Sunday, October 28, 2012

Family Man

There once was a man with five children. He adored his first son, the one with sunlit curls and blue eyes who came along when the man himself was still young and full of hopes and dreams for the future. He sent the boy to the finest schools, bailed him out when he got into a little mischief now and then, introduced him to well-connected friends who helped him get a start in business. That boy is still his pride and joy. To this day he gives him little gifts to let him know he is cherished.

The father tells himself he loves his other four children. He says so to his friends. As the years passed, though, he began to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility for so many lives. And as he has got older, and saw more of life, he began to realize that it was they, not he, who were responsible for their successes and failures. He even convinced himself that they would be better off if they were not raised in privilege. So he did not send them to fine schools or help them get starts on their dreams.

The family moved around, and some of the public schools attended by the other four children, two boys and two girls, were decent. Some were places where you could get a good education if you applied yourself and didn’t get distracted by the kids who weren’t ambitious. Good discipline, he thought. But even he realized that other schools, like the ones in the heart of one big city where they lived for a while, were not. That urban school was rough, even he had to admit that. He told himself his two sons who were in high school there would benefit from the gritty experience. He said it would make them tough, prepare them for life.

What it did was prepare one to be a drug addict and the other to drop out and go searching for himself, like he was some new-age Woody Guthrie or Steve Jobs or something. Both are still looking for work. For now, at least, Medicaid is paying for rehab for the one who made bad choices that started with hanging out with stoners. The father tried to warn him, but the boy wouldn’t listen, and after all a man can only do so much with a headstrong kid.

That was all years ago. He hasn’t seen either boy in a while. He’s closer to his girls, at least one of them. The oldest seems to be turning out all right. She’s a model of some kind. He thinks she’s in L.A., although she doesn’t stay in touch as much as she used to. It’s too soon to say about the princess, which is what he calls the youngest. They’ve moved back to the suburbs now, so the school she attends isn’t rough or dangerous. She wants to be a doctor, she says. She’s a serious little thing. He thinks the state college has a decent pre-med program, but she has her heart set on going to a fancy school, like her oldest brother. He says he can’t afford that kind of spending anymore. She’s determined, though. Maybe she’ll get a loan or a grant. Or maybe she’ll be a nurse.

He’s not that religious. He goes to church and he puts up Christmas lights, but he doesn’t believe anything is God’s plan. He might say he does when trying to comfort someone to whom something terrible has happened, but he doesn’t believe it. He believes in self-reliance. He’s tried to raise his children that way, at least that’s what he tells himself.

Once in a while, when his daughter who is still living at home, the one who wants to be doctor, gets upset about something and asks why he did so much more for her oldest brother than for the rest of them, he says that he had more money then. What about the country club you joined last year? she demands. He tells her that’s for business, but she acts like she doesn’t understand. Then he tells her that even if he had gone to public school her brother would have come out on top. That’s the kind of man he is. So can you, he tells her, and he believes that, even when she gets upset, kind of hysterical, if you want to know the truth, and won’t speak to him for long periods. Maybe she’ll find a good husband is what he usually thinks at those times. That would be the best thing for her.

So that’s the story. Now that you’ve read it, I have a question: Would you like for your children to be raised like that? One given so much, the others left to fend for themselves? Maybe not, I’m guessing. Then how about all the children in the country? Is that the way we should be raising them?


  1. Great writing of a confronting modern parable that could provoke thought and perhaps even promote one or two sound decisions by those who read and consider. :~)

  2. I didn't realize we were raising all the children in the country. I assume (hope) we're leaving that responsibility to each family.