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Love of Learning

Walter’s Long Road to Independence

By MINA WONG - July 15 2021

A short story by Mina Wong

Walter Davis definitely took many years to accept the importance of self-sufficiency. In February 2021, he finally stayed with a full-time, graveyard-shift job in data processing. Although he found the work monotonous, he managed to pass his probation earlier this month.

Walter told me just yesterday: “It feels respectable to be independent, to pay my own bills.”
Now, that’s a dramatically different Walter from the irritable and lethargic twenty-something I once knew. When we first met long ago, he was quarrelling with his wife, Diana while she lulled their infant to sleep.
That day, I had just helped my friend, Andy move into an apartment. After settling in, we ran into Walter and Diana next door. Although not in a good mood, they still introduced themselves and their month-old daughter, Riley.
Andy became good friends with Walter and Diana, but the couple argued non-stop over money problems. Since Walter still had no income three years after his army discharge, Diana reluctantly cut short her parental leave to work again.

The whole time Andy lived next door, Walter stayed home with Riley, but that meant Diana alone supported the family with her school secretary’s salary. Whenever she urged Walter to find work, he would make feeble excuses, including “I shouldn’t work weekends”. He would even suggest, “I’ll stay home if you go to work.”
When Andy moved elsewhere, Walter was attending government-funded computer classes after which, he started a data processing job at a bank. But it only lasted a week with Walter’s daily complaint, “Too boring, too long hours.”

Exasperated by Walter’s immature work ethic, Diana soon moved out with Riley. The end of their marriage also coincided with Walter’s eviction for not paying rent. When Andy looked for him, Diana directed him to city shelters for homeless men.

After their divorce, Walter continued to rely on shelters. Unemployed, he seemed preoccupied much of the time, even when Diana let him see Riley. One day, nine-year-old Riley said, “Dad, you should get a job, any job. I would be so proud of you.”

Walter was in tears over Riley’s plea, but he still didn’t seriously look for work. Then he met Sophie, a nurse who let him stay with her for a while if he could look after her house. But they were soon so romantically entwined that Walter thought Sophie might permanently provide for him.

After a year, Sophie had grown tired of Walter cherry-picking chores. She herself cooked and cleaned after work while Walter blissfully pottered around. When Sophie finally threw him out, Walter returned to city shelters where he met Samuel, a social worker who took him in, along with another man needing housing.
Samuel’s intentions were to improve marginalized people’s self-care, social responsibilities, and independence through respect and dignity. In his house, everyone shared chores, but soon, Walter only chose those he liked, leaving everything else to his housemates.

Samuel was a patient mentor, but after tolerating Walter’s childlike languor for two years, he asked him to leave. Still, remembering Walter’s family, he thought Diana and Riley might be able to help.
Without even blinking, thirteen-year-old Riley summed it up: if Walter didn’t shape up this time, she could no longer see him, and, “He can work like other dads. He’s just wasting his skills, always waiting for someone to look after him.”

Telling Walter what Riley had said, Samuel advised him that he might find him proper housing if he could manage to keep a job. But he added, “Otherwise, you will lose Riley’s respect, and even all contact with her.”
That Riley, the most important person in his life could disappear, suddenly pushed Walter to a perilous tipping point. The next day, he told Samuel he would give data processing another try, perhaps with a refresher course.
A job in banking came sooner than he had imagined. Three months ago, he passed a data processing skills test with high marks. Working the midnight shift from Tuesday to Saturday, he would record bank transactions and convert them into a database.

Like many years ago, his job was unvaried with long hours, but this time, Walter was learning to find new meaning in work. With regular wages, he will move into his own apartment next month. His conversations with Riley are also more mature now that they can invest in each other’s life and future.

Walter was teary-eyed when Riley said last week: “Dad, I am so proud of you. From now on, we will help each other through ups and downs.”

With Walter’s new commitment to self-reliance, he may even surpass his own career expectations. With Riley in his corner, he can certainly work toward a future blessed with happiness and success.

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