36. Purpose

Before our marriage, my future wife introduced me to her family. Her father, a college graduate in architectural engineering, was vice president of a steel fabricating company. 

Her mother was actively involved in the community. The brother was five years younger and still in high school.

Nice family.

Culturally somewhat different than mine. But compatible enough. My wife’s father served as an officer in World War II, so my status as a junior army officer gave us common ground to walk on.

We were both college graduates. But our purposes for attending college could not have been more different. His purpose was to create products used in building large structures.

My purpose was to educate children and young people. The same purpose as my future wife.

On a second visit to the family my future father-in-law gave me a book to read. I do not remember the title or author, but it was about famous business moguls in America.

He did not say why he gave me the book, but the intention was clear.

Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.

I was familiar with the term although in 1962, it did not apply to women. Teaching was believed to be a good profession for females. Like nursing, secretarial work, and similar occupations.

That derogatory quote applied to men. Because able men worked in the world of commerce, construction, or industry. Or in professions with real social status. Like medicine or law. 

In vocations or professions in which the purpose was to contribute to the economy or social structure. To earn a good salary to support a family.

At the same time, I was also being pressured by superior officers to consider a regular army commission. 

The pressure was not on me alone. During a Fort Hood social occasion, my commanding officer attempted to persuade my fiancé to encourage me to stay in the army.

And my fiancé’s father had a serious chat with her about my career choice of education.

She stood her ground on my behalf.

We had talked about what the purpose of our lives together would be. And agreed. Purpose trumped other considerations. Living a life of service through education was our choice.

After serving in the military, my plan was to teach high school social studies and journalism. And to eventually become a school administrator.


Finding one’s purpose in life is dependent on many factors. It is the most important of all decisions we make.

Decisions we make are based on influences.  Here are a few of them:

  • the family into which we are born
  • the culture into which we are raised
  • our aptitude, or what we are good at doing
  • what we learn to value while growing up

These influences apply to the subject of purpose at any point in life’s continuum. Not just childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, or old age.

Purpose is not something issued to us at birth by a domineering society, such as ancient Sparta. Where life’s purpose for both boys and girls was dictated by the state at an early age.

Unlike the Spartans, we can find and choose our own purpose based on faith, introspection, and influences. And tweak it over time.

Our foundational sense of purpose within a free society can be molded to fit different occasions. Different problems and opportunities.

But it cannot be completely transformed or dramatically reshaped.

Purpose is not just an attachment to our personality. It is fundamental to who and what we are. Which is the reason I am discussing it in Alzheimer’s and the Husband.

Purpose in caring for a loved one is related to who we have always been and wanted to be. Molded a little differently perhaps, but still an extension of what we cherish. Of what constitutes our baseline purpose for living.

The family into which we are born is the first influence on the purpose we choose. Nuclear, extended and adopted. From infancy we watch, listen, emulate, and reflect on how the people around us talk and act. What they believe.

How they take care of us. How and what they teach us both directly and indirectly.

How we as offspring fit into the purposes of the adults who care for us.

My parents were children of farmers, growing up through two world wars, a horrific flu pandemic, and a devastating economic depression. Their purposes evolved from survival, which meant knowing how to stay ahead of pending calamity, caring for friends and neighbors in trouble, and communicating to ensure solidarity among people important to them.

They were willing to take risks to hold on, reach out to those in need who reciprocated in kind, and become appropriately literate to avoid the perils of ignorance. Each of those characteristics were a way to survive.

By staying ahead of problems. By building a cohort of people they could count on. By never doing anything dumb because of ignorance.

Growing up in that setting affected the development of my purpose. I planned, tried to be involved with others, and did what I could to avoid ignorance. But as much as those facets of purpose became important to me, they eventually seemed too inward-looking.

The other three influences found their way into my persona: culture, aptitude, and values.

The culture in which I grew up involved exciting post-World War II ideas, events, and products. There was a kind of optimism in the wind. A “can do” attitude of which I wanted to be a part.

My aptitude, or potential, became more evident to me. It allowed me to do more with life than just survive. Maybe I could use that potential to serve others.

Values taught by my family were great. I appreciated them. Religious values played a role in my thinking. But for some reason I was curious about value systems emanating from other people and various venues.

Out of that milieu came my purpose to be another person’s life partner. And caregiver, no matter what.

Family, culture, aptitude, and values coalesced to be the foundation of my life’s purpose. I could not escape it even if I thought I wanted to.

In the next few posts, let’s review ways to tweak your life’s purpose that include being a better caregiver for a wife with Alzheimer’s.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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