Charlie Caldara came to Colorado in 1971 to be Colorado, not to change it.
As my father, Charles Francis Caldara Jr., has been admitted to hospice, I can’t help but reflect on how his decisions and bravery shaped who I am today and the incredible life I have in a state that once was the best expression of liberty and individualism.
Charlie was born in the shadow of the Great Depression to parents shaped by the fear and insecurity that economic devastation wrought.
Raised on the fourth floor of a four-story walk-up in the Bronx, the last thing this young Yankees fan would ever imagine is that he’d raise four kids in Colorado. Might as well have been Mars.
After putting himself through school at Fordham University (where he met a hot nursing student named Esther), then some years in the Army (with wife Esther), and accounting firm Arthur Anderson, Charlie found his way to the hottest technology company of the era, IBM.
It’s hard to understand the IBM culture today as sweatshirt-sporting hipsters run today’s tech powerhouses. Back then IBM, “Big Blue,” was a monolithic, near-authoritarian, button-down culture of conformity in exchange for the promise of financial security.
IBM, International Business Machines, was better known by its employees as “I’ve Been Moved” since they transferred employees to new markets every 18 months or so. Dad was shuffled all around the Northeast as his family grew.
But something kept pulling him out west. To this very day I don’t think he could articulate why raising his family “out west” was so important. But the drive was overwhelming.
He told his IBM overlords that he wanted to go out west, Colorado being the eastern most of “out west.” So, his bosses relented and offered him a large promotion and a big job out west … to Saint Louis.
He turned it down, a very dangerous thing to do at IBM where “yes sir!” was expected.
Charlie continued to lobby his superiors to move him to where a man could write his own biography, chart his own course. And, sure enough, the big break came.
IBM offered him the mother of all promotions, the one that could put him on the path to becoming a vice president one day AND would send him “out west” — all the way to Chicago.
My father, child of the Depression, steeped in the religion of financial security above all else, turned down the biggest steppingstone the nation’s hottest company would offer.
He said no. He wanted to raise his family in the real west.
After 12 years rising in the ranks, his career advancement at IBM was over.
His drive to come to Colorado turned to reality when he landed a job in Denver at RCA’s computer division. He and mom took four kids and a dog across the nation to a house neither had really seen to start a new life.
Like brave people had done for a century, they embraced uncertainty, left all their family and friends, their entire support network, for the promise of the Colorado dream — self-determination and the freedom to take risk.
Six months into their new life RCA closed their computer division along with his job. (Note you’re not reading this on an RCA computer today.)
Kids never really know what’s going on with their folks. I remember thinking, “Why’s dad hanging around the house so much?” having no idea he was scrambling to keep us fed and cursing his decision to go “out west.”
Dad kept us in Colorado after landing a fine position with Xerox, but after a few years they too wanted him to move to promote him out of Colorado. “No” was his answer. He was going to raise us here.
The pattern repeated with other jobs, but he would not move us. He ended up doing what Colorado was created for, starting and growing his own small business.
The benefit to me of his daring is incalculable.
The love of liberty; the sense of you-do-you and I’ll-do-me; the respect that we each have to make our own decisions, to risk our labor and fortunes to build something that didn’t exist before; well, it all seemed to just grow out of the soil in the Colorado of my youth.
Raised breathing Colorado air and drinking in its culture was to understand personal and economic freedom on a cellular level. It’s in my blood.
That’s why Charlie Caldara paid such a high price to raise us here. Thank you, Dad.
Given the sad turn in Colorado’s politics toward collectivism and victim celebration, I can’t help but wonder if a young Charlie Caldara would choose to fight so hard to move his young family here today.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts “The Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara” on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.