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Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Dad's Point of View: It's the economy stupid, I mean, Son

I had naively hoped never to live through tough economic times like my folks did, with The Great Depression. And, while I still believe that we’re far from those dark days, it is clear that we are in the midst of the worst financial crisis of my life and certainly of my boy’s lives. There are lessons for them, for me, for all of us.

I recently got in a debate with a close friend about his wanting to get his not-yet-16-year-old a car. “He’s done well in school; he deserves it,” my friend says. This same friend is financially strapped, in constant debt, yet wants to please his son whose many friends “all have cars.” This is the ultimate juggling act for my generation of parents, who seem inclined to pamper their kids, delay their growing up, and otherwise give them everything they desire. It seems we’re all trying to compensate for some perceived slight our kids are suffering at our hands, whether it’s the dual-working parents or, in my case, the ugly divorce and absentee Mom. I feel bad for them, so I buy to assuage those feelings.

I’m hoping my boys will gain wisdom from what we’re presently experiencing. Till now, they’ve lived in the relative lap of luxury and convenience. “Let’s go to Barnes ‘N’ Noble” as an outing invariably meant buying them a book. We’ve now had discussions about how and where we will hereafter spend money. Things often taken for granted will no longer be available. I will have to live the life I preach and take the same, at times, harsh medicine I’m asking them to swallow. First, we’re cutting out all the “extras.” Yeah, that means no more Art School at $180 per month, no more Rock ‘N’ Roll School at $280 per month, no more sleep away Summer Camp, and no more exotic heli-skiing trips for Dad.

Am I damaging my boys’ remaining few years of childhood or teaching them valuable lessons about conservation (meant in the most general sense) and the value of a buck? I think the latter trumps just making them happy. I believe that learning the strength to deal with adversity, to do without, to actually have to save and delay some gratification will enhance their happiness just as they’ll assuredly face many hurdles in their adult lives. I reflect on my parents’ survival of both the Depression and the rationing and fear of living, on the Home Front, during WWII. They survived without radical scars and appreciated all the blessings that followed.

So, my boys now “check out” their books and DVDs from the library. We order them online and they have to wait till they come in. Eating out is reserved for special occasions. We go to the market ONLY when we have a full list of items to buy. The AC doesn’t go below 78, the heat doesn’t go above 68, and showers aren’t endless anymore. It’s a beginning to the end of their childhood, and the beginning of their mature-a-hood. I hope.

The other day I was helping my younger son set up his computer. He inherited my old one as I finally upgraded mine. I looked around his room and realized the extraordinary amount of “things” he possessed and that he’d known no other way of living till now! There was a TV, DVD player, two or three portable video game devices, an “old” cell-phone (we’d just upgraded to newer ones as our former provider didn’t work where we recently moved), and more boxed DVD sets than they carry at Blockbuster. And, now, his own computer, albeit a “used” one. Nah, the lessons they will learn will serve them well. Won’t hurt their old man either.

As far as a car for my not-yet-16 teen (10 more months, but who’s counting), he’s clear that he’s NOT getting a car when he turns 16. In fact, he won’t even get his license if he’s not maintaining an agreed upon grade average (a “B”). He understands that “spending money” is earned, in part, by doing his required chores and finding small jobs. He’s limited in that regard by his age, but when we recently moved and the next-door neighbor mentioned that she needed help cleaning her horse’s stalls, I leapt at that opportunity for him. His first instinct was “ugh, that’s disgusting” until I reminded him what those Starbuck’s drinks he loves and iTunes songs cost. I will provide my boys with many wonderful life experiences but they will learn to earn the extras, wait and save for the big-ticket items, and maybe, just maybe, only get to drive my car occasionally. Hopefully, if I’m lucky, this way they’ll actually move out of the house before finishing their 20’s!

Please visit www.brucesallan.com to contact Bruce and to enjoy the various features his new Web site offers, including a unique Ask Bruce For Advice section, an archive of his columns, contact info, links to his published work, photo galleries, and reader comments, plus much more. Bruce Sallan was an award-winning television executive and producer for 25 years. Google him if you really want to know more (e.g. his credits). When his boys were quite young, Bruce left show biz to become a full-time Dad. Shortly thereafter his marriage ended and his wife abandoned their children, leaving the State. Bruce found himself a full-time single Dad, in his late forties, as well as a returning single man to the changed world of cyber-dating. It became a classic “sandwich” situation when he also began to care for his ailing parents. He began writing various blogs on the dating sites he used as well as articles for local publications. The goal of his column, A Dad’s Point-of-View, is to primarily focus on parenting and occasionally other issues from the male perspective. Presently, his column is available in over 50 newspapers and Web sites in the U.S. and internationally. Bruce lives in Agoura, California with his second (and last) wife and two boys, who are 15 and 12.

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