I grew up in a dog-eat-dog world. My memory is hazy, but it might be that I actually ate a dog once. Probably not, but it could have happened, while I was at one of those male-bonding retreats in the 80’s where we walked on hot coals, stripped naked and hunted each other down through the forest, all in the mistaken belief that this had something to do with becoming better corporate drones. Robert Bly, you have a lot to answer for!
Anyway, the point is I was nowhere near achieving work/life balance as a younger adult. I used to work in a boiler room and would often adopt other personalities on the phone in order to hoodwink clients into buying what I was selling. (I’m better now, and to make up for all that bad karma, I give telemarketers an hour of my time, catch up on their lives and even invite them to a Seder every once in a while.) So here’s what’s haunting me: how did a recovering shark like me raise such ethical children?
Anyone who struggles with work/life balance knows that old habits die hard. I was reared in a culture of achievement at any cost, wherein there were no rules as long as you came out ahead. (Kind of like the WWF, but without as much skin showing.) I figured this would just work its way down the food chain to my kids whether I liked it or not. Imagine my surprise last weekend.
I took my daughter to a movie, and as we came out of the theater I noticed that we could easily sneak into the cinema across the way and see a double feature for no extra cost. “I don’t think that’s right, Daddy,” said my wide-eyed child. She had qualms about getting something for nothing. Qualms! I remember qualms! Qualms were the things I was told were the province of girly men. Qualms were for losers! Qualms? I spit on your qualms!
Well, clearly, we men have something to learn from the girls. And it didn’t stop there. We stopped in at an arcade on the Santa Monica Pier. One of the ticket machines was broken, and for a small investment of ten cents, it began to spit out all the tickets we could ever need. Again, my darling daughter would only use the ones we paid for! Well, the old voices kicked in for a second (“what is wrong with her?” “She’ll never make it in business with morals like that!”), but then I realized that maybe this is exactly how I thought as a kid, before the conventional wisdom got its hooks into me. And suddenly, I’m right back in the 80’s, sobbing about father issues around a campfire with ten other guys in flannel shirts. Paging Oprah: I think my inner child came out last weekend, and it had a qualm-ometer around its neck. We really can learn a lot from our kids. Okay, so Sponge Bob may never seem funny to us, but they have more to offer than just their susceptibility to a merchandising blitz.
So tell the truth, hard-working people: have your kids reminded you lately of how much more on the ball they are than you?