I was born in Dubuque, Iowa in late 1950. Dubuque sits along the banks of the Mississippi River on the Iowa-Illinois border. My father was born in a farmhouse outside of town, the youngest of six. He grew up on that farm, was schooled through 8th grade in a one-room schoolhouse (I’m not making this up), graduated at 14, worked his way through a local college in Dubuque and then law school at the University of Iowa.
The man had an incredible work ethic. Later in life, my Dad wrote at length about farm life at a point in the early 20th century, eloquently describing the bonds forged by shared family labor, the trust placed in each other and one’s neighbors, and how that culturally bonded those farm communities.
My mother was born in an Irish-American neighborhood in Chicago. Her childhood was the inner-city version of my father’s depression-era experience. Money was tight but love was abundant. In my mother’s case, the love part was a special salvation because both her parents had passed away by the time she was a young teenager.
Extended family helped her, her brother and sister get through various boarding schools. My mother’s boarding school was taught by an order of Catholic nuns, many fresh off the boat from Ireland - a source of great delight to her. (Listen to "The Girl From St. Lucy") With the costs of college out of reach, she got secretarial training and went to work. Once again, it took the whole family pulling together – but that’s what they did.
My Dad’s first legal job was in the law department at the retail giant Montgomery Ward in Chicago. Mom worked in the secretarial pool. They met, courted, married and moved back to Dubuque. They raised four children – a daughter followed by three sons – all pretty much exactly two years apart.
I am the middle son.