I come from a family of plodders.
My father, Arthur Houlihan, was one of eight kids who grew up above a saloon on Chicago’s South Side. His father, an Irish immigrant, worked as a laborer for the street railway before marrying my grandmother, who inherited the saloon from her uncle.
Five of my father’s siblings received college degrees. He went to the Armour Institute – now the Illinois Institute of Technology — for two years, where he took drafting classes. While working as a draftsman for an industrial district near Midway Airport, he was mentored as an architect.
After several years of this arrangement, and no college training, he became a licensed architect, a profession he joyfully practiced for the next few decades.
He’s been gone for more than 20 years but I still think about him just about every day. He was, without a doubt, the best man I ever knew. He followed a strict code — work hard, play by the rules, pay the bills on time, don’t cheat, tell the truth. Take care of your family. Keep moving forward. Never give up.
My life turned out much better than I would have ever imagined. I’ve been able to support myself as a writer during most of my adult years. However, that’s something that did not happen automatically. It took years before I really knew what I was doing. But I kept plodding along.
I’ve been married, widowed — that’s the worst thing that ever happened to me — and married again. I am fortunate to have had two wonderful women in my life.
And I have three sons. They are all grown, out of college and out of the house. They all support themselves and I am happy at their forward progress. They are, I believe, the next generation of plodders.
I tried to raise them by my father’s rules. We have talked, on occasion, about the concept of plodding ahead. I wanted them to be good men and thought my father was a good model for accomplishing that goal.
This is being written on the day after the Nov. 8 presidential election. Like a lot of Americans, I am shocked by the outcome. The presidential election, ultimately, appears to be a referendum on the way things are going in the U.S. at this moment. The winning side in this contest — even though it was not the side with the most overall votes — gave the present condition a failing grade.
It is, of course, a lot more complicated than that. There will be lingering questions that haunt Democrats for years — about their candidate’s low marks for being trustworthy, about the turnout by young people, about how badly the Clinton campaign judged the mood of the electorate. Darker questions will also persist about the last-minute FBI bombshell, WikiLeaks revelations and the possible involvement of the Russian state.
Mostly, though, I have been thinking about what I have told my kids about the way they are supposed to live. As far as I can tell, our new president-elect has not lived his life in any way, shape or form that resembles my father’s rules. Where my father was gentle and soft-spoken, our president-elect is a loud bully. He has a history of lying, cheating and not paying his bills.
I like to think that our Homewood-Flossmoor area is also made up of men and women who work hard and play by the rules. That we are a diverse group of people who, despite differences, do our best to get along so that these towns can move forward. We may not be big on flash but we have plenty of substance.
I talked to my sons after the election. They were raised in a politically liberal household and it was clear that they saw the outcome as a rejection of the values they’ve heard about all through their lives. The outcome of the election, so sudden and unexpected, was hard for them.
But I expect that they will be all right. They grew up knowing that life is not easy, and can take sudden and tragic turns. They’ve never taken anything for granted and expect nothing without labor on their part.
This country, since its founding, has had innumerable challenges, and our worth as a nation has always depended on how we resolve them for the good of all Americans.
I reminded my sons on Nov. 9 that life can be hard but, as plodders, we have to continue making forward motion. That we still need to work hard and play by the rules.
That we never give up.
It’s an idea that’s worked in our family for more than a hundred years. It’s the only way I know to face the future.