My best friends growing up were three brothers who introduced me to--among other things--The Silly Book, and the cartoon character, "Boodleheimer." It would be difficult, almost 50 years down the road, to overestimate the extraordinary joy that Rod, Paul, Frank, and I got from the following verse of the "Silly Song":
(CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!)
(CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!)
The more you Boodle,
The less you Heimer.
The more you Heimer,
The less you Boodle.
(CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!)
Even now as I write this, an adult man with grown children, I can barely contain my joy. And is those days, we couldn't get past the first "Boodle" without breaking out in breathless tears. And the capital letters in "CLAP!" And all those exclamation points! This was the early sixties, remember. The starchy Eisenhower presidency was only one administration in the past. A profligate profusion of exclamation points was not to be overlooked.
The 50s were not silly. Boodleheimer presaged the raucous 60s. Our fifth grade selves seemed to know that something was up.
It would take us 20 gasping minutes to thoroughly engulf the unmitigated hilarity--the Boodleheimer appeared on subsequent pages as well--before going outside to toss a coconut at one other and then returning to read The Silly Book again. It's a wonder we stopped long enough to eat or pay attention to the Gemini space missions.
Ron, Paul, and Frank lost their parents when they were young men and my dad, the attorney for their dad, was put in charge of their money--"estate" would be too grand a word. My dad cheerfully doled out checks for college tuition, acting in accordance with the wishes of their dad, a man whom he had known most of his life. It was simple and straightforward for my dad to decide what to fund. There was enough money for undergraduate education and, if interest rates remained high, most of law school for all three boys.
Unfortunately, Frank lost his way and became heavily involved with drugs. Bordering on destitute, he showed up at my dad's office demanding money. My father was equally determined not to squander Frank's small inheritance and refused to give him a nickel until and unless he was clean. Their talk began badly and deteriorated quickly:
Frank: "Uncle Richard, it's my money. My dad left it for me. I can do what I want with it."
My Dad, (all 5' 7" of him): "Then come and get it."
Needless to say, Frank was not in a position to litigate and he wouldn't have gotten any money if he had. My dad had the moral high ground and the law on his side as well. Frank did get clean though and, of course, my dad funded his education all the way through law school. The money from Frank's dad ran out along the way. But my dad kept writing checks. What was he going to do? Frank was the youngest son of his good friend, now free of drugs and in law school.
Fast forward ten years. My dad has long since forgotten the unpleasantness of his conversations with Frank during the time when Frank was using. They exchange cards now and again. My dad is pleased to hear of Frank's continued sobriety and incipient law practice. One day Frank shows up in my dad's office. After the traditional exchange of pleasantries, Frank tosses my dad a wad of twenty dollars bills with which you could choke a horse. My dad, feigning ignorance, said, "What's this?"
Frank said, "I'm not stupid, Uncle Richard. I know how much money my dad left me. I know where the money for my tuition came from."
So now the question becomes: should my dad accept the money--several thousand dollars. I'm going to argue that he should. Not just because the money was his, but because Frank needed to pay it back. Sometimes, you just have to accept a gift.
What does this story--admittedly one of my favorites--have to do with being good parents? Ignoring the obvious, that having stand up morals is healthy for kids, what about the idea of accepting gifts? Too often parents play the part of martyrs. "Look how I suffer," they intone. "Look how much I pay for your private school, the sacrifices I make. And you won't even take out the garbage or put the dishes in the dishwasher." This syllogism is untenable. Bad reasoning leads to children who don't understand the value of being part of something larger than themselves. Children must be allowed to make a contribution to the running of the household. Not every child can learn calculus, but any child without significant physical limitations can and should be expected to take the trash buckets out to the street on Monday and Thursday mornings.
After which they should be welcome to come back inside and read The Silly Book to their heart's content.