What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
NOT LONG AGO I WAS CHATTING with one of the younger members of the family. She is in the sixth grade and turning into an interesting human being. She is past that Baby stage and is thinking about her future.
I asked her if she had given any thought to what she would like to be when she grows up. She answered me.
That stopped me for a moment. Maybe she didn’t mean what I thought so I asked her what a Dictator does. She knew.
This cute little girl had made up her mind and wasn’t going to change it.
“I like being in charge and telling people what to do,” she said. This kid is going to have an interesting life.
That encounter started me thinking about how we all passed through that stage when we decided what we wanted to do with our future. At age six I wanted to be a Cowboy. That never got too far once I discovered that I was afraid of horses. Like most kids my decision changed hourly. As I aged my decisions became more mature so that by the time I got to college all I dreamt of being was “Cool,”
It took a while, but I eventually made up my mind. I wanted to be an Actor. In my mind that seemed perfectly logical. I enjoyed it. I had some talent in that area. And it was sooooo cool. Plus it was a great way to meet girls.
My mother didn’t take it well. She was being practical of course. Trying to become an Actor was probably the most risky career choice one could make if you had developed the habit of eating on a regular basis. It was competitive as all get out and I was this gimpy kid living in Cleveland. She was concerned for her youngest child.
When she realized I was serious and not just yanking her chain she offered the stereotypical piece of Motherly advice: “You should learn to do something else too so you have something to fall back on.” She suggested that I get a job in one of the Auto Plants that were cranking out Chevys and other hunks of American Steel. This was just before the invasion of Japanese and German cars that began arriving by the millions and had American Auto Workers trying to become Actors so they had something to fall back on.
My Father’s reaction to my career choice was quite different. He tried to point out that because of my disability I was never going to make my way doing anything involving physical labor (He didn’t know how physical an Edward Albee play could be.) Besides, Actors can make some really good money. That was his way of saying, “Go for it.”
His tacit support really did surprise me. Both of my parents were Children of The Depression. Having a job – a real job – was the most important thing in the world. Without a job you never knew from where your next meal was going to come. In my Mother’s mind my wanting to be an Actor was like me admitting that I was looking forward to standing in the Soup Line at the Salvation Army Mission and sleeping on a park bench.
My Father was the same age as my Mother and had gone through the same Depression years. Why was his attitude so different? Several years later, going through his personal effects after his death I found the high school yearbook from when he graduated in 1930. Looking through the pages from 45 years in his past revealed something that I never knew and that he never spoke of.
Each of the photographs of the graduating seniors had their names and what they wanted to do with their lives, their ambitions.
I found my father’s picture – 18 years old with jet black hair slicked back and a twinkle in his eye. Beneath his smiling face it read:
“Plans on being a Traveling Silk Stocking Salesman.”
Why, Daddy! You rascal you.
When I showed that yearbook picture to my Mother she laughed and said that he had loved nothing more than dancing and had once dreamed of making it a career. They had met on the dance floor.
So that is why his reaction to my ideas didn’t ruffle his feathers. He’d had the same dream, but never got the chance to “Go for it.” In me, despite the odds, he saw a bit of himself – a young man with a dream.
Perhaps that young girl’s plan to become a Dictator might not be that farfetched, but I still think I need to talk to her parents. She needs to find another outlet for her controlling personality. You know, something to fall back on.