Early life: strangers to each other

You know I have been reading a book titled Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, by Robert Pirsig. Here is a section of Lila I want to write about. On page 131, the author comments to Lila, “I suppose if the boat gave three million rides they must be doing something right. But it’s all – he shook his head – prostitution.”


“Yeah. It’s all taking the customer’s money and giving him exactly what he wants and then leaving him poorer than when he started… [The singer on the tour boat] was just imitating some kind of person she was sure they liked and they went along with it. That’s why she’s a hustler. They were paying her to imitate someone making love to them.”

The author learns more about Lila later: she suffers from mental illness, as did the author, and because of her illness, she became a prostitute and a hustler. He has no idea who she is when he makes these comments about the singer on the tour boat.

I suppose that is the ultimate reason to write about yourself: to find out who you are. What if you think you already know? You still want to learn what parts of your self-understanding are true, what parts are partially true, and what parts are erroneous. Moreover, who you are changes over time, so you want to understand how you developed during your lifetime. So let’s start.

Some things you can’t explain so well. You just have to start with your parents. My mother came from the Netherlands. She came to the United States after World War II because she was in love with my dad. Like most men of the time, my dad did not want to marry until he was sure he could support a family. So my mom and dad did not marry until 1953, even though my dad still had not decided on his career.

My mom wanted to become American. She did that through her interest in politics and government. She graduated from the University of Leiden Law School about the same time my dad graduated from the University of Michigan Law School. She had a natural interest in political science, government, and the law. She brought those interests with her when she came to the United States. She passed them on to me.

Next time, we’ll talk about their early years in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when my dad flew for Northwest Airlines, and started practicing law. Those early years from 1953 to 1959 must have been quite a time for them. They had three boys during that period, Steven in 1954, Brian in 1956, and David in 1958. Their daughter Laura was born in 1960, shortly after they moved from Minneapolis to Valley City, North Dakota. Valley City lies sixty miles west of Fargo, on the flat North Dakota plains. My dad started life there in 1924. My mom was born in Rotterdam in 1925.