Personal, Society

Born On Second

I was born on second but I don’t think I got a double. I have had an extraordinarily privileged and lucky life. It is my hope, by exposing my privilege, I help others like me see how lucky they’ve been.

I was born in one of the safest cities in the world to upper middle class, educated parents. Both of my parents have Master’s degrees. My dad made enough money at the time of my birth that my mother quit her job to raise me (and eventually my brother). We lived in a quiet neighbourhood with enough services that we didn’t have to go downtown for most things.

I should mention that I am white and I was born in a city that is predominantly white, though it is more diverse now than it used to be, and is now one of the most diverse cities in the world.

I am also male.

From the very first, I had advantages other kids didn’t have. I grew up on a quiet side street with lots of families which had kids around the same age. My mom co-founded a preschool with other parents so that we could all learn before we were eligible for kindergarten.

I went to option “junior” kindergarten after preschool at an “alternative school”. I have no idea why I left that school and headed to a normal public school for senior kindergarten, but I could and I did. Both were within walking distance from my house.

My parents separated during the Savings and Loan Crisis though the breakup had nothing to with it. My parents were financially responsible and my dad very well paid so, unlike others on our street, they didn’t have to sell the house. They sold the house because they broke up. I had just turned 6 when the separated. (I associate my 6th birthday with their breakup, whether or not that’s accurate.) The house was old later.

Apparently, I always loved the water. I got my Red badge at such a young age that I was prevented from joining a Maroon class because I was too small to handle the deep-end.

The separation and eventual divorce were as amicable as possible, given the circumstances. My parents took us to something called “Families in Transition”, a place where we met other kids with kids separated or divorced parents. My parents agreed to joint custody.

My parents enrolled me in French Immersion because they could and because they thought I should learn two languages. When I was bad at it – and it affected my English skills – they moved me back to regular school before it became a real problem.

I started reading before I can remember and my parents actively promoted it. They bought me whatever books I wanted.

One of my father’s siblings is wealthy. They provided the opportunity for my brother and me to learn to ski. Eventually, they lent us a ski chalet for over a decade.

Many of my mother’s friends had cottages. I spent parts of many summers at their cottages, as well as at my cousins’ cottages and my father’s, the latter until he sold his share in it.

My dad moved to a suburb 20 minutes away. I soon had a new family. I would soon learn that with the bad parts of divorce also come material benefits: at birthdays and Christmas, I would get double the presents. (It often felt like triple.) And double the special meals and cake.

When my parents sold our house they made enough money that my mother was able to buy her own house with a mortgage from her parents. She was a single mother with two children. At the same time, she went back to school for another degree. She could afford this because of how she managed money, how much money they made on the sale of the house, how much money my dad made, and how much money her parents had.

My dad took me to an adult movie when I was 9. (Glory.) Not to be outdone, my mother took me to one the next year. (Dances with Wolves.) My dad would let me watch anything I wanted to, my mom was more careful but still allowed me to argue in favour of watching something restricted to adults. (In my teens I was tall enough to fool teenagers at movie theatres and video stores into thinking I was old enough to watch R rated movies. Also, the stores nearest my mom’s house didn’t care until Blockbuster came along.)

When I was bored with normal school my mother found me an “alternative school” in downtown for junior high school (i.e. senior elementary school). There were only 70 or so kids, almost all of whom were more creative than me. We had well over 1 computer per 10 students. It was 1993. We were exposed not just to computer games and software but Bulletin Boards.

I don’t remember what year my stepmom first got her cell phone, but she had one before anyone else I knew. It was the size of one of those World War II walkie-talkies. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) My dad soon had a car phone.

My dad bought a computer sometime in my tweens, possibly even before. It was a Mac. It was soon connected to the internet. It was the early ’90s.

I got into one of the “best” public high schools in Toronto. I don’t remember what I did to get into it but I lived in the neighbourhood so that had a lot to do with it. (Students would use relative’s addresses in the neighbourhood so they could qualify to attend by claiming to live in its area.) My mom wanted me to go to a private high school but couldn’t afford it without my father’s help. I don’t remember why I didn’t end up going, but I remember being against it.

Through genes and the way my parents raised me, and my education to date no doubt, I was good at high school. I did not find it hard and I got away with doing the least amount of work possible. The longer I was in school – 5 years in Ontario at the time – the less hard I worked (except in math), as I figured out what I had to do and didn’t have to do to get good marks.

Through genes and family environment I am extremely even-keeled. I experienced strong, complicated emotions throughout my teens, like everyone, but I have been spared most mental health issues as an adult. (One exception: shyness. I was an extraordinarily shy teenager and struggled with shyness as an adult.)

My mom and stepdad were able to sell both of their houses to buy a bigger house in the same neighbourhood I grew up in. They got a good deal and it is now worth five or more times what they paid for it.

At some point, I figured out I needed 6 OAC (Ontario Grade 13) classes with good marks to get into university so I took a number of them in Grade 12. Through careful planning, I was able to have one spare in Grade 11, two in Grade 12 and three in Grade 13.

I stayed in swimming. I completed my NLS when I was in Grade 11.

My mom made me get a job when I was 16. I didn’t need it, as my parents had saved up money for my university education, but I took it. I remember some wrangling on the part of my mother to get me a job at the big park a 10-minute walk from our house.

It was a term-based school with few mandatory exams in June – all December exams were mandatory – so we would skip classes that would just be exam review. In my memory, it feels like it was all of June and most of May. (Math and science classes were the only classes with mandatory June exams.) My memory of Grade 13 is basically never going to class. (We often went bowling.)

I ended up completing 9 OAC classes, 3 more than I needed, meaning the universities would take the average of my 6 best courses. Two of those courses had marks that were essentially invented out of thin air. (They were Latin classes and I cannot read or write Latin.) In another of one of those classes, I was asked what mark I wanted. I asked for an 80 and was given an 89. The teacher of that class was the most explicit about rigging marks so the best students could get scholarships. Everyone at the school – at least in the humanities and social sciences was doing it – but he admitted it.

I finished with an average just shy of 90. I was high enough up on the Honour Roll to win a small amount of money. (I mean, like CAD$100 or something. Really small.)

But the average was high enough to get me a full scholarship to a small university in another province. Had I stayed home it would have got me something like $500 at U of T, because of the competition. My parents had saved up enough money for me to go to university (in Canada). I had saved up enough money to pay for at least 1/3rd of it. But, because of grade rigging, I got a full scholarship:

Tuition + CAD2,500 for all four years.

I lost that scholarship though. Pretty quickly. One semester in.

At first, I only lost the majority of it. I had to maintain a certain average to keep the whole thing but if I maintained a slightly lower average I kept the money on top of the tuition, just not the tuition.

Soon I lost the rest of it. I can’t remember whether it was at the end of my first year or in my second. (I.e. my sophomore for you Americans.)

I could lose my scholarship and still afford university – and have zero guilt about doing so a year or two later – because my parents and I had saved up money for education. And they could only do that because of how much money they made and where we lived.

In my third year (aka junior year) I went to Australia for a semester. Australia was, at the time, orders of magnitude more expensive than where I went to school in Canada, in part because I was living in urban Australia instead of rural Quebec. I didn’t have to get a job in Australia, though I did almost run out of (my parents’) money. (I had about $50 left when I met my parents in Sydney to travel up the coast.)

I was in a relatively difficult program at my supposedly every easy “party” school. It was hard enough that, upon graduation, I won the Honours BA award for Political Studies with a B+. (C+ to you Americans.)

As you might imagine, that wasn’t about to get me into an MA program. I applied to 5, I was rejected by 4.

Fortunately, one of the Chairs at the fifth school I applied to knew one of my professors and he knew my school’s Political Studies’ department marked extra hard. So he knew the worth of my B+.

So I got into Grad School. And I got bursary of tuition + some nominal amount.

(As a side note about grades: It is insane that we all think many people graduating with straight As is a sign of a good school. A good school should grade harder and the graduating average should be lower than other schools’, all other things being equal. I wonder why I think that…)

The Ph.D application process, which began something like two weeks into my Master’s Degree, really irritated me. As did the political environment of my department. So I decided to abandon my only plan for a career that I had for close to a decade, that of a university professor, and do something else.

After graduation, I moved back in with my mother and stepfather. Rent-free. It was rent-free on one condition, however, that I was only staying for a year. I started looking for jobs.

6 months later I drove to Florida with my father. In doing so I burned a bridge with my current temp agency. They didn’t like temps who went on vacation.

But when I got back I went with another temp agency.

9 months after I moved back in with my mother, I quit my latest temp job and drove across Canada for 9 weeks. My father had given me the remaining money he had saved for me for university. His reasoning was that he hadn’t had to use it all because I had paid for some of my education and also I had won scholarships. (I don’t remember him mentioning the fact that I lost the big one.)

When I got back from my trip, I moved to a cheaper city. I went looking for apartments and the rental corporation’s representative showed me a 1-bedroom apartment which had been marked as a “junior 1-bedroom” despite clearly being larger than the other “junior 1-bedrooms” she showed me. It was $50 per month cheaper because of a mistake. I took it.

When I moved in the previous tenant forgot to disconnect their cable and I had free cable for 10 months.

I found a new temp agency and I soon found a permanent temp job, one of those temp jobs where the company eventually hires you outright.

I want to tell you that since that I’ve never been given anything from my parents, but it’s not true. I want it to be true, but it’s not.

My dad has, periodically, given me money for no reason. It’s never been a lot of money – it wouldn’t cover a month’s rent where I live now, for example – but it was money I did not earn.

My father has also paid for a personal assessment by an industrial psychologist. I never asked for it to begin with and I never asked how much it cost. (It said I should be a university professor.)

A number of years ago my mother paid for a life coach for me for a year. She told me it was coming out of my inheritance unless I paid her back. I paid her exactly 1/11th of it and then forgot to pay back the rest. I do still believe it’s coming out of whatever inheritance remains, but I have not had to actually pay her back.

During the worst financial situation of my life – one not entirely of my own making – my father paid my rent for a few months. I resolved to pay him back but I never did. I think he has forgotten he ever gave me the money. If he hasn’t forgotten, it’s as if he’s forgotten it. I haven’t been reminded of it once. And the one time I mentioned it he dismissed it.

I quit my job at the end of 2019 to focus on my business and go back to school. I was able to do that because I am in a relationship with a woman who makes a lot of money and has job security. She has three degrees to my two. She is also a little bit older than me. She is extremely good at her job. She has also had her own luck.

I am a “downtown elite” in terms of where I live and my politics, but I don’t actually make much money at all right now. The current earnings from my business would not make me middle class. But, because of my relationship, I more than get by.

Why have I made you spend over 2000 words reading about my very boring life?

Look how lucky and privileged I’ve been: I’ve had advantages at basically every step of my life, whether genetic, environmental, financial or pure luck. More importantly, throughout much of my life, I have done the bare minimum whenever I could get away with it but because I’m relatively smart and because I behave myself in certain ways that matter. It’s certainly not because I worked really hard or because I’m charming or charismatic. (I’m shy.) I’ve been extremely lucky.

But just think about people born luckier (i.e. richer) than me: think about how many more advantages they’ve had compared to me, compared to you.

The baseball analogy doesn’t do it justice, the rich weren’t born on third but think they got triples. From a global perspective, I wasn’t born on second. I was born very, very close to home.

But there are people in our society who were born on home base. Many of these people will tell you they got home runs, they worked hard all their lives and nothing was ever given to them. The vast majority of them are lying. Even a rich person who was treated horribly by his parents has had more advantages than the vast majority of people alive.

Right now the rich will tell you that society as a whole is hard on them, that they are treated unfairly by government and by those damn SJWs. I call bullshit.

The rich have more advantages than you or I can count. I’m pretty sure I missed a whole bunch of advantages in my life in over 2,000 words, and I was born (actually) middle class. Okay, so it was uppe- middle class until my parents separated, but middle class nonetheless. I have never been rich (in Canadian terms). And I’ve been incredibly privileged and still am.

If these advantages are what I’ve received without work, what advantages have the rich received on top of these?

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