As a child, the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” comes up a lot. For kids, this is often an incomprehensible question. In order to properly understand and answer this question, a child would first require an understanding of the misery of having a full-time career and the endless toil earning a living exacts on your life as an adult.
Children live in a fantasy world. They can say whatever they want to this question and it’s ok because they are kids. If a child wants to be a portrait painter, Broadway actor, or musician, he isn’t a beatnik or a hipster, he’s idealistic and creative. He only becomes a loser when he still holds these preposterous desires into his 20s and 30s when he is inevitably still living in his parents’ attic. One of the most common colloquialisms that you hear from seasoned parents is that raising children is intrinsically rewarding but they never specify in what capacity or to what extent it is actually rewarding. While I’ve not exactly witnessed the “rewarding” part yet, there is nothing less rewarding than crushing the irrational hopes in a child’s mind that he will one day be able to support a comfortable lifestyle by doing something that actually makes him happy.
More often than not, the answer you receive from a child is based purely on the child’s interests at the time of the question. My younger sister always had the same response when she was a kid. She wanted to be either a bank teller or work at Taco Bell. My family thought this was funny. Obviously, she was foolish to desire one of these two dead end jobs. I mean really…who wants to work at Taco Bell? But as we’ve grown to be adults, I’ve learned that my sister still has an overabundant love for both money and tacos, so maybe she was onto something that wasn’t completely based in childhood idealism. However, despite her continued fondness with the things that were once her career ambitions, she, like everyone else, was co-opted by capitalism and now works as a restaurant server with a degree in evolutionary biology. I haven’t asked her lately how often she gets into heated discussions with her co-workers about wetlands and nursing abandoned baby squirrels to health while she’s firing the dessert course but I’m sure it is fairly often given the intellectual nature of the average chain restaurant wait staff.
It is difficult and sometimes painful to explain to an optimistic child that life is hard and the world is cruel. When you’re an adult, nobody asks nor do they care if you’re happy at your job. If, in fact, you are one of the fortunate few who is thriving in a line of work you enjoy and prospering both professionally and personally, no one wants to listen to how your life is overcome with passion and fruitfulness. They do not want to hear these things because they are stuck living a life they didn’t intend and laboring endlessly at a job they hate. Sadly, this is the case for most adults. How many among us are actually living the life we planned? In general, I find my co-workers to be a lackluster and supremely unimpressive group of tools that, if it weren’t for my need to pay the rent, I would likely never associate with out of choice.
I think that it is ok to tell my son the truth. I do not believe in lying to him by letting him believe that his future will be funded simply by his love for something. If current experience is any indication, then my son will endeavor to be the Grinch based purely on his fascination with taking things that aren’t his and smiling menacingly. I love his Grinch face and I’m quite certain he takes great pleasure in it as well but unfortunately for him, there is no money in grinching. As a responsible father, I have to be the caretaker over this behavior. While I certainly do not want to steer my son down a path ill intended, I do not want him growing up to believe that he can be a professional Grinch just because he likes being one.
With the holiday season in full swing, I may begin my pilgrimage to teach my son the hard truths about life with a rousing trip to various area malls to visit the seasonal “Santas” who are employed over Christmas. I’m sure most of them are living out their childhood dreams of dead leg and fake beard rash. I’ll be sure to ask these individuals if Bloomingdales is funding their epidermal treatment packages and prescription strength hydrocortisone.
It is in this way that I hope to impart to my son that life is difficult and idealism isn’t always reality. I take absolutely no joy in dismissing the hopes and dreams of a child but subsequently, I do not want my son growing up in a fantasy world constructed on the premise that he will earn an adequate living by making balloon animals or performing magic in the local park on Sundays. Dashing whimsical endeavors is not my game, but sufficiently preparing my son for the realities of a harsh and unforgiving world is.