This investigative article addresses who I believe I am and how I believe I got here, in the context of the social sciences that have influenced me and continue to have an impact on my life, personality, and the decisions I make everyday. I will examine my life history, from what I remember and have been told from my early childhood through adolescence into young adulthood and up to date. I will attempt to illustrate how the forces to which I have been exposed have helped or hindered my development, and shaped my beliefs and philosophy about what is important in politics, business, family, and life.
Although history is not a social science I will furnish an overview of my life and experiences to give social, psychological, geographic, and economic context for the reasons for my past and present actions and beliefs (Perry & Perry, 2000). I was born at Antlers, Oklahoma in 1940, to a man and woman who had survived the great depression and married approximately four years hence. My mother had a teaching degree and my earliest memories are of playing on the floor in the kitchen of a four-room house where we lived on the grounds of Woodlawn School not far from Duncan, Oklahoma. My father farmed and was good in business practices.
I remember the pie suppers that were held to raise money in the two-room school that held grades first through tenth. My mother told me that at one such event I nominated someone for the ugliest man in the community contest and the man actually was the ugliest man in the community, who also happened to be on the school board. I turned five years old the last year we lived at Woodlawn. We moved into Duncan Oklahoma in 1945. My mother was a dedicated Christian and took me to church every time the doors opened. My father started building houses as well as running a laundry with his father, whom he idolized. We lived in an upstairs apartment across from the laundry with my father’s family for approximately six months until my father completed building two houses. He built the houses within a block of each other for our family and for my grandparents. We moved into the house in 1946 and the next year I started school at Lee Elementary. The first grade was a blur and I remember very little about what occurred in the classroom. I remember learning very quickly who the bullies were and who to stay away from on the playground. Going to school with the name of Allie was similar to Johnny Cash’s song about a “Boy named Sue, I either had to get tough or die.“
Nineteen forty-eight was an eventful year in my life. My father and grandfather sold the laundry, and my father built a small apartment complex and started a furniture store sales business. My grandfather died and my father had a mild heart attack. My father’s trauma and shock over these events turned quickly into alcoholism. After the heart attack his doctor recommended two ounces of whiskey per day and my father went from a person who would not hire an employee who drank to a public drunk in six months. My mother became someone who was constantly trying to cope with life with an alcoholic and take care of him, and trying to keep me in school and church. I felt a real sense of abandonment, my schoolwork suffered, and I was in trouble quite a bit of the time. Things went downhill at a rapid pace. In 1950 my brother was born and my mother had another responsibility for which to care. In Emile Durkheim’s concept of anomie “social systems with a high degree of anomie tend to fall apart because the cement that holds it together loses its ability to bond people. People no longer share goals and values. They do not agree on what constitutes right and wrong. They do not impart similar values to their children-in fact they do not impart any values at all, leaving children to grow up directionless” (Durkeim, 1897,1951,1966, p.124). I struggled through grade school and into junior high as a poor student, and learned to take care of myself out of necessity as I fought for survival. The last two years of high school I drank and caroused with a rough crowd. I barely graduated in 1959 with a low grade average and very low aspirations for the future.
On My Own
After graduation I enlisted in the U.S. Navy immediately and got out of my home environment. The Navy was probably the best solution I had to a bad situation. I grew a great deal in the first year of my Navy career and learned how to set short-term goals and attain them. I was a good student in the Navy schools, which I attended. I attained the rating of E-5 in the Navy, which was the highest rank possible in a four-year enlistment. While in the Navy I was in a jet fighter squadron and visited over twelve countries on three continents. After discharge from the Navy in 1963, I was planning on going to college, but first, I married a girl that I had met in 1961 and had been writing to for two years. We were in poor financial condition, but I had a decent job and still had plans to go to college as soon as we saved some money.
The Trap Closes.
One year later my college education was wrapped in swaddling clothes and making crying sounds. The familiar trap that so many men and women find themselves in had caught me in its clutches. I was forced to re-evaluate my priorities to accommodate first one beautiful daughter and two years later another. On February 2, 1966 – four days before my second daughter was born - I had a truck wreck on an icy road in eastern Oklahoma. As I lay pinned in the truck at the bottom of a cliff with a broken collarbone in sub-freezing temperature, I made a vow that if I survived I would go back to school regardless of the sacrifice. I was rescued (obviously) and in June 1966, Congress extended the veteran benefits package to give educational benefits to Vietnam Veterans. I entered college in the fall and we lived on veteran’s benefits and the salary my wife brought in from her job. I attained an associate degree in electronics and made the dean’s honor roll four semesters and the president’s honor roll one semester.
After college I went to work for IBM as a customer engineer installing and repairing computers. After working for IBM for seven years I had the opportunity to go into business for myself and started A & J Industries. In 1975 I bid on and won my first government contract to repair computer peripheral equipment for the Federal Aviation Administration.
At present I am semi-retired, after selling A & J Industries. I am on the Board of Directors of A & J Industries; Board of Directors of The Oklahoma Alliance for Manufacturing Excellence; Board of Directors and co-chairman of The Mid-America Business and Industry Council; co-founder, member, and past chairman of The Central Oklahoma Manufacturers Association; and past chairman of The Cleveland County Business and Industry Council. I volunteer one-day a week at the VA Hospital in Oklahoma City.
Forces Beyond My Control
The environment in which I grew up, or my history, was not conducive to great success in life or marriage. The history of emotional stress within the family of living with an alcoholic parent and poor performance in school plus my choice of peer groups were all detriments to my development as a person. According to Ericson, “the individual’s identity is challenged in each of the eight stages of development. If the individual can redefine the self and conquers the challenges of each new stage of development then he or she may progress to a new stage, thus gaining further maturity” (Ericson, 1963 p.101). The home atmosphere that I was in through most of my school years was dysfunctional, but at some point I decided, for reasons of survival and peace of mind, I must rise above the turmoil. I learned to contain my thoughts and behavior in compartments of my mind and life. When I got out of high school I was headed down a road that held very little future. What in my early life conditioned me to over come those challenges? The only thing I can think of that gave me the inspiration I needed is that my mother was a strong Christian and a strong-willed lady. She read and instilled in me a love of reading books and would have to force me to quit reading and go to sleep so I could get up for school the next day. I also lived the first eight years of my life in a relatively stable environment, which may be what helped me to develop later into something more than a marginal member of society. Erickson suggests that an individual must at some time decide who one is and what one wants to become or remain in limbo until this occurs (Ericson, 1963). After I joined the U.S. Navy, I stopped blaming someone else for my circumstances and took control of my own future. One of the little gems of knowledge that guided me was that I had to become my own motivator. If I didn’t become the mover and shaker of my destiny then I became the moved and shaken.
Social Interaction as Aspects of Change
The social settings that I was thrown into played a major role in my development, as I became a young adult. I have addressed the negative family settings and social interaction with my peer groups in high school, so I want to talk about positive social interactions that helped to shape my life. In my teen years the positive social encounters that I remember were spending summers with my two maternal, bachelor uncles who introduced me to a fairly strong set of “redneck” values of right and wrong, and a sense of objectivity toward life and my own behavior.
Occupational groups are strong socializing agents and consists of training to fit the needs of the occupation. In this case the needs were conformity, cooperation, team spirit, and obedience to superiors(Perry & Perry, 2000). After I enlisted in the U.S. Navy the squadron of which I was a member had a social order much like a large family. We could fight inside the unit but we were a tight-knit group to any outside force and we took care of our own problems. The squadron also had a high esprit de corps and was awarded the efficiency “E” for aircraft readiness for the West Coast in 1961. After the Navy experience as I entered the work force I missed the order that the military had enforced in my life. The family setting brought some of that back to me as I had children and began to realize how important role models are, especially to young children.
Psychological Factors of Change
My first daughter’s birth was a defining moment in my life, psychologically, in that it heightened my sense of responsibility to the family, the job, and the future. Because of my psychological interpretation of the situation according to my moral and intellectual skills, I had reached another stage in my cognitive development [Jean Piaget, (1954)]. I had someone who was totally dependent on me to insure that she was raised to be a productive unit of society. I was determined that I would be a better father than my father had been. During high school and the Navy I had felt very little remorse or responsibility toward any one but myself for my actions and decisions. My motive for joining the Navy was to escape a bad situation. I felt some guilt upon enlisting, at leaving my mother and brother in that situation; however, I justified that action by telling myself that she would not get out of the situation, because of her religious beliefs. I believed I had to do what I had to do to take care of myself physically and emotionally. I salved my conscience by sending money home for my mother, until I found out she was using it to enable my father by giving money to him. I felt a great deal of relief when my mother separated from my father in 1961. I also felt a great deal of psychological pressure after high school graduation to do something with myself. I got many family questions of “well now that you are out of school, what are you going to do?” I actually thought joining the Navy was dodging the pressure and responsibility club that seemed to be descending on me. Boy! Did I get a surprise in Navy Boot Camp?
The Geographic, and Economic Factors
Probably the best factor going for me was that I was born in America. My early life was lived in a rural setting and in small towns. These geographic locations exposed me to a society where there were certain taboos and standards of behavior. In Oklahoma there was a good work ethic and it was passed on to me. I believe that the harder an individual works, the further they will advance in a job or career. When I was twelve I went to work in order to have money to spend and avoid being dependent on others. There was not much extra money available in my family, especially after my father started drinking. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy was an economic decision as well as an escape. There weren’t many prospects for a job in Duncan, Oklahoma at the time I graduated from high school. I certainly was not ready for college and did not have the money even if I did want to go. In the Navy I was introduced to the concept of ethics and order. I was held to a code of conduct that I had sworn to uphold. Though I drank and hung out with some rowdy companions, we all had a sense of what we could do and could not do, and what was expected of us. Travel to and in foreign countries helped to shape many of my views and made me thank my lucky stars again and again that I am an American.
The Forces of Politics
Political discipline has taken a turn toward the social sciences concerning government and its processes on individuals and groups in society [Perry & Perry, (2000)]. Political events that played a part in my life formed a very interesting part of history. One of the earliest events was the start of the Vietnam War. There was a lot of anti-American sentiment in the world and “The Ugly American” was the best seller. President Kennedy’s death and the war were common topics of the era. The extension of the veteran’s benefits program allowing me to attend school had a great influence on my life and education. By allowing me to attend school full time I was able to take a heavy academic load, baby sit with my daughters while I did homework, and keep my grade point average high.
The anti-war movement was something that gave me a lot of trouble. Being ex-military and a conservative Republican I couldn’t agree with the cause, but knowing what I knew about the war, I had some serious doubts concerning the justification for it and especially the “no win” attitude of the United States leaders. I would not have fled to another country to avoid the draft or shown support for the anti-war effort, but I would not have enlisted at the time the war was going on. It didn’t have much impact on me personally because I had already served my time, was attending school full time, and had a wife and two children by the time Da Nang became the hot place to avoid. I was very fortunate to have chosen electronics with a computer background as a career field. Putting a man on the moon and the resulting technological revolution had an impact on business and industry that some have compared to the discovery of electricity or the inventing of the wheel in advancing society.
The Gene Pool
I believe that the genes I inherited from my family are a major contributor to my success today. Heredity determines the personality characteristics including intelligence, sociability, and basic temperament [Horn, Plomin, & Rosenman, (1976)]. My father’s teachings about business and his ability to get things done were big factors in my ability to start my own business. There is only about five percent of the population that can start a business, make sales, arrange financing, hire the people needed, train employees, and put procedures in place to make a business run successfully. Before the BLS/ALC program the only business class I had attended was a typing class in 1995. The good genes I inherited were my basic intelligence, perseverance, good health, and attitude. Those are probably the most important parts of operating a business, being there every day in good spirits to supply the vision, and make the decisions that make it work.
Blakeslee (1998) notes that “We don’t so much remember the past as we reconstruct it in light of present events [Blakselee, (1998)].” The criteria that helped me become what I am at this time in my life are a myriad of influences and forces. My common sense, character traits and development gained through historical experience, inherited genes, social conditioning, and psychological motivations influenced whether I made good or bad choices and decisions. The factors of politics and economics influenced the timing of my actions and reactions. All of these criteria have shaped my personality and determine how I react to business and social events that I encounter each day. The fears and the confidence that I have to face those fears and uncertainties are a result of the above factors. I am proud of the accomplishments in my life and believe I have been a productive citizen and contributed to the society in which I have been involved.
Perry & Perry, (2000), Contemporary Society, Needham Heights, MA, Allen & Bacon A Pearson Education Company.
Durkeim, Emile (1897,1951,1966), LeSuicide: Etude de Sociologie, J.A Spaulding & George Simpson, transl. NewYork Free Press.
Ericson, Eric H.(1963), Childhood and Society, New York, New York, W.W.Horton
Jean Piaget, (1954), The Construction of reality in the Child, New York, New York, Basic Books
Horn, Joseph, Plomin, Robert, & Rosenman, Ray (1976), Heritability of Personality Traits in Adult male Twins, Behavior Genetics, January, PP 17-30.
Blakselee, Sandra (1998), Re-evaluating Significance of Baby’s Bond with Mother, The New York Times, August 4,pp. B9, B13
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John D. Mac Donald
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