Gotchu, Dude

The story of the man suing to stay in his parents’ home at 30 years of age, with apparently no job and no skills and no motivation, has gotten a lot of ink.  The sad thing to me is that this is undoubtedly the tip of a very big iceberg.  I’m willing to bet there are plenty more 30-somethings living at home without much prospect of independence.  While some of those are undoubtedly due to tragic circumstances and are hopefully only temporary, I’m betting there are far more very similar to this case, with the exception that the relationship hasn’t frayed to the point of going to court.

The latest wrinkle in the story is that he’s been offered a job by a chain that is sympathetic to millennials and also understands a marketing opportunity when they see one.  They’re offering a signing bonus $1 higher than the offer of financial assistance from his own parents to leave.  They understand that “it’s tough out there….we gotchu, dude.”  Frankly, beyond the marketing opportunity,  I can’t imagine any company in their right minds offering this guy a job.  But I don’t anticipate he’ll take it, and if he does, after the media blitz dies down I’m sure he won’t be working there long.

I could (and do) imagine how things turned out this way.  My assumption is that he hasn’t been working for a long time.  Perhaps never.  His parents maybe supported him through his undergraduate studies and then he graduated but never moved into the workforce.  Maybe he didn’t major in a marketable area.  Maybe he just didn’t know what to do once he was out of the care of school systems of one sort or another.  Decisions were undoubtedly made all along the way by both sides that neither side thought would end up this way, but just happened to.  It’s unfortunate for all concerned.  I wonder if different choices earlier in his life might have avoided this situation.  But that’s easy and cheap speculation on somebody elses’ dime, when I have my own skin in the game, so to speak.

This weekend my oldest child turns 16.  One of the things we’ve talked about is the need for him to get a job.  He’s fine with this, excited by this even.  But I find myself struggling.  I started working literally at 15 and a half.  As early as I could in Arizona in the the ancient past.  A few hours a week bagging groceries.  I enjoyed it, by and large.  I’ve had a lot of different jobs since then, but I’ve only been completely unemployed for a period of about two months in late 1999 as the dot-com bust was churning up.  Even then, I was technically working – driving cabs on a lark as fuel for potential writing projects.  But since I didn’t really make any money, I don’t consider that gig to be working.

So it isn’t that I don’t want my boy to get a job.  That’s not what I’m struggling with.  But I’m struggling perhaps with what this other guy’s parents struggled with when he was 16, and what many other parents seem to struggle with around me.  Wanting to give their children good things, good experiences, good preparation for life, but taking gainful employment out of that equation.  I begin to understand some of the economics and decision-making that might produce an unemployable 30-year old who won’t leave home.   My son doesn’t *have* to get a job.  The income isn’t necessary to contribute towards family expenses.  If he wants to drive, he must get a job.  But that’s not too big a priority for him at this point.  And there are other things he’s prepared to do this summer – a junior lifeguard program for three weeks in late July that is fantastic. A possible conference here in town in August on politics and culture.

They’re good things.  Not just resume builders but person-builders.  Providing him with experiences and opportunities to broaden his scope physically and intellectually.  What parent wouldn’t want those things for their cchild?  And I want him to be able to do those things.  But I also know he needs a job.  Not for the money, but for the person-building as well.  He has several friends who are roughly his age or a year or so older.  Jobs aren’t on the horizon for  them.  They’re busy doing other things to prepare for college and other stuff.  Some of them have big ambitions for the future, and their parents have big ambitions for them for the future.  It’s an exciting time.

But I can’t help but  feel that part of those ambitions are best aimed for through getting a crappy part-time job.  Even if it’s just for the summer.  I learned a lot through working.  I’m sure my parents would have preferred me to learn these things earlier and from them, but sometimes we hear best from those a little more distanced from us.  I learned responsibility for my actions.  I learned accountability for my choices and performance.  I learned to make sure I could get myself where I needed to be on time.  I learned how to deal with different sorts of people.  Not all of them raised the way I was, not all of them living the way I felt it was right to live.  Not all of them with the same kinds of aspirations I had.  But different people.  Some funnier and smarter and some less so.  Some harder workers than myself and others less so.  But I had to figure out how to deal with them.

I also had to learn how to stand my ground, to act on the principles I had been brought up with at home and heard in church all my life.  Was I going to stick with those or adopt the looser terms of the wider world of Burger King or Revco?  I met plenty of people who were making different choices, and seemed to be enjoying life a lot more than I was.  Part of working is shaping yourself, hardening yourself after being molded and shaped by others.  In the fires of temptation and opportunity, would that molding hold or shift?

I suppose I learned some rudimentary money management, although the much older me would rather that the much younger me had saved more.  But that’s the privilege of the much older, we always want to ride on the energy of our younger selves.  I had fun.  I was responsible.  I put myself through college.  I tithed.  Skills I still carry to this day, just as, to this day, I probably don’t save as much as an older me will wish I had.  C’est la vie.

I have to overcome the desire to see my son doing fun stuff in order to ensure that he does necessary stuff.  That he learns some of the things I learned, chief of which is that you must work to eat and that you don’t always enjoy what you do which is a good incentive to figure out a way to do something that you do enjoy.  I don’t really care what kind of job he gets, but I think it’s important for a 16-year old to have the experience of earning a paycheck and getting to figure out what to do with it, and establishing practices and principles that will hopefully last a lifetime and for the basis for how he works with his children.  I want him to be able to do these other things as well, and I hope he can.  But when push comes to shove, I hope I’m strong enough to push him towards work first.

I’m grateful my parents wanted me to work and showed me ample examples of what that looked like.  I’m grateful I needed to work.  Now I have to make sure that my son starts working even if he doesn’t really need to just yet.  Because someday he will, or he might end up in the national news.

He’s certainly not living at home for the rest of his life!  I gotchu, dude.

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