Saturday, March 25, 2023

Understanding Your Parents

I just solved a mystery that'd confused me for decades.

In childhood we see but don't always understand our parents' behavior. Their motivations often elude us. That was the case when I observed my normally-thrifty mother spend money every year buying sets of uncirculated coins from the U.S. Mint. The "United States Proof Sets," encased in plastic, include that year's penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half-dollar and dollar. I discovered dozens of these in my father's belongings recently when cleaning out his stuff.

As a child I was a coin-collector myself so the concept of collecting coins wasn't foreign to me but my attraction to coins was their aesthetic value. For example, my favorite coin (from Germany) has fancy writing on the SIDE of the coin. How cool is that? Other coins also have intriguing designs.

My mother had no interest in coins' artwork so that wasn't her reason for collecting. Nor was investment value. The value of coins depends on two things: condition and scarcity. While the condition of coins in these sets is "mint" (never handled by humans) they are certainly not rare. Millions were minted and sold meaning they'd never acquire any real value.

No, the reason lay elsewhere. I pondered my mother's uncharacteristic behavior for decades. Only now, after sustained consideration and mature insight do I understand it.

To grasp what was going on, you have to put yourself in the head of an insecure immigrant. As young adults my parents desperately strove to assimilate, to become Americans. They wanted the idyllic life of an American family. My father took courses to lose his German accent; my parents finished the basement of our small house with a wooden bar and decorated it with alcoholic advertisements (e.g., Rheingold) to host drunken parties with their neighbors. Stuff like that.

Viewed in this context, my mother's coin-buying suddenly makes sense. She was not purchasing coins; she was buying into the idea of America. Her puchases were an expression of faith in a country she and my father embraced wholeheartedly. 

Patriotism is uncommon now but back then, especially in immigrant groups, it was pervasive. Standing apart from American culture was dangerous; fitting in was safer. Demonstrating allegiance to our country's symbols, including its currency, is a form of cultural worship my parents engaged in. 

Now, finally, I get it. 


  1. And our parents are never able to explain these reasons to us when they are with us - often, because they are not conscious thoughts put into action.

    What will you do with the collections? ARE they worth anything?

    1. You're exactly right.

      The sets (of which I have about 30) are worth only $10 a piece, so I consider them having sentimental but not pecuniary value. I'm keeping half and giving the rest to my nephew and two nieces. (I previously gave them an entire collection of Hummel figurines my mom had so this younger generation can have a connection to their familial past.)

  2. I think that's a very loving understanding to figure out about your parents. One of the two things I wish I had from my mom was her coin collection (and her cast iron). After she passed, things were not great with the family and a lot of was left behind or lost. Her coins were nothing worth a lot but they were special to her.

    I still carry the bat version of the modern quarter.

    My dad has a good argument when talking about patriotism and that the MAGA heads who are all proud of being born here/cis/white/etc and being proud of being American (while hateful to immigrants) is ridiculous because the people who CHOOSE to come here deserve to be proud of becoming American because they made an effort and chose to be here. There's a lot of effort put in to immigrate.

    1. Yes. A lot of effort and hardship. Immigrants are hard-working and a benefit to our society.

  3. That's great you have figured that out! I loved collecting coins as a child! I love my coin album! Kezzie x

  4. That is so interesting, Ally! I'm glad you figured out this puzzle. It makes total sense. My dad collected coins for the usual reasons (aesthetics, personal interest, etc.), so collecting them to assimilate is quite fascinating.