September 13, 2012
So my eldest just sprang it on me that sheís scheduling college visits for later this month. And no, thank you for asking, I am not dealing with this particularly well.
Mills Child One is just starting her junior year, a point at which, I am told, kids typically begin scouting out colleges. She informed me her friend Lydia actually started visiting campuses last year, even spent a week at Pharmacy Camp last summer so she could explore career options. I, in turn, informed her that Lydia is a bad influence and not the sort of kid I want her hanging out with.
As a parent and a person who believes almost religiously in the capacity of education to elevate individuals and societies, I want my child to go to college and am happy to see her taking the initiative to pick out the right one. As a dad, none of that stuff matters. Parent Bart realizes that early action is the key to success. Dad Bart believes it is too soon to talk about my little girl moving out of my home and onto a college campus. Dad Bart is having a tough time with all of this.
Iím hardly alone on this front. I am sure every parent deals with those moments when it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that the baby you burped and changed and nearly stroked out trying to teach to ride a bike, is not a baby anymore. There are milestones for each of us ó first dates, first cars, the first time they roll their eyes when you tell the ďOrange you glad I didnít say banana?Ē joke ó but whatever the cue, the response is undoubtedly a mix of panic and melancholy blended with the weight of feeling your actual age. Blend that with a decent Irish whisky and you have the recipe for a real, wallowing funk.
Beyond my desire to keep my child a child forever, the issue of college brings up other conflicts. Like most kids, MC1 is weighing a variety of options. Itís not just about what college she wants to attend, but what major sheíll choose, how long she wants to be in school and, driving it all, should she choose happiness or security. These are times when a kid needs some solid parental advice and, frankly, Iím not the best person to give advice, particularly on that latter front.
When I was a high school junior, the question of security never arose or, if it did, I must have used my teenage-boy reality shield to keep it out of my conscience. In my mind, just going to college was enough to guarantee a certain quality of life. Shy of becoming a doctor or government assassin (the job I really wanted) the major you chose was ancillary to the act of receiving a degree. I decided to study music under the assumption I would become a huge Broadway star and never really use the degree. My single consolation to security was (and I apologize in advance to all my teacher friends) to sign on as a Music Education major in case the unthinkable should occur and the Great White Way not call.
It didnít. I got the degree, but decided teaching was too much work for me. I went on to get a graduate degree and, once again denying the eventual need to secure a job, chose aesthetic philosophy. I wish I could say that the masterís degree helped me find work, but I canít. Apparently, very few major corporations have a need for a staff aesthete.
Even when I did eventually join the workforce, I almost always chose fun over funds. Musician, journalist, radio host, nonprofit arts guy, all great gigs I loved doing and not one of them paid half what I would have made on the line at a decent manufacturing plant. As a result, I have spent most of my adult life budgeting and working two and three jobs at a time to make ends meet.
The problem is, Iíve enjoyed it all. I have chosen my own happiness over the security of my family and somehow made it work. So, when it comes time for me to answer the question my daughters will eventually ask ó should they chose a career that pays well or one that makes them happy ó I am at a bit of a loss. Parent Bart wants to tell them to be accountants or engineers or something secure. But Parent Bartís sage advice is trumped by Dad Bartís questionable past decisions. They should do as I say. They may do as I did.
The most I can do is be honest with them. I love the life I chose, but it would have been a lot easier on everybody if I had loved something that paid a living wage. Besides, thereís a decent chance they could be happy doing something I would find unbearable. I canít say Iíve ever met a truly happy accountant, but Iím certain there are one or two of them out there.
In the meantime, we have almost two years before MC1 needs to make a choice and four years for her sister. Thatís enough time for Parent Bart to help them come up with a few good answers before they go. And enough time for Dad Bart to figure out a way to keep them from going at all.