The American Dream, Revisited: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Results

The American Dream, Revisited: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Results

by Gary Sirak


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So you want to achieve your American dream? When you read The American Dream Revisited you will: Be inspired by 13 individuals and their stories of how they made their American Dreams a reality, Learn 7 strategies to help you realize your own American Dream, Realize the American Dream still exists and you can achieve yours!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781630479633
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 11/08/2016
Pages: 140
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.33(d)

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"Mostly brilliant, not sure why you don't put this much thought and effort into every assignment. Sometimes, Gary, you lack focus."

I vividly remembered those words, written by my high school English teacher, Mrs. Giltz, next to the A on one of my assignments. The timing for recalling her mostly positive comments was good. It was 1969, my first day at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and I had to register for classes and declare a major.

I was clueless as to what choices to make until I recalled Mrs. Glitz's words. I decided to focus on the "mostly" part of brilliant and discount my occasional lack of focus. I declared English as my major with an emphasis on American literature. That decision led me on a path to my introduction and subsequent lifelong fascination with the American Dream.

One of my first English classes was an American literature survey course taught by Professor James G. Denham. Every week novel by a famous author: Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. Professor Denham focused our weekly classroom discussions on the American Dream and how it was portrayed in each novel. He was witty, had a wry sense of humor and relished our classroom discussions. He loved to incite arguments — pro and con — regarding the American Dream. Professor Denham would build a case for the dream's existence or non-existence and then let us students battle it out.

Seventy-five percent of the class felt the American Dream was already history. The anti-dream sentiment was not surprising considering what was happening throughout the United States in 1969. As students, we protested the Viet Nam War, a mandatory armed forces draft, and women's rights. The unsettling political atmosphere that existed on campus was also reflected in our classroom.

In spite of my support regarding the aforementioned protests, I found myself in the minority in Professor Denham's class. I argued that the American Dream was still relevant, debating with passion and even anger during some of our discussions. The funny thing is I never knew the origin of my passion until I started writing The American Dream Revisited. In chapter 3you will learn why I take the American Dream so personally.

Fast forward forty years. I was sipping a mocha at Karma Café, one of my favorite coffee shops in Canton, Ohio. It was early in the morning and I was looking over my schedule for what I expected to be a busy day when four university students sat down at the table behind me. Quite by accident, I overheard a discussion that piqued my interest.

The students were talking about the American Dream and whether or not it existed. Just like that déjà vu set in. I flashed back to Professor Denham and my college class in the late '60s. The smile that memory brought to my face rapidly faded after one of the students referred to the American Dream as the American Disaster. Two of his friends agreed with him, calling the Dream irrelevant and dead. Ironically, it was three against one, the same split as in my American literature class many years prior. I wanted to join their discussion and it took all the restraint I could muster not to pull my chair up to their table, but I wisely resisted and just listened. The three argued the United States was no longer a land of opportunity, but a land of disappointment. Their reasons were college debt and a tight job market. The fourth student at the table agreed his college loans were a problem, but just an obstacle he could overcome once he graduated and went to work. He attempted to explain his plan but never got the chance. His friends refused to listen. After a while they tired of the topic and switched conversational gears, at which point I tuned out.

I left Karma Café that morning with some very bad karma. My intention of sipping my mocha and getting focused for work was destroyed. The students' conversation disturbed me. Here were three future college graduates with their entire lives ahead of them and they had already given up. I could not let go of their conversation. It even invaded my sleep. During one of my restless nights, I decided to fight back and began planning The American Dream Revisited; Ordinary People, Extraordinary Results.

My goal is simple. I want to inspire as many people as I can to explore the opportunities and possibilities that exist in their lives. I firmly believe the American Dream is still alive, well, and living in the United States.

So grab a cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop and join me on my journey in search of the American Dream — and some good karma!

The power of encouragement cannot be overlooked. It has been so important for me throughout my life. Without question Mrs. Giltz's notation on my paper proved inspirational and for that I am thankful.




I admit it. I am guilty as charged.

My crime is that every Friday night, I — along with seven million other viewers — watch the reality television show, Shark Tank. The show, which debuted in 2009, invites entrepreneurs to present their products and ideas to a panel of highly-successful, self-made business men and women. I enjoy the creativity of the entrepreneurial contestants as they attempt to convince one of the millionaire/billionaire "sharks" to invest in their ideas. The show is well produced with dramatic music, suspenseful time-outs, spirited banter, and competition among the sharks to close a deal. Those entrepreneurs lucky enough to appear on Shark Tank and join forces with one of the sharks receive expert business advice, financial backing, and impressive connections. The sharks and contestants often reference the American Dream when describing their efforts to make it in the business world.

Shark Tank may be giving voice to the American Dream in the twenty-first century, but it was Horatio Alger in the nineteenth century who first popularized the concept.

In 1865, Alger wrote a series of stories for a youth magazine called Student and Schoolmate. The stories were so successful that Alger compiled them into his first and most famous novel, Ragged Dick: Or Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks. His book's impact was twofold. On one hand, Alger focused on the uplifting, rags-to-riches story of the main character, Dick, a poor shoeshine boy living on the streets, earning pennies by shining boots. Dick bettered his life through hard work, determination, courage, honesty, and luck. The book also drew attention to a social problem plaguing New York City. Thousands of abandoned youth were homeless, starving, and living on the streets. The popularity of Ragged Dick caused a public outcry that forced New York City to take action. With religious organizations leading the way, the homeless youth of the city began to receive food, clothing, and shelter.

Critics panned Alger's work for being simplistic and repetitive, but he went on to write over a hundred books with the common theme of self-improvement through education, strong morals and hard work. Alger became one of the most popular and successful authors of his time. His novels were instant best sellers and inspired millions of readers to improve their own lives.

Ironically, even though Alger spent his life writing about the American Dream, he never named it as such. The term first appeared in print in 1931 in The Epic of America, by James Truslow Adams, an American author and historian. He named and defined the American Dream as: "That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement ... regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

I believe for many people the stories of achieving great success and wealth depicted on Shark Tank epitomizes today's definition of the American Dream. The opportunity to become rich is certainly a popular aspect of the American Dream but it's not the whole story, not by a long shot. The popular show may give an illusion of overnight success, but success is more often found through a combination of hard work, a determination to overcome adversity, and a belief in yourself and your abilities.

The American Dream Revisited is a collection of stories about people who have achieved success in their lives and who serve as examples of the American Dream.

I think Alger would be amazed at how his simple stories have lived on via the Horatio Alger Society and the millions of dollars in scholarships they have awarded to students who have overcome adversity in their lives.




A double cheeseburger, french-fries with a pad of butter on top, and a hot fudge milkshake was what I ordered at Heggy's Nut Shop the day I met Barry Adelman for lunch. He and I have been friends since we were little kids. Barry is one of my favorite people to talk to when something is on my mind and my American Dream Karma Café experience certainly fit the bill. I mentioned how it disturbed me to overhear comments like the American Dream now being the American Disaster. I told Barry I'd decided to write a book to prove them wrong. He thought it was a good idea. It was at that point during lunch when I made a confession. "Barry, for the life of me I have no idea why that conversation bothered me so much. I mean, why do I even care?"

Barry smiled and answered, "You don't really get it, do you? For a smart guy sometimes you are not that smart."

"Ok, enlighten me; what am I missing?"

"Gary, it is because you are too close to your past. Your father could have been the proverbial poster child for the American Dream. You need to write the story of your family and include it in your book."

There it was. The ah-ha moment. For the first time in my life I now understood why I cared so much about the American Dream and the origin of my passion. So, as Barry suggested, I offer my personal story of someone who personifies the American Dream. Meet my father, Stan Sirak.

I grew up in Canton, Ohio, in a crowded house on 37th Street. Our family of four lived in a home designed for three. It got much smaller when my mother's father, Daniel Factor, moved in with us. The house shrunk even more when my sister was born and the small den was converted into her nursery. Six of us were now living in a home built for half as many. My father desperately wanted to fix the problem but that would have meant moving to a larger house and that would have cost money, something that was in short supply in my family.

My father was all too familiar with living through tough times. His mother passed away from breast cancer when he was just eleven years old. His father, Abraham Sirak, was left with the dual responsibility of raising three young children and earning a living. Grandpa Abe was a dentist and provided a decent living for his family, but that changed when he shifted his focus from his practice to finding a new wife and a mother for his children. His quest for a spouse was made much more challenging because his daughter was legally blind and required special attention. Grandpa Abe began what amounted to a state-wide search, moving from Cincinnati to Canton and eventually to Toledo. Although the moves were calculated, the constant relocation was extremely stressful for my father and his siblings. They were never able to establish long-term friends or a sense of community. Another unintended consequence to the constant moving was that it was virtually impossible for Grandpa Abe to rebuild a dental practice. Money was tight.

In my opinion there were additional contributing factors in Grandpa Abe's inability to reestablish his practice. He was gruff, had a poor chair-side manner, and lacked outward compassion for his patients' pain; not great qualities for a dentist. On the marriage front, Grandpa Abe was nothing if not persistent. He married and divorced four times in his search to find a suitable mother and wife. This was my father's reality, a far cry from a stable childhood.

My other grandfather, Dan Factor, was an entrepreneur who owned one of the most successful beer and wine distribution companies on the East Coast. Following World War II and his service in the Navy, my father went to work in his father-in-law's company. He was the number one salesman but never seemed to get much respect from my grandfather. Daniels Distributing Company flourished until my grandfather got distracted by his new found wealth and started making a series of poor business decisions. My father pleaded with Grandpa Dan to let him take over the daily operations of the company but my grandfather's ego stood in the way. He let my father know it was his company and he was going to manage it his way. Unfortunately, Grandpa Dan's poor decisions resulted in the ultimate failure and closure of Daniel Distributing. The end result was Grandpa Dan moving into our small home and my father being unemployed.

My father was offered jobs from other companies in the beer and wine industry but he turned down those opportunities because he was tired of spending so much time in bars. His goal was to find a new career that allowed him to be his own boss.

After an extended search, my father accepted a job selling life insurance. This turned out to be a very difficult way to earn a living, as selling an intangible product was much different than selling beer and wine. When I later asked Dad how he chose a career in the insurance industry, he replied: "It was an easy decision; it was my only offer that did not require me to travel, I believed in the product, and I thought I could help people." The insurance company paid him a minimal salary to get started and then it was one hundred percent commission-based. Dad got off to a very slow start and the insurance company wanted to fire him, but fortunately my father's sales manager saw his potential and persuaded the company to be patient.

To supplement his income, Dad found weekend employment selling shoes. To say that he hated this job would not really do justice to how he really felt. Every Saturday morning my father would leave the house in a bad mood and return in an even worse mood. He would throw whatever money he had earned on the kitchen table and loudly remind everyone just how much he despised dealing with people's feet. I think he washed his hands a dozen times before he would sit down to dinner.

One of my earliest memories of my mother and father was of the two of them sitting at the kitchen table with stacks of envelopes. Mom was in charge of managing the family finances and paying bills. They would sit for hours trying to determine what bills they had to pay and who they could stall. I learned that the farther away I was from the kitchen the better off I would be. These were not good discussions and they never had a happy ending, just frustration and a stack of unpaid bills.

After seven lean years selling insurance, Dad's passion and hard work began to pay off. He had become a student of the industry and earned licenses, certifications, and knowledge that set him apart from many competitors. It was 1964 and strange things began happening on 37th Street. One evening my father pulled into the driveway in a new car. The family car was old and had seen better days. Shopping for a new automobile was often a dinner table topic of discussion that always ended with my father saying, "Someday when we have more money." On this particular evening the whole family climbed into the new car for a test drive. Dad was in a great mood and after a short while asked each of us for an opinion regarding the automobile. My response, "It is nice but is the ugliest shade of green that I have ever seen," caused my father to laugh so hard he had to pull off the road to catch his breath.

Another indication that something was going on occurred when our test drive ended up at Taggert's Ice Cream Parlor. It was the first time I remember the family going out for ice cream. It was a big deal and I still smile today whenever I go to Taggert's for a cone. Also worth noting, Dad returned the ugly green car and picked out a really pretty blue one. Who knows, maybe my comment about the color carried more weight than I thought.

The following Saturday morning dad did not go to the shoe store. He announced that he no longer needed to sell shoes and that we were going out to dinner to celebrate. Everyone dressed up and we went to one of the nicest restaurants in Canton. The dinner discussion that evening was different. My parents talked about goal setting, achieving goals, and celebrating victories. It was way over my head but I sure liked the celebration part. Life in the Sirak household became way more fun and it seemed as though we were always celebrating something.

As my dad became more successful, my parents began a search for a new home. I was not happy. Even as a young kid I was very set in my ways, did not like change, and was apprehensive about leaving our crowded home. My negative attitude changed quickly when I learned that I would have my own bedroom. Moving to the new home was a great improvement in our family's quality of life.


Excerpted from "The American Dream Revisited"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Gary Sirak.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface v

Foreword vii

Note to Reader xi

Chapter 1 Why I Wrote this Book 1

Chapter 2 An Historic Perspective 5

Chapter 3 A Personal Perspective 9

Chapter 4 An Amish Perspective 17

Chapter 5 A Streetwise Perspective 25

Chapter 6 A Faith-Based Perspective 35

Chapter 7 A Father's Perspective 43

Chapter 8 A Survivor's Perspective 53

Chapter 9 A Challenged Perspective 61

Chapter 10 A Political Perspective 69

Chapter 11 A Kid's Perspective 81

Chapter 12 An Immigrant's Perspective 89

Chapter 13 An Artistic Perspective 95

Chapter 14 A General's Perspective 105

Chapter 15 My Perspective 113

Epilogue A Karmic Perspective 119

Acknowledgements 121

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