Before you read my stories, I want you to know two things: who I am and why I’m doing this. I am Andy Dawkins, a very lucky guy. Born in 1950 in the USA. Growing up in the suburbs and the 60s. By 2012 a retired Judge. How many kids are lucky enough to say their Dad is a judge? Much of what follows the kids didn’t know about until now.* I hope Jack & Nick are old enough to decipher the twin meaning of life: Pursuit of Pleasure and Leave the World a Better Place (or doing something meaningful for others with your life). It will be fun re-living these adventures as I write, but the motivation is to inspire my own 2 kids, and other up & comers, to get involved in politics. It’s been fun!
I started writing in November, 2012, on my way to the East Coast to visit my 90 year-old parents still alive and living independently. I am lucky to have them still alive in their 90s. My parents just survived Superstorm Sandy (aka Frankenstorm). In fact, I happen to be passing a convoy of Wisconsin electric company trucks also heading East to help restore power in the wake of the storm.
The other day I took a last-day-of-work ride to the Courthouse around the Lake, past the Zoo, through the Fairgrounds and then down a tree-lined street that once was the streetcar line to downtown. What a beautiful ride. How lucky I am to live where I do. The misty blue lights of the Fountain are turned off now because it’s November, but the pre-snow faded browns and greens of the park grounds make a pretty backdrop for folks parking and strolling to the Conservatory. I’ve always thought that people are the most beautiful flowers of the world.
(*In fact, no telling when my kids may read these stories. They’re teen-agers caught up in their own lives and not so interested in Dad’s. I’ll be using bits and pieces at teachable moments. Please don’t embarrass them with an onslaught of all the things their Dad did. Any spotlight should be on me, not them.)
Throughout my 20s and 30s I had lots of friends, both girlfriends and men friends. I recommend not settling down until late and starting a family in your 40s. There’s just too much beauty, pleasure and wonderment being intimate with other human beings. Up until marriage I lived by Margaret Mead’s creed that humans were meant to be serially amorous, but it’s important to teach young men respect for the opposite sex, that women are not just sex objects. Everyone, please read the story “My apologies to Hannah and Annie.” My all-time favorite poem is Andrew Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress.”
Now there’s Jack and Nick, my 15 and 13 year-old sons, and my beautiful wife of 17 years, my rose Ellen. We live in a great place to raise kids and we’re fortunate the boys are doing well in school and have plenty of friends. If it’s not the best of times for the whole world, I myself am feeling a renewed surge of youthfulness and optimism as I drive my ’93 Eclipse “Mitzi” and reflect how lucky I am to have been an attorney, a state legislator, a judge, a lover, a husband, and the father of two healthy children. Health is Wealth. But it doesn’t hurt to have some money, and, for many, a government that helped save for your retirement. Come on kids! Join the political discussion! If you don’t pay attention to politics, you may miss out on some things when you reach retirement age that I am fortunate to have.
Plato defined politics as the art of combining all the parts of society into a cohesive whole and I couldn’t agree more. Politics is not a bad thing, and, as W.E.B. DuBois said, “If reputable people leave politics alone, then politics will become disreputable.” So Lesson #2 kids: Yes, it’s okay to be a hedonist and pursue what is fun as a reason to live, but you won’t feel like you’re having a meaningful existence unless you also get involved in politics, in your community, and try to make the world a better place.
The day after retiring I’m on the Interstate heading East fortunate to have a pension feeling much the way I did when I was 18 and heading off to college: A lifetime still in front of me and I intend to use it to promote a political discourse based on truth, hope and idealism, not on pessimism, negativism and fear, and all the while maintaining a keen sense for injustice and a moral code to not harm others.
As Jesse Jackson once said, “A conservative is someone who looks around and sees the things that are going good and works to preserve them, while a liberal is someone who sees what could be better and works to change things.” That’s why I’m a liberal.
As I roll past Rockford, Illinois, a small smile crinkles my face for it’s Rockford where Ellen and I frolicked in the hay one afternoon at the 1998 Labor Day Rock Festival, and magnifico! Nick’s born Memorial Day weekend. Lesson #1 kids: Be safe! Don’t allow for any chance of becoming a father before you want to be. (Nick, your mom and dad were trying to have Ellen become pregnant, but read the story “A Man’s Right to Choose Ends Where a Woman’s Begins.”)
My next stop is Chicago for a few hours because Chicago is where I learned all sorts of big city things growing up that carried over to being a leader on “What Is Fun” when I got to college (in a less sophisticated setting – as you will read). I’m stopping at the public library, a beautiful ornate jeweled building at the corner of Michigan & Washington growing up, and now the more utilitarian – but still Taj Mahal’ish on the outside – Harold Washington Public Library at the corner of State & Van Buren. I need to look at an Illinois atlas and make sure there really is a town called “Godley, Illinois,” a town I’ve been telling others about for 46 years. Read the story about Godley and decide for yourself if I was being un-godly or not in Godley, Illinois. But first I really want you to know more about me.
I want you to know how sincere I am about being lucky in life and how much luck is based upon hard work. Lucky to grow up in a two-parent family. Work at that. Lucky to grow up with parents who saved enough money to pay for my college education. You will read how they worked hard to do that. Lucky to grow up with a value system that inculcated every manner of not stepping on ants. Maybe you’ll think I’m being too full of myself, but these were experiences I lived that made me feel vibrant, alive, wholesome (well-rounded), and powerful to shape my own destiny. You can have similar experiences. Just don’t believe you’re a bad person when there’s the occasional defying of authority. And you know what? It may not be even possible to work hard to make the world a better place unless you’re having fun too. As Emma Goldman said, “I don’t want to join your revolution unless I can dance.” Put an illegal smile on your face if you choose; but do so in moderation because there’s work to be done. As Voltaire said ages ago, “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor from sleeping underneath bridges.”
As a kid I was fortunate to grow up in a family that didn’t care if we were a little different than the neighbors. Clarence Darrow said, “Don’t trust the majority to be doing the right thing.” Or, as we said in the 60s, “Question Authority.” Us Dawkins kids (I had three sisters and a brother) fetched thrown-out Xmas trees from neighbors’ curbs after school days in January so the Dawkins could have a fragrant gravel driveway strewn with pine needles rather than an asphalt one like all the neighbors had. (And we didn’t have to buy any firewood.) We even picked dandelion leaves in the park for our salads, never went to movies (mom thought movies were a bad influence - “besides,” she said, “kids peed in seats that never saw sunlight”); we didn’t have a TV, and rarely ate out. Grace, our Mom, was an original recycler, environmentalist, and hippie before there even were such things. Most important, Grace and our Dad Jack saved every dime so their kids could graduate from college debt-free — and that way be whatever they wanted to be. Read the story “Shipwreck, New Jersey” where I hint at the great injustice of having a system that churns-out college graduates that have to work for Fortune 500 companies to pay off their school debt instead of going to work on something they want to do — such as helping throw-away kids.
Grace and Jack literally watched every dime being spent. We didn’t get the morning paper delivered to our house. Instead, every day after school I visited my Grandparents across the street and brought home the morning paper to read at our house in the evening (and for Mom to clip coupons). If my Dad came home from the train station with a paper he had to say someone had left it behind on the commuter. That’s another lesson in addition to being frugal: learning to be independent. Even before I was a teenager I was taking the train by myself downtown to see the dentist – and later the orthodontist. By the time I had my driver’s license I knew the City as well as any suburban kid could. When I left home for good at age 17, my mom and dad said, “You don’t need to call us everyday, or tell us where you are. We did all we could to raise you to take care of yourself.”
But back to the main story, every Saturday because he was such an ever-lovin’ husband and Grace didn’t drive, Jack went to all the grocery stores for which there were coupons, and then, once home, suffered Grace’s comparing purchases to the coupon list and oftentimes sent him back for a second round to get things right. (Gas was 25 cents a gallon then.) It took hard work to save every dime.
Lesson #3 kids – just as important as being safe and helping others: There’s Hard Work Involved in Being Lucky. Now Jack and Nick are lucky enough to have their college educations already saved for, but I worked really hard all my life. This work ethic needs to get passed on. And don’t forget about the kids who aren’t lucky enough to grow up in a house where a dad comes home from work.
The Dawkins were also a little different because we were Democrats in a Republican suburb. As a 10 year-old I pulled my little red Radio wagon and dropped JFK literature at every door. Even made my own yard sign: Nix on Nixon – Kennedy Can. And that’s who I am: very frugal and very much a Democrat. How Republicans get away with driving Cadillacs and calling Democrats big spenders is beyond me.
To sum-up, this book of stories about my life is to encourage the generation coming of age in America to be active adventurers in all that Life offers and to try to restore Politics to its good name. Hopefully the politics of the next score years of the 21st Century will seize the abundance of riches this Country has to offer, not squander it, nor think small, and you can retire too at age 62. If there’s to be a moral to this preface, let’s make it two morals to fit the twin purposes of Life: Just because you’re not totally Straight doesn’t make you a Crook; and RFK’s “Some see things the way they are and ask why, but I see things the way they might be and ask why not.”
Post Script: There is sadness to life as well. My two best buddies have already died. I have a sister who died young at age 16. It’s now multiple ex-girlfriends who have passed on. I would be totally remiss not to add a Lesson equally as important as everything else: To Be Kind – being Compassionate and Considerate of Others. Please, if there is a God, give everybody a sense of kindness that can be tapped even when it’s not apparent on the surface. For those fortunate to have been either born or raised with a sense of kindness, be generous in treating others how you would like to be treated. Don’t say something bad about somebody unless you can also say something good. Create a hope of reciprocity. In politics it’s called “not burning your bridges.” In marriage, it’s essential.
DISCLAIMER: These are stories. It’s up to you, the reader, to use your imagination, or detective work, to decide what’s truth and what’s fiction. Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as the guilty. Grammarians: These are out-loud stories – this is how I talk.
Masthead photo credit: courtesy of ol’ friend Mike Hazard. Great shot Mike, thanks!