I am 17, and my parents are going to kick me out on my 18th birthday in August to make me homeless. What do I do? I don’t have a driver’s license or a bank account. My parents say that I cannot find a job but that I am “free” to do so once I leave.
I am one of 3 sons, and we were all told from as young as I can remember, “You have until you’re 18 to live here and eat my food and use my utilities. As long as you live here, you will obey my rules. My house, my things, my kids, my rules.” This was not my parents‡ position just to “make me homeless”. Homelessness was not their intent. Us boys achieving independence and self-reliance was the intent.My parents lived through the Great Depression and World War II. My Dad was a B-29 bombardier in the Korean War, but before that he was one of 14 children of a tobacco farmer (and moonshiner), and that meant that he had to work hard for every meal he ate. My Granddaddy was a little, wiry, freakishly strong, backbreaking worker of a man. Daddy always told us (and so did his siblings) that the young un’s were Mama’s until theywere big enough to hold a hoe and shovel, at which point they became Granddaddy’s labor force. Granddaddy would often say he couldn’t afford to hire help, so he just made it instead.My Mom is a first-generation American, the daughter of Itish immigrants who fled Ireland due to the depths of poverty and hopelessness turn-of-the-century Irishmen endured. Hours in Irish fields were just as long and hard as what my Dad grew up in, and my Mom’s folks knew there was no future for them at home. Irish children died of hunger routinely or were basically sold off to various ‘labour houses‡ to perform backbreaking manual labor for pennies a week. Upon arriving in the US in 1910, in Birmingham, Alabama, my grandparents found work of the same type as in Ireland: crop gathering, mining, menial household chores-type work wherever it could be found.Feeding a family in those conditions was a tribulation. It was very common for children to strike out on their own as young as 15. My Mom stayed at home with her folks until at 18, she met my Dad on leave in 1956 in Pensacola, Florida, where she was visiting cousins, picking strawberries and tomatoes for 2¢ a bushel. My Dad joined the Air Force by lying about his age to get in, in 1949 at the age of 15, to get off the farm and “make some real money”—the princely sum of $82 per month! And free medical and dental, and even paid vacation. Unheard-of in 1949 on the shale flats and hills of rural Tennessee tobacco country. By 1956, Daddy had gone from an Airman 2 to an O-1 bombardier from 1951–53 (battlefield promotion) and back down to WO-4 after the war when he reclassed as an Air Policeman, for which he was paid $399 per month. They married in 1959 after he got out of the Air Force. He took his GI Bill and went to flight school and electronics school, eventually becoming a commercial-rated pilot and an Electrical Engineer just as the Space Race shifted into warp drive. He landed at NASA and TRW Space Systems (from which he retired after 33 years).Mom had no education beyond high school and secretary school, working as a store clerk, a farmer’s market secretary, a Ma Bell telephone operator, a doctor’s receptionist, a medical bookkeeper, and even a Census taker, collections agent, and construction secretary. She finally fetched up at DCAA and retired as a Federal auditor.Even after such a life, my Daddy found himself to be restless—he often said he didn’t know what to do with himself, living at 3113 Leftwich Street, Huntsville, Alabama in 1965. Their house had a small back yard, too small for livestock or gardening, so in 1969, he found a delapidated old farm in Lincoln, Tennessee, and that’s where I lived until 1976, when I absconded to the military.Theirs was a rags-to-JCPenney-clothes story, and every chapter was written in sweat and tears. My brothers and I were raised on a feeder farm by hard-working, no-nonsense people who were themselves the children of hard-working, no-nonsense people.Being shown the door at NLT 18 may seem cruel to the modern generation (of Americans) who’ve never once had to scrape potatoes out of the earth with their bare hands (like me and my family did), or catch a cow that didn’t want to be caught, or pluck chickens or gut fish, or scrub the bristles off a hog’s hide just to have supper.My parents took me to the Lincoln County Health Department when I was 14 to get my work permit, and they found me my first job—minimum wage of $1.65 per hour (not $2.00, because it was a restaurant…an ice cream shop). I had to give every cent to them for room and board and gas to and from the Hyde Out. If I was lucky, I kept $2–3 for myself.I couldn’t wait to be 18 and get the hell out of there! I mean, I literally couldn’t wait—I joined the Navy at 17 (with Daddy’s blessing and Mom’s not knowing until it was too late to stop it).For many people of my generation, getting kicked out at 18 was a liberation. It was very hard to live at home with the endless labors of being a farmer’s child.I vowed that my eventual children would not be raised so close to the dirt that they had to dig it out from under their fingernails every night. I vowed that my eventual kids would not have to go fishing after school to have meat for supper. Once I was finished with military service, I bought a place in the country to raise my kids on…but it is no farm—feeder, truck, commercial, or otherwise. Just some acreage 20 miles from my job where I can plant tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers, where I don’t hear sirens every single day, or have neighbors 30 feet away, but guess what I told my kids?“You have until you’re 18 to live here and eat my food and use my utilities. As long as you live here, you will obey my rules. My house, my things, my kids, my rules.”I also told them, “You think I’m hard on you, but I never wake you up at 3:00AM to feed the cows, chickens, and hogs and bring in firewood and eggs before you go to school. I don’t make you cut firewood or 12 rows of okra (okra cutting is torture), or bend your back picking bush beans. I never make you clean rabbits or deer for the freezer. I don’t make you sit out back and shuck corn and shell peas for 10 hours. You two have got. It. Made. I make you mow the lawn and pick up your dirty clothes. I make you load the dishwasher. I make you brush your teeth. I make you bring the garbage cans up. I make you do your homework. I’m a bastard, aren’t I?”I made them study and work hard on schooly things because I had already figured out that kids their ages would be adults left behind without college degrees. My hard work and theirs allowed both to attend and graduate the University of Alabama. They’ve done quite well for themselves, and I never have to give either one a cent. I went back to school myself, though not UA because of cost, taking 8 years of night school and correspondence courses to earn my own degrees).None of this was easy, not for any of us.Life is hard. It takes work.And you have to start young.Your parents are doing you a favor. They are not saying to you, “Get out, we hate your guts,” they are saying to you, “Get out and make your own way, and you must start young.”You must adopt the proper attitude: this is for your own good, and only you can see to your own good. Who stays with Mom and Dad til he’s 30 has crippled his own independence and gumption. Get-up-and-go. Drive. Ambition.If you have none, you become a leech rather than a worker bee.