Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Angry Dad Teaches His Kids

Growing up, my Dad was angry all the time.  The lessons we learned from this were not healthy.

I had a flashback last night to a day in my childhood.  We are sitting at the dinner table and my Dad, as usual, is angry.  He was angry a lot - shouting at us and never happy with us.  And that was when he was not physically abusive.  We were all glad when he left home to go to work and sad when he returned in the evening.

He was on the verge of losing yet another job, and he was angry.  Work for him was not a happy thing, and he made sure to tell us this - a lot.  "I don't like going to work every day!" he would say, "but I have to support you kids!"

The lessons we took away from this attitude were many:
1.  Work sucks and should be avoided at all costs.

2.  Our lives were destined to be little more than prolonged misery, forced to do things we did not want to do, for no apparent reason whatsoever.

3.  Having kids is just a waste of time, as they just end up being a bitter disappointment.
Now of course, these are all wrong lessons and not, of course, what my Dad intended to teach us.  But like programming a Neural Network, you sometimes find out that what you "taught" was not what you intended.

The lesson he intended to teach was that we should all work hard, get a good education, and a good job and settle down and raise a family - just as he did.  But given how miserable he was, it didn't seem like such a swell proposition.

At the time, in the 1960's, people were dropping out, tuning in, and turning on.  I suspect that a lot of the kids of that era got similar messages from their parents - subliminal messages that their chasing of the American Dream was not making them happy, but rather just miserable.  And the most important thing in their lives - their family - was just another burden to bear.

So not surprisingly, my older siblings got into the hippie culture and rejected materialism.  One joined a Commune for a decade or more.  Why not?  Dad certainly didn't make it seem like working for Corporate America was a swell deal.  And for me, well, getting married and having kids wasn't made to seem like a real dream to go after - at least not the way it was sold to me.  So not surprisingly, I never went that route.

And we all got heavily into drug and alcohol use along the way as well.  Well, why not?  When your parents tell you, "Hey, here's life, one fucking bitter disappointment after another!" you sort of think, "Well, might as well get shitfaced, then!" - particularly if your parents are, most of the time.

But of course, that is not how life is - or how it should be, anyway.  For many folks, it is a miserable existence, even on $100,000 a year.  People spend their lives buying things and spending money and paying bills and working at jobs they hate.  And they end up miserable and making their kids miserable.

But of course, it doesn't have to be that way at all.  Work can be fun - a game, if you will.  A career is not misery, and going off to work every day shouldn't be a chore.  And if it is, perhaps you need to examine why it is you are going off to work and why - and why you shouldn't change your life while you can.

And children should be something cherished, not merely another set of bills to pay.  It is sad, to me, that we sat at the dinner table back in 1968, our Dad yelling at us, concerned about some stupid job, when the most important thing in his life was sitting right there in that room - his wife and family. 

There are other ways to live.  And in fact, chasing after status and buying crap really isn't living at all, but a form of slavery - gold-plated slavery, but slavery nevertheless.  If you wake up every day dreading going to work, something is definitely not right.  And if the reason you are doing this is to have a fancy house and be accepted into a country club, it is a false set of values from the get-go.  I understand now, more, why my siblings rejected "materialism" and the corporate world.

Of course, trying to reject society is not the answer, either.  There is a third option.  You can enjoy your life and your career by not wanting so much "stuff" and status.  You can choose a career because it is something you enjoy, not because it is something that pays a lot of money.  Money is fine and all, but it really can't buy happiness - but will buy all the misery you can stand.