My adult perspective

Hey, kids, an adult here. Got something to say. No, no, don't go rolling your eyes at me. Actually, I know you won't. You're all so darn clean-cut. Not LOL here. Really. I just read in a newspaper (that strange papery thing over there that doesn't go "tweet") how sociologist Reginald Bibby says you're all sober, industrious, get along with your folks and plan to have good jobs, stable marriages and a passel of kids. Makes me wonder why we all bothered to be so decadent. Honestly, it's like the 1950s out there.

Actually, I'm delighted that you have these aspirations. Beats planning to hang out and get hammered. Still, I realize maybe there's a couple of things we ought to have mentioned while you were growing up that we kind of didn't. Especially one of those ugly four-letter words: work. W-o-r-k.

I know what you're thinking. We work all the time. Mom and Dad scramble out of bed, rush you off to daycare, fly to our offices, eat at our desks, check our BlackBerrys during dinner, slam you into bed and rush back to our e-mail.

But remember what Seneca said: "a delight in bustling about is not industry -- it is only the restless energy of a hunted mind."

Work properly understood is the systematic and determined application of your energies to things that really matter. And we didn't take the time to explain it for a couple of reasons.

First, we were so busy. Second, we really, really wanted you to feel good about yourselves because ... um ... why was that? Oh yeah, because we insist on feeling good about ourselves. It's a human right. Fulfilment. We have a right to be fulfilled or, more exactly, to feel fulfilled. If you feel fulfilled it's the same as being fulfilled, right?

Besides, who wants to be all judgmental and evaluate people by what they do? So we started by giving marks for effort and ended up giving marks to make you feel fulfilled.

I gather it worked. Another study said a third of college students expect a B just for showing up and 40 per cent for doing the readings. Which I find a bit odd since, as a university teacher myself, I don't take attendance in my lectures. I have no way of knowing whether you did the reading except if you show familiarity with it on your written work.

Aaaaargh. There's that word again. Which brings me to something I feel kinda bad about, but should probably get out anyway.

The main reason we didn't explain about work is it would have taken work -- work to explain it and then to live up to it.

Starting with the work of raising you. I mean, you're cute and all, but remember what I said earlier about fulfillment. I needed a career to feel fulfilled, so you sorta had to go to daycare. Which looked nice, they had friendly staff and pretty toys and you got socialized with a room full of anxious toddlers which, uh ...

Point is, I realize our lifestyle cut into our time for meaningful discussions. And left a big tax burden. Sorry about that. But not very. It doesn't seem to have hurt much. We did insist that daycare foster your sense of personal worth. And it looks like it did.

After all, that Bibby survey says you're optimistic. You want fulfilling jobs with good pay and stable marriages and big families and what's more you all seem to expect to get them without ... urk ... say, this is awkward, isn't it?

Look, I'm not saying I want you to be depressed. It's just that optimism is a psychological state and given the facts of human existence a fatuous one. What you should be is hopeful, which is a theological virtue.

Oh, we forgot to explain that word, too, didn't we? Virtue. We relied on psychology and didn't exactly dwell on morality. It could have led to awkward questions.

Like why so few adults around you are in first marriages. And, since many of you expect to cohabit then get married for life, did we mention that people who cohabit are more likely to divorce if they marry? I know it sounds weird to people who are used to the concept of "test driving," but the problem is that cohabiting is just fun until it's not and you split whereas marriage takes ... you know.

To make marriage work you have to put the other person first. Which is all fine and good with wine and roses and candlelight, but a bit harder with too little sleep and job pressure and a nagging feeling that you're not so much fulfilled as harried.

Mind you, good luck raising kids if you can't put others first. You'll probably end up plunking them into a daycare.

Anyway, I'm glad you're feeling so perky. Hope this little chat didn't get you down. Wish we'd made time earlier. Oh well. Gotta go.

[First appeared in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson