by Roger White
Author’s note: For you dedicated, sort of dedicated, and even not-so-dedicated followers of TOS, I feel I must warn you in advance. This particular installment lacks any juvenile silliness, nonsensical babble, slice-of-life inanity, random wordplay, serpentine stream of consciousness, thinly veiled parody, and/or incomprehensible doublespeak. I’m actually taking a stab at being serious this time. This likely won’t last long, as most of my prescriptions seem to have run out.
As I watch my daughters grow into young womanhood—Lindsey now a thoughtful, creative high school sophomore so marvelously free-spirited yet touchingly conscientious in every facet; and Jamie, our firebrand eighth-grader so fiercely strong-willed and stubborn but so tender-hearted and self-conscious—I struggle to keep them optimistic and open to the great vista of opportunities and adventures that is theirs in their youth while ensuring that they truly understand the many gambles attendant with life’s every turn.
How do you convey to your children that life is to be thoroughly enjoyed yet doggedly pursued with utmost seriousness, that the world around them is not a vile place to be feared but that wariness and caution are also fundamental?
How do you keep those most precious to you warm-hearted and open to the world when, while you’re teaching your oldest how to drive a car, a man pulls up next to her and flips her the finger because she’s driving too slow for his taste? What course do you take when your youngest tells you that some anonymous degenerate claiming to be an online friend wrote such depraved and loathsome things on her web page that the words don’t even bear repeating?
Beyond these random acts of unkindness, how do you also instill in your children the passion to “follow your dreams”—a catchphrase heard so often in movies, media, books, commercials, speeches, campaign promises, and valedictory addresses today that it has become hackneyed and meaningless—when the cold reality is that the vast majority of us grinding out our day-to-day existences have come nowhere near the lofty dreams of our youth?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that anyone should settle for something less than what one earnestly wants to do with one’s career and life. I’m merely advocating, in this reality-TV culture that falsely suggests that everyone can be a star, for a healthy dose of practicality. I fear that many kids growing up today, buffeted from all sides by messages insinuating that instant fame or fortune will be theirs for the taking when some magic day arrives, will be in for a terribly rude awakening when it comes time to settle into that desk job in the corporate cubicle farm.
A glimpse at one episode of “American Idol” confirms this unsettling notion. When the judges break the bitter truth to so many young would-be superstars who can’t carry a tune in a large fruit bowl, the contestants’ reaction of utter disbelief and heartbreak may make for a sort of Schadenfreudean entertainment for the masses, but it also exposes symptoms of delusional expectations held by today’s youth. Yeah, you’re going to win the 750-million-to-1-shot lottery with one ticket. Right.
Ah, hell, I guess it’s not just today’s youth. I’ll fess up. When I was 11, and I caught my first touchdown pass of the season for the Burleson Boys Club Panthers, I was immediately convinced I would be an NFL wide receiver. That touchdown was the only pass I ever caught that season—and for the rest of my football career (which lasted until eighth grade when I broke my collarbone). A high schooler who weighs all of 130 pounds sopping wet stands little chance at football glory outside of his back yard.
When I was 14, I was going to be a drummer in a rock band that would be discovered by a West Coast record label and shoot straight to international stardom. Talent seemed to be the snag here (see “American Idol” above). When I was 19, I was going to own my own legion of vending machines, which held the promise of easy riches and an unending supply of M&Ms, but no one seemed to want to lend a teenage entrepreneur the mere six figures for start-up.
And when I was 30-something and finished my first attempt at the Mediocre American Novel, I was sure I was destined to be the next John Irving. Alas, that dream is still on the runway, desperately awaiting clearance in the thickening fog. So I soldier on, in the cube farm, telling myself that John Irving probably doesn’t really have it that good.
And I also tell my girls, yes, follow your dreams—but have a solid backup plan. If you truly want to be the next Lady Gaga, give it a shot. But stay on course for your MBA, as well. Please.
November 25, 2012 //
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