Friday, July 17, 2009

Growing up, and the importance of not owning a Blackberry

My father used to tell me to stay in school so I didn’t have to do what he did for a living. He was blue collar, and unloaded trucks for his whole life. He came home dirty and tired every day, and never made more than $10,000 a year. Ten thousand a year was squat even back then when a loaf of bread cost a quarter. So, I went to school and worked in offices most of my life, and didn’t come home dirty and tired like he did. And he would have said I did all right for myself.

And now I tell my kids the same thing my old man told me. Go to school so you don’t have to do what I do. Or more, what I did. I always had good jobs, until recently anyway when this depression has pulled the rug out of every one in five worker. (Those are my numbers and I don’t have any proof of them other than I what I can discern from the media.) But I worked for a lot of companies that I really didn’t like, didn’t like a lot of the people or what the company stood for even though my father would have thought they were pretty cushy jobs.

All this comes to mind as I talk to my two daughters about their summer jobs, and about money. One daughter loves her job, but doesn’t make any money. The other one hates her job, but makes good money. Sounds like the plot of a fairy tale, doesn’t it? And the one who doesn’t make any money decided to buy a Blackberry and be an adult and wants to start paying bills, and the other one texted me the other day to say she now understands why I hated sitting in cubicles all my life.

I said to the one who bought the Blackberry that paying bills isn’t all what it’s cut out to be. That what most “adults” do is simply work to pay bills. All that hard work goes to taking money in one hand and handing it off to someone else with the other. And the more money you make the more you buy (or in the recent past—charged) and you got into a terrible millstream of simply working to keep your head above the water. I told the one working in the cubicle I guess it was best she learned that lesson for herself, as much as I hate knowing she has to learn that lesson.

I wish I could simply put my two kids on a path that I felt was best for them, but we can’t live other’s lives for them, even our kids. The point on this path both my kids are on is pretty standard for white middle-class kids raised in the suburbs. They start out pretty much buying into the status quo--or what used to pass for the status quo. I’m afraid I’d freak my kids out by telling them it’s all gone now, just like I used to tell them the reason not to drink or do drugs was because we know where those roads lead. Be creative, I told them, and make new mistakes. If my kids were really smart they’d do that now: forget jobs and school and bills and Blackberrys and sit back for awhile on some mountaintop or some beach somewhere and figure out where this new world is going, then go there and meet it coming around the bend. But of course, that’s easy for me to say. It’s always easy being an armchair quarterback.

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