Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wanted: Professional Ant Wrangler

We are the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” generation (Those of us between 30 and 50). That was the phrase asked of us as children by relatives and teachers. This was asked at an age when we were expected to answer cowboy, nurse, astronaut, doctor, or, if you were precocious like me, paleoanthropologist. I’m not one, in case you are wondering, I just had an advanced reading age…

This was asked of girls in my generation, and, for the first time, they were allowed to say something other than ballerina or princess. But very often, they didn’t. The family is usually so close-knit, that it isn’t unusual for a little girl to say she wants to be a mommy, rather than, say, a business analyst. Who the heck wants to choose something that requires you to wear a suit and a deep frown?

Nope, boys still opt for the edgy thrill-seeking lifestyles, the outdoors, the slightly-dangerous careers. Things intervene, like actual schoolwork, bad eyesight, unexpected pregnancies and marriage, and they may find themselves tucked anonymously behind desks and countertops, tapping away their lives on computer keyboards, but really, that voice never goes way.

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question implying that you have the freedom to choose anything. That the world is your oyster (or rather something really big and open that doesn’t stick in your throat like the slimy phlegmwad which people consider an aphrodisiac). The question says that not only can you choose, but you can also select the time when you have finally grown up.

Men of my generation will be surprised if you haul them away from their TVs and video games, and whisper to them that this is it. You HAVE grown up. Very few of us have the option of loading a knapsack with a trenching tool and a block of magnesium and strolling into the hills. Most of us weigh up the so-called freedom against the mortgages, life insurance premiums and endless responsibilities, and call it a lie. We didn’t get to choose, we were chosen, popped in to place and glued fast.

Women will get frustrated with us: We act like kids sometimes, petulant and demanding, selfish and daft. But perhaps this is an outlet for not getting to choose what we wanted to do. In our heads we are cowboys, spacemen and paleoanthropologists, even if we do have to brush our teeth and smile at PTA meetings. We need to cut loose. We need women to allow us that freedom to be complete idiots, as long as we can snap out of it enough to function as husbands, boyfriends, colleagues and fathers.

This is ill-thought out rubbish I am writing, not based on anything at all, really, other than sometimes wishing I could head for the hills and cook stuff over an open fire for a few days. Then back to my desk, where my butt can atrophy while filling the world with more information.

I can’t really speak with authority for women: The whole mother-working mother- child-free woman- pre, during and post feminism concept is a little risky to deal with unless you have a coterie of voices backing you up. Women/choices? Perhaps even more of a lie than the choices offered to men.
Real men will support women in the choices they make, and not feel threatened. That’s as much as I can say on it without alienating several million people.

But there is a secret to this: You really can choose what you want to be, when you grow up, but you have to work damned hard to get there. They don’t tell you that when you’re small. I’m happy being a husband and father, and, for the first time in nearly forty years (the nearly is a big deal when you are 38, trust me), have a job which is almost designed around me. But in my head, I’ll still see myself making marvellous discoveries as the new Louis/Mary Leakey.
(Note: Mary was actually the one who rewrote history, there, but was eclipsed by our phallocentric society).

What do you want to be when you grow up? Or are you there?

One of my favourite descriptions of human nature is this: The things I don’t want to do, I do, and the things I do want to do, I don’t. It’s paraphrased from the New Testament (Romans 7 v 19), but it could be written here, now. Something that isn’t in the bible, but people probably assume is: The road to hell is paved with wishful thinking. Yup. I wish I hadn’t read that.

Apropos of nothing:
About the worst thing I would consider doing at the moment is mooning the Google Earth Street View car. That way I could be a star- famous in cyberspace, a moon and on the earth at the same time.


  1. great post Scott.
    I agree with your message.

    and who wouldn't want to moon the google street view car? that'd just be epic.

  2. @GeologyJoe: I'm assuming you do get to go outdoors sometimes, knapsack etc... You're living the dream, man! Unless you wanted to be a banker?
    And, yes, we should start something, the Moon Google Earth fraternity.

  3. Man. You really got me thinking.

    I wanted, when I was a kid, to be an oceanographer. So I was about as geeky as you.

    Then I thought doctor or President, but those were hard and/or put in there by Mom (who asked the other day if I still wanted to be President and looked sad when I said no.)

    Then I thought lawyer, which most days is still what I want to be -- except for those days when I don't want to be that.

    Sometimes I think "writer" and couple it immediately with "living in Hawaii," followed soon by "rich, too."

    But a little part of me also holds out for "Astronaut Who Returns To Earth To Quarterback The Buffalo Bills To the Superbowl."

    Also, is there something wrong with me that I DON'T want to head for the hills and cook over a fire? When I picture heading out, it's in a luxury SUV with my iPod playing, and at the end of the road is a hotel with "Suites" in the name. And McDonald's.

  4. Good question. Here's another: when did we become adults, and how do we make it stop?

  5. @Briane P: Yup, you have the syndrome- the problem with endless choices is that we are never satisfied. There is nothing wrong with you- I also qualify desires with- but just for a little while... It's because we don't want to settle on one thing, option A or B. We've been taught that the grass IS greener, and that we CAN have our cake and eat it, off the dahboards of our SUVs, or gilt coffee tables in rambling mansions.
    @SMP: We are only adults in terms of our finacial comings of age. The Disneyfication of society- Peter Pan- means that we are constantly having to give our inner children time-out in the naughty corner.

  6. Last week, I was giving academic advice to a 30-something student whose transcript has rambled from topic to topic and who, in our conversation, rambled the same way. He has a tendency to use "smart" language but he never actually says anything with those words. He went on and on and on. And on. At one point, an hour into the marathon, he said, "when I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor. I would have been good at that." When he finally took a breath, I took great joy in saying, "I don't think you could have been a doctor." I've waiting 20 years to say that to a student.

    I wasn't trying to be insulting. You're right that you have to be up to the hard work but you also have to be aware of how you're wired. Can a guy who is drawn to a random list of courses and who jumps from topic to topic along pathways only he sees be a doctor? Maybe but not likely. I tried to convince him that that thing he saw as a weakness, his inability to focus for long, could be a strength in other environments.

    How many kids (and adults) have wasted time dreaming about being something unrealistic? We're a follow your dreams sort of world but those dreams sure do cause a lot of people to end up feeling like failures when they might be brilliant if they just followed life to where it leads.

  7. @MDL: Well spoken! He was mesmerised by the sound of his own verbosity?
    True- We can't all be, say, princesses, for example, or famous, or even postmen. It's interesting how the supposed choice involved often prevents us from going where we should be...

  8. You're so right. It is a lot of had work to get what you want.

  9. My inner child lives in the naughty corner. Why else have one? :)

  10. @SMP: My inner adult lives there...


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