My father had four daughters. To his misfortune, the days of arranged marriages were long gone. He found he had little say over our choice of husbands. One by one, we got married. For the first, he threw a avish church wedding and reception dinner. His first son-in-law was not wealthy but he was gainfully employed. What more could he ask?
His second son-in-law had known my sister since they were in middle school, and I was still in elementary school. I grew up thinking he was like the brother I never had. My father loved him like a son even though he, like son-in-law number one, was not rich.
Son-in-law number three also didn’t have much money. He and my sister met at the local community college. My father frowned to learn he had a low-paying job, but he was going to school and that provided some hope. But then, they divorced. Her second husband was a bellman.
When it came time for me to marry, my father decided to dole out some wisdom. “Lori, it is just as easy to love a rich man as it is to love a poor man,” he said. I loved when he tried to give us advice. He always used age-old adages. His favorites were from Benjamin Franklin. I regret that in my naiveté, I considered these good talks to be opportunities to spar instead of to learn. But when he brought up loving a rich man, for some reason, it offended me deeply.
“What?” I cried. “How can you say that? I want to marry for love. NOT for money.”
“But why not marry someone you love who has money?”
He gave up.
True to my word, I married for love and not for money. The proof: my husband didn’t have money. And as we slogged along, scraping by with a growing family and a meager salary, I learned why my father put such importance on money. The stress and strain of making a small paycheck stretch to cover the rent, cars, electricity, gas, food, and medical bills was overwhelming. The worries over whether we’d be evicted or if we had the money to wash our clothes at the Laundromat this week made me question if I did the right thing by opting to stay home full-time with the kids instead of going back to work.
I realized, to my chagrin, that I had entered the ranks of the poor. Not that I’d ever been rich. Most of my life, I considered us in the lower middle-class rank Nothing to boast about, but we were mostly content. We had a house of our own, food on the table, cars, clothes, and money for college. But now, as I listened to an apartment neighbor talk about her monthly “Mother’s Day” gift, I realized she was talking about her welfare check. And another young mother tried to “help” me out by connecting me with a friend who could shoplift baby clothes from an upscale department store. For a small cut, she said, I could return my “purchases” for cash. It sickened me. How low had we sunk?