Investing in the next generation

Posted Sept. 08, 2009, at 6:54 p.m.

My dad turned 80 on Saturday. We had a super fun party. The Sea Dog may never let us come back, but we had a blast.

My mom couldn’t make it. She died 11 years ago. My dad has had three magnificent women marry him. My mom of course and then came Linda Polverosa. Linda was a pediatrician like my dad and many folks remember her kindness and talent. And now he’s married to Rolande — a lovely gal from the county who has helped him through some pretty rough patches with his health these last few years.

Yep, my dad’s a pretty lucky man. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that I think he’s got interesting kids. But if it would, we’ve got a few of those in the family too.

My dad, in addition to being a pediatrician and eventually the chief of medicine at Eastern Maine Medical Center, is a geneticist. If you met his five kids you might wonder if he’d been experimenting in a lab at home. It’s almost like my parents found a way to genetically concentrate personality traits.

My eldest brother — named Paul, like my dad — isn’t a rocket scientist exactly. But he is a nuclear physicist. He’s also the vice provost of Princeton University. I think he ditched his pocket pen protector when the new century began but he kept his slide rule.

Next in that home lab, they managed to concentrate great faith. My sister Marian is a religious education instructor and theologian. She’s not as good at math as Paul but she can multiply: She has five kids.

Claire, the middle child, is the most caring and compassionate human being I’ve ever known. She’s a school nurse and I’ve lost track of the number of lives she has changed, saved or touched in some way.

Then I came along. I’m the quiet one — ha! You can form your own conclusions on what my extremes are — and heck, you may have already if you’ve read any of the last hundred or so of these columns.

Last, but certainly not least, is our brother Phil. Phillip is an extremely hardworking regular guy. He works for a power retailer. Well-educated and the only multilingual kid of the bunch, Phillip has by far the quickest wit of any guy you’ll meet. Whenever I see him he makes me smile.

You might think that a doctor wouldn’t have to have a genetics lab in his basement to bring up five radically dissimilar kids who at the same time seem to live gifted and charmed lives. After all, you might guess, he had the financial resources to assure that his kids would make something of themselves.

But my dad didn’t do it all alone. I don’t just mean our fabulous mother. I mean the government and the taxpayer.

When my dad came back from the Navy we had a government that prioritized his education. With the GI Bill my dad went from being a butcher at a grocery store to a doctor. Now you might point out that my dad has paid a lot more in taxes over the years drawing down a doctor’s salary instead of a butcher’s salary — and you’d be right. The GI bill wasn’t a handout, it was an investment. An investment we should be making in our young people today — all of them, not just veterans.

But wait, the taxpayer didn’t stop there. When my dad was doing his residency at a Rhode Island hospital and my mom was home with the kids, the taxpayer subsidized our housing. If our little family hadn’t lived in the Chad Brown Housing Project, my father couldn’t have finished his training.

Oh sure, maybe if he wanted a better life he shouldn’t have had all those kids. Maybe no poor people should. But I’d rather invest in the poor than ridicule them. And my family and the sick kids my dad treated throughout his career are lucky that our government did back in the ’50s and ’60s.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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