I have no idea where to begin. I've heard it's best to just write and then edit later so here goes. I grew up in a relatively small town in the edges of Chicago's metropolitan area. The oldest of 11 children (not a typo) I learned a number of things at a young age. First, everyone works. There's just so much to do in a house with that many kids (10 by the time I was 17... Number 11 didn't join till after the oldest two, my sister and I, moved out and married) that is everyone didn't pitch in there be no end to what needed to be done. It wasn't just the need to work either. Mom wanted it done right and had no problem requiring us to re-wipe the same counter six times because we forgot to get behind the cookie jar! Like a typical kid I just wanted to play but her consistent teaching helped me figure out that I could work hard and right once leaning plenty of playtime, or try to rush though doing half a job and end up wasting a lot of time that could have been better spent. I'm grateful for that lesson add I've carried that same work which into every aspect of my life. Work hard, play hard as my wife likes to put it.
While Mom was teaching us how to work at home Dad was out seeing the example and provided more than enough. That said, 11 kids ain't cheap!! I remember more than once being told I had to work hard at school so I'd get college scholarships cause there was no way he'd be able to pay for 11 college degree. Almost in the same breath He'd follow up with all the proud confidence of a father "and your going to college and you're not stopping till you have a Master's." One of my proudest moments was APPLYING for my Master's program paid for in advance and my application essay pointed to Dad's prediction.
My siblings we a positive influence on me as well. Family gets real. Few others will tell you what they really think. Humble you when you need it and build you up when life throws it's curve balls. There was the younger sister who probably should have been the older sister. Plenty of Brothers to fight with. Little kids too give you the excuse to act your shoe size. Always some around (always) and always something going on.
All that interaction made it easy for me to reach out to others and make friends. It's pretty common for friendships to be built based on things held in common but I believe having so many different personalities under one made it easy to talk to and befriend people from all walks of life. I had a number of short fallings in the way I treated some (when my brother likes to remind me of the time I pinned him down and made him name vegetables while tapping on his forehead) but for the most part I'm still friends or friendly with many.
In light of those shortcomings, I'm grateful to my parents for my religious up bringing as well. I was born and raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some my earliest memories are primary class at church hearing stories from the Bible or my mom reading the whole Book of Mormon to me before turning right and choosing to be baptized. To my younger self it seemed like much of our extended family attended different denominations and I appreciate that when we visited, my parents made sure we went to church with them. From a young age I grew to appreciate the shared beliefs despite doctrinal differences.
Somewhere around second grade I became aware of elections. I clearly remember my parents and grandparents discussing the campaigns of George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. I remember little of the content except that there seemed to be some line drawn that made one or the other good and the others bad. My adult self looks back at that as the oversimplification of a young kid not helping the finer nuances of those adult conversations. Other than remembering that those conversations came up every for years politics didn't really interest me much until after married. In fact while I'd almost always vote red, my first voter registration declared myself independent. I feel that goes back to growing up with so many different voices, I'd felt declaring one would adjutants like alienate the other and that I'd be missing something. I did eventually register with a party, at first to help a friend who was running for office, then so I could be involved at the grassroots level hoping to help find candidates who I felt I could vote for instead of having to listen to everyone telling me who to vote against. The longer I did that the more I continued to feel the "this side that side" conversation was getting us no where. I eventually found myself appointed to our city planning commission (a nonpartisan committee) where for allot a year I served with a number of fellow commissioners. To this day I have no idea what their party affiliations where. I loved every minute of my time on that committee. We debated policy, procedure, and everything else typical to planning and zoning. More often than not we worked out compromises and found middle of the road solutions to problems facing the city and unanimously forwarded recommendations to the city council. The one vote I remember not being unanimous ended was telling. After the vote we mentioned our surprise to the one dissenter who explained he just couldn't kick one thought which he hadn't shared. We wish he had... It was a game changer and we each lamented it hadn't been shared. At the least we would have tabled the item for further discussion but it should not have carried like it did. The culmination of these experiences has led me to recognize how vital it is to hear not just "both sides" but every side.
Fast forward to this last February. Scrolling through Facebook I come across a post from a friend I hadn't heard from in some 16 years. One who knew my large family and was writing posts calling for mutual understanding, compromise, etc and from an up bringing others have deemed "across the aisle" and about jumped through the roof. Catching up with Joe after so long has been, finding commonality amongst seeming divisive difference has been refreshing, exciting, and hope raising, in addition to re exciting in me an urge to do something about it. And so UP is born.
Thank you for time and interest,