On Sunday, my son Milo and I were off to Costco to share the manly experience of buying things in large quantities. After a few minutes of driving in silence, Milo turned to me and announced that when he gets older he plans to be famous. Since I am paying a small fortune every year for art, piano, voice and drama lessons, I was heartened to hear that with the right motivation, he may be able to support me in a pretty fantastic lifestyle. Here I thought was a great opportunity to pass on some fatherly advice about setting goals and achieving what you both want and need to accomplish.
Now my insight on this topic all began when I was about ten years old. I was extremely proud of the Swiss Army knife that I’d received for my birthday. Nothing fancy. Just a knife, corkscrew and a saw. For reasons I can’t explain and that my father forgets, he decided that I should use the saw to cut a piece of 2X4 in half. I can only guess that it was to show me just how dangerous that saw really was or some other noble ideal. In reality what began was a 5 hour power struggle with me refusing to cut the board and him refusing to let me out of the basement until the job was done. That was parenting 1980’s style I guess. What I clearly remember was the pure anguish and unfairness of the whole exercise. I ranted and raved and cut and quit cutting and ranted and raved some more. I can still feel the hate crystallizing in my heart and it was lucky for my dad that the Menendez boys hadn’t come to imfamy just yet. In the end, I was released after cutting the damn wood in half and I suspect I’d still be there now if I hadn’t.
It didn’t occur to me until I was almost 20, and the Army had taught me a lot more about doing things I’d prefer not too, that I recognized the lesson Dad tried to teach me that day. It’s actually easier to just get a shitty job done than it is to rant, rave and scheme up ways to avoid the hard work! I’ve been trying to figure out how to impart that lesson to Milo when I don’t have a woodshop in the basement, have a pathological hatred of 2X4’s and there is no way clutzy Milo is getting a knife! As I approach 40 and look back on this formative event in my life, I also see another lesson. You will never realize what you can achieve through hard work if you never push yourself past whatever limits you think you have.
It’s too damn easy to quit things today. If it’s too hard to diet, then get your stomach stapled. If it’s too hard to write an essay, hey that why they invented the internet. If your marriage is rocky, well there’s divorce, pornography and anonymous hookups on craigslist. Really, why put in the effort?
So back to Milo’s bid to become famous. I launched an oratory about the virtue of hard work and how his mother and I will support him if he really wants to be an actor or singer. I suggested ways he could begin working on his goal by setting smaller, shorter term milestones. And he listened patiently, smiled and said “Dad, can’t we just talk about what a great house I’m going to have?”
I am currently headed to the lumber yard. Anyone got a small saw I can borrow?