangs have become a problem just like anywhere else and the state of Michigan in general has been battered by failed liberal economic policies. Regardless, I often find myself longing for that unrestrained freedom that came from a ten speed bike, a walkman and a fishing pole.
During the summer I would awaken at zero dark thirty and get on my Schwinn ten speed with a tackle box in one hand and a rod and reel in the other. I would ride the few miles to get my grandfathers barn that was next to the trail that led down to the stream that fed into the lake. Lake Macatawa was actually the Black River and it fed right out into Lake Michigan. At the end of the trail was a little row boat and I would row myself out into Lake Mac and fish all day by myself, and I was only eleven years old. I never caught a damn thing but I didn’t care, I was free.
If I wasn’t fishing then I would ride into town and spend the five dollars I had earned from mowing a neighbors lawn. For me, those five dollars were enough for a new model battleship or maybe a new 45 record. The music of the 80’s was something else, Prince and the Revolution was my favorite band. Because I had worked for that money I understood its value, something that is seemingly lacking from many of today’s younger people. Come to think of it there was rarely a time in me teen years when I didn’t have a job. All throughout high school I worked as a dishwasher and I can honestly tell my children about walking to work in three feet of snow as one of these restaurants was about two miles from home, and I didn’t have a car. Plus, I enjoyed the walk. Honestly there was hardly a time when I relied on someone else to get to where I was going, it was either my ten speed or my concrete Cadillac’s that got me from point A to point B. Even when I found myself on probation for getting into some trouble with the law, I walked from one end of town to the other to see my probation officer. Do you know what the best thing about that was? I was free to take responsibility for myself on those long six mile walks. It made for some great time to reflect on where I stood in life.
Looking back at that time I can honestly say that I understood a great deal more than what most people do at that age. I understood the significance of being free and I was proud to live in the United States of America. I don’t know how I understood but even in elementary school I found myself reading books about WWII and the Nazis, and back then it was still O.K. to say that we had won the war, it was O.K. to say God Bless America. Maybe I learned my patriotism from my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Moose, who was also a reservist in the U.S. Coast Guard. Mr. Moose brought us on a field trip to the Coast Guard station and he taught us about honor and duty to ones country. He carried with him a sense of pride and his demeanor demanded respect. There are few teachers like him, if any, remaining today, thank you Mr. Moose.
Of course my grandparents deserve many thanks as well as they insisted I take responsibility for myself by ensuring I suffered the consequences of my actions.
It’s hard these days to find people younger than myself that carry any pride in their country, or who can recite any part of the constitution. I am forty and most young people I know need to have patriotism beaten into them with a steel rod. They seem to lack the sense of responsibility one earns for them self when they are left to their own devises. Living in the nanny state we do there is no need for personal responsibility as the government promises to make things fair for everyone. There is no need to try as everyone is awarded a trophy because they showed up. Where is this mentality bringing us? The once rugged and determined spirit that defined the exceptional American has been replaced by generations of people who believe they are entitled to a portion of what someone else earns. We have reached a point where it is actually offensive and “oppressive” to think our own merits can carry us to our own successes. We have been effectually transformed from a nation of people who rose to the occasion to get the job done to a nation waiting for someone else to do it for us. People are no longer free to take responsibility for themselves.
Unfortunately, the concept that many fail to grasp is that personal responsibility is the epitome of the definition of freedom. To me it’s a pretty simple concept, you either take responsibility or someone else will assume it for you. Once the government has taken responsibility for you the freedom to learn it yourself is all but gone. This is the message that conservatives need to embrace.