Twilight of a Promising Youth


He lies at death’s door, a spent man at the age of 63. As boys we attended the same schools. His father was a WW II veteran and self made business man who prospered in banking and property development. Our parents were business and social friends, and we got along fine but traveled in different circles sharing few common interests. Now he is about to pass on; way too young and leaving little if any mark in the world he will depart.

He was tall, handsome, got good grades and joined all the right groups. His friends were the smart ones that kept their noses clean and were destined for 4 years in a good college back when universities were expensive, community colleges were just an idea, and there were no student loans to pay the freight. We on the other side of the social and academic spectrum were headed for a hitch in the military – drafted or enlisted – followed by a blue collar career riveting wings at Boeing or driving a logging truck.

He spent 4 years at a great university on dad’s dime; avoiding military service on a student deferment, and married soon after graduation. A good first job followed and he was headed toward long term success. Everybody knew that he would end up comfortably well off in the interim and eventually inherit a large part of the fortune his father had produced.

We never crossed paths again but occasionally word got back that things were not quite what we had expected. Rumors of drinking problems, job terminations, and domestic quarrels surfaced from time to time. His first marriage ended in divorce. Apparently another failed marriage followed in his 30s or 40s, but since we had little communication with his family, details were never very clear.

A few years ago, some social contacts were made with his parents and the situation was not encouraging. The man was living in an old home in a rural area and running a second hand store in the small town nearby. The house was in need of repair and his father had helped financially to make the place livable. His mother told of a short stay there and described the atmosphere as somewhat toxic. The evening activities in the home between the man and his wife were primarily “They drink and smoke and fight.” I had never imagined the man would ever take up smoking. That was reserved for my deadbeat circle of friends and for which we were always disparaged by his.

My friend had the great misfortune to be born into a fortune. In school, those of us from families of lesser means envied kids like him. It was preordained that their birthright was a ticket to lifetime comfort and success. What we did not realize at that age was that such an advantage combined with compassionate parents breeds a corrosive, self destructive dependency. We “less fortunate” did our time in the service of our country and went to work doing hard repetitive labor. We had to grasp the fact that the only way up was to improve ourselves by ourselves; one night class, one minor promotion, or one little savings account at a time. We never got a handout and had to invent or earn any hand up we were ever to experience.

America is a land of liberty. We are born with equal opportunity under the law, but the starting blocks of life are in different locations for each of us. Those who start toward the back of the pack must run faster and farther to reach the finish line or drop out and fail along the way. Others like my friend got to start out with the finish line so close and so apparently easy to reach, they never realized that there were hills, hollows, and hurdles on the track to be overcome. When things got tough, they quickly got into the habit of drawing upon family money and support instead of having to work through the difficulties with wits, sweat, and pain.

My friend will be gone at any moment now, his body spent through slow self destruction. His spirit – never tempered, honed, and strengthened by the setbacks and adversity of a normal life – exhausted.

Let this be a tragic warning to those “helicopter parents” even now guiding their children through the early years of life in a protective bubble. They will enter adulthood bereft of the abilities necessary to excel if they are not allowed and required to learn self reliance at a young age. Children must be sent out into the world with skills to work, cope, survive, and prevail on their own. They must have self discipline and a solid work ethic to succeed without outside help. Lifetime success and self esteem must be accomplished and earned by the individual. Neither can be bequeathed by overly generous and protective parents.

Each child’s future depends on what that kid can learn to do without assistance. Those who grow up expecting a helping hand, a $100 bill, or an over involved parent at every minor crises will end up as a beach bum  on public support, or a purple haired Goth doing drugs on family handouts. The ones who learn to fight life’s battles early and alone will be the future leaders and entrepreneurs of America.

My friend’s mother will soon be burying her firstborn. Don’t raise your child in a way that will potentially find you enduring the same experience in the future.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Larry on February 28, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Hi Jeff: I will be passing this to Evan first;great article! I am down here in school in OKC for the next 5 weeks. My class of 20 is filled with old fart ex military guys like us. They all have big backgrounds and lots of interesting war stories from Vietnam to Iraq and places in between. Many are our age and older. Our head instructor was in combat in Korea and is still going strong. The other 2 instructors are both late 60’s but you would never know it.
    Most students are “starting over” after losing jobs in this economy but they all seem to have great attitudes.No “silver spoon” kids like the one in your article. Lets get together when I get back and I’ll fill you in on this whole FAA thing. Take care!

    Reply

    • Hi Larry:

      Thanks for all the support. I am trying to get some traction with this site and need all the help I can get. Feel free to share the link with all the fine old fellow has-beens you are fortunate enough to be with at school. They quit making men like that about 40 years ago.

      Jeff

      Reply

  2. Posted by C M Mowbray on February 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Excellent observation and life-lesson.

    I am sending it to my four children before it’s too late!

    Reply

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