Monday, March 11, 2013

Refusing Social Security

Here's another story from my father.  It happened at a cocktail party, possibly in our apartment on 79th Street in Manhattan.  Or it could have been at the Donahues', downstairs.  I found myself, along with other children, at such parties with some regularity.  And it was definitely better than the home alone thing, watching television.  In fact, it was a whole lot better than television.

Daddy was talking with a friend about an older colleague who was very opposed to Social Security.  Opposition to Social Security is pretty much a fringe thing nowadays, but it's important to remember that this wasn't always so.

Anyway, Daddy teed the story up pretty nicely -- he was a golfer, after all.  The older colleague, never a fan of President Roosevelt or the New Deal, had often proclaimed in the doctors' cloakroom at the hospital that he would never, ever collect Social Security benefits under any circumstances.

Here's the kicker.  The older colleague had recently retired.  And, yes -- very quietly -- he had begun to collect Social Security benefits.

I think that's how social welfare gets accepted in this country.  The Foghorn Leghorns never climb down from their fiercely held positions.  They just quietly collect.

I think this was the night that I looked at my father's hands -- they were probably about eye-height -- and actually saw them.  He was a surgeon.  His hands looked like boiled lobsters.  I looked at his friend, also a surgeon apparently, and his hands also looked like boiled lobsters.

Decades later I was on a train somewhere between New York and Philadelphia, talking to a very nice R.N. who sold medical supplies.  I asked her about my father's hands, and she smiled.  Contact dermatitis from all the scrubbing in.  Occupational hazard.  These guys literally had their skin in the game.

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