Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Teaching Moment Fail

 A few weeks ago, I was changing out a bad alternator pulley on the ancient 1970 International Harvester Cub Cadet 127 garden tractor that I use to mow our yard, haul dirt, and perform whatever other mechanical chores are needed around the microstead, when my 12-year-old son walked up to me and said "Dad, you're always working on this thing. Why don't you just go buy a new one or have someone else work on it for you?"

Seeing this as a great potential "teaching moment" I replied, in full-on monologue mode, "Son, there's an old expression that goes something like, 'There are those who have things done, and there are those who do.' As much as possible, I like be one of those who do, and I'll tell you why. Not only can I not afford to just go out and buy a new tractor, but your great-grandfather bought this tractor new in 1970. I grew up riding on it, and when he died I brought it up here and have been using it ever since. Pretty soon, you're going to be riding on it. Think about that: that's 43 years of non-stop use. Sure, it breaks down every now and then and needs some TLC, but do you think if I go down to Wal-Mart or Atwoods and spend two grand on one of those cheap lawn tractors, that it'll still be running 43 years from now? No, because like everything else, they're not designed to last as long as possible, and they're not designed to be worked on. They're designed to last for a certain amount of time, then break and be replaced. It's called planned obsolescence, and it's a terrible thing. It's terrible for the environment and it's terrible for people, too. It stunts your sense of self-worth, self-reliance, and your sense of accomplishment. It encourages us to be a throwaway culture, and fosters the idea that if something breaks, the normal and natural thing to do is just throw it away and go buy a new one, just like all the other mindless lemmings out there who don't know how to do anything any more because they don't have to."

I continued, for by this time I was on a self-aggrandizing, philosophical roll..."Now, can I fix everything around here when it breaks? No, I'm not nearly as smart as either one of your grandfathers, so some things I am forced to either throw away, because they're designed to not be fixed at all, or have someone else fix them because I don't have the skill, but I'm always trying to learn how things work and how to fix them myself. And when I do fix something, it saves us money and it gives me a measure of satisfaction and accomplishment that the mindless, affluent consumer will never know. Now, given what I've just told you, what would you rather be; a rich man who can easily afford to not know how to do anything, and therefore has others do for him, or a poor man who doesn't have that luxury, but takes pride in what he's capable of doing on his own?"

My son, who is going to be one helluva lawyer someday, looked at me and replied, with a poker-straight face, "That's easy. I'd rather be the rich man, and I'll tell you why: Not only would I not have to mess with constantly trying to fix stuff when I could be doing something fun, I mean seriously, wouldn't you rather be fishing right now than sweating in the middle of the driveway? But I would also help you, as a poor man, feel good about yourself when I brought things to you to fix for me. It's a win-win. We're both happy."

Utterly deflated, my argument in smoking ruins, I conceded to the infallibility of his 12-year-old logic, mopped the sweat from my brow and went back to busting my knuckles trying to get that goddamned, broken-down old tractor running again while dreaming of distant water.


  1. Get him to the Ivy League ASAP and you won't have to pick up a pen ever again.

  2. You're doing something right, that's light sabre sharp right there

    PS thanks for adding the 'notify me' box

  3. You have already raised a smart kid.

    I sent a letter to the foundation, no worry. Yr email keeps bouncing...

  4. Thanks, Steve. I'm cleaning out the in-box now...

  5. Have you got an email that I can write to?