Saturday, January 15, 2005

Preparing For An Uncertain Future

As we drove today to the German Language School that my son attends every Saturday morning, he and I chatted. Well, I chatted, he listened. OK, OK, I lectured, he listened. He is of an age (twelve, going on twenty) where he increasingly knows everything that there is to know. You know, like your twelve-year-old, and yours and yours... Maybe your twelve-year-old isn't like that yet, but wait a few months and you will understand what I'm talking about. Or think of yourself at that age. Maybe you will remember what you were like.

Or maybe you were perfect. I sure wasn't. I was a good kid, mostly, but very stubborn. I didn't like being told what to do. I still don't. So, I can understand having a child who is like me. He has my genes and he has me as an example. That makes it tough sometimes, for both of us.

Still, I don't want a completely complacent, passive son. I want him to be someone who has the cojones to stand up for what's right, someone who won't let himself be pushed around, someone who will make his own way, on his own terms. Someone who will conquer, not who will be one of the vanquished. Still, I don't want to be perpetually challenged on everything... homework, grooming, responsibilities, whatever.

And I'm not. So far, at least, we only lock horns occasionally. Yes, trees fall in the forest while we clash. He stands up for what he feels is right and I simply want him to understand that it is useless to turn everything into a fight. It leaves less energy for those struggles that are really important. One has to learn to choose one's battles in life.

Today, our topic was the economic future of North America. Douglas Casey, whose International Speculator newsletter I have subscribed to for years, tells us that our children and grandchildren will be houseboys and nannies for the Chinese, as they prosper and we are left behind. Casey has a flair for the dramatic, but I do agree that the future for our North American economies looks grim. It may take a few more years for things to get really bad. It might even take a decade for two. The decline, however is inevitable.

I don't want my son to be anyone's houseboy. I don't want him to work in anyone's factory. I want him to be able to chart his own course. I want him to have choices.

There is nothing wrong with being a houseboy. There is nothing wrong with being a factory worker. My father spent most of his working years in Canada as a janitor. My mother cleaned houses for rich people when I was growing up. They were both glad to be working and each saw their jobs as opportunities. When I was young, I was ashamed of what they needed to do to feed and clothe my brother and me. Now, I am ashamed of having been ashamed. There is no shame in doing an honest day's work, no matter what that work might be.

The issue here is more about choice. If you can choose among being a doctor, a lawyer or a businessman and choose instead to be a factory worker, then that's fine. In a factory, you punch a time clock, in and out, and when you are off the clock, your time is yours. No work-related worries or responsibilities. If that is what you want, more power to you.

If, on the other hand, you have to work flipping burgers or cleaning toilets or assembling cars because you don't have the training or education to do what you would rather do, then I can guarantee that you will be miserable and that your misery will make your spouse and your children miserable too. If you weren't able to put yourself in the position where you could choose where to live and what to do for a living, then please make sure that your children, at least, will have those possibilities open to them. They may hate you for pushing them now, but they will be grateful someday.

Or will they? Maybe not. Maybe they will resent your pushing and prodding. I don't know.

All I know, is that I wish my dad had been able to teach me some of the things that I am now trying to teach my son. My dad was honest, hardworking, honourable and proud. But he didn't know much of what I now know, and which I am trying to teach my son. I wish now, that I had been able to sit with him and talk to him and to appreciate him while he was alive. It's too late now. I want to make sure that my son, when he is my age and reflects back on his dad, will remember that at least I tried to communicate with him. I really do try. I try very hard.

I am proud of my son. He has accomplished much more than I had at his age. He is good at sports, basketball in particular. He has a keen mind but wastes much of his academic potential because of his focus on sports and other interests. I am confidant that he will sort it all out, eventually, and I will always be proud of him, even if he does eventually become a houseboy or a factory worker.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to try to make sure that he, at least, has many options and choices available to him as he grows up.

Stay tuned.


  1. You are giving your son the best gift of all.

    Too many of us grew up in households where the biggest issue was earning a living. For those of us who had parents who took the time to come down to our level and actually talk, play, demonstrate good lifestyles and choices,we were,and are so much richer for that. Ultimately, each child will make their own decision about education, work, lifestyles. You can be sure however, that your examples and discussions will eventually have a huge impact on them. Sooner or later, he will recall those discussions you shared, and benefit from them

    One thing I have always pushed with my children is the philosophy that all work is honourable. Respect for the people who clean, cook, and work in other so called menial jobs is mandatory. All of those folks help to make the world go round and they all have a place. Your childhood shame about your parents and their employment would be long ago forgiven by them.

    Thankyou for reminding me how important it is to continue to dialogue with our kids. Even when they become so called "legal" adults, they still want your input and encouragement. You have set up the framework for that exchange with your son. You are both enriched and will continue to be.

    Sounds like you've got a great thing going.

    Thanks for reminding me to appreciate my parents and my children.

  2. I enjoy reading your blogs about growing up in a different world and how it has changed in some ways how you view the present. Many of these reflections involve you and your wonderful son Zachary. I would like to suggest you ask him if he would like to compose a blog about his feelings for his dad. No holds barred on this effort. It has to be completely his feelings and his skill in expressing himself. I sure would like to read what he has to say.

  3. Anonymous: Sounds like you've 'been there, done that,' when it comes to dealing with kids. It's good to hear from someone with experience because I am, as the saying goes, 'flying blind.'

    I agree that ultimately some of the effort expended on children pays off. Usually. And sometimes it is a long wait.

    William: Strangely, I was thinking the very same thing over the weekend, that it would be interesting to have my son write his own blog. I too would find it fascinating reading. I will suggest it to him. I won't hold my breath though, while waiting.