A father and his son are preparing in the pre-dawn hours to travel to the market town, a full day’s journey away through neighboring villages, across rolling hills and valleys. As the father finishes loading their donkey with the provisions needed for the day, he tells his son to get on and ride. His son demurs, and, out of respect for his dad, insists that his father be the one to rest on the donkey. “You brought me in to the world, my most blessed Father,” he says. “I will not rest while you walk.”
“You are my most beloved, son,” replies the father. “Please ride. I am pleased to walk.” After the son bestows many kind words of respect and affection for his father, they set off–the son riding, the father walking. Their journey progresses uneventfully as the sun rises over the countryside. They pass fields of wheat growing on both sides of the dirt road and watch as farmers toil in the early morning mist. Suddenly, one farmer throws down his threshing tool, hurriedly approaches the travelers and addresses the son:
“Is this your father?” he asks.
“It is,” the boy replies.
“And do you respect him?” continues the farmer.
“Above all men living,” says the boy.
“Yet you allow him to walk on this sweltering day while you ride in comfort? The man who gave you life, you treat in this fashion?” The boy looks down in shame as the farmer continues: “It is he who should ride, young man, not you. He has worked hard his whole life; you are young and strong.”
Without another word, the boy gets down off the donkey and helps his father get on. They travel in this way until the sun is high overhead when another farmer in another town approaches them. “Hey, Old Man!” he shouts. “Is that your son?”
“It is,” the father replies.
“And do you have affection for him?”
“He is the light of my eyes,” the father agrees.
“Then why do you allow him to walk on this hot day while you ride and relax? He has his whole life ahead of him.”
Silently, the father gets down from the donkey and helps his son get up. They continue traveling in this fashion until they come to yet another village where they are approached by yet another farmer. Without preamble, he addresses our travelers: “Is that your donkey?”
“It is,” replies the farmer.
“And has that donkey worked hard for you for many years, carrying your burdens and helping you to plow your fields?”
“Yet now you force this animal to carry you all day long in this dust and heat.” The father and son cast their eyes downward. “Here is what you must do,” continues the farmer. “You must carry the animal who has performed such good service for you all these years.”
The father and son pick up the donkey and, carrying him, continue on their way.
They are approached by yet another farmer who tells them to sell their donkey and to buy tech stocks. They do as they are instructed. The time is early 2000. With the proceeds from the sale of their donkey, the father and son buy AOL, JDSU, Lucent, Nortel, I-Omega and other companies with unprecedented price to earnings ratios. Within a few weeks, these stocks have lost 80% of their value. The father and son are now living in a trailer park on the edge of town. The father has high blood pressure, the son diabetes. They watch game shows on their 15 inch television, drink beer, and seldom speak.
Do you feel that you have been getting well meaning, but–for want of a better word–stupid, advice about your teenagers their whole lives? Do you feel that the people spewing this advice–the “parking lot mafia”–know nothing of you or your family? Do you feel that whether or not you follow their advice that your path is still hot and dusty and that you are making slow progress if any?
For an out of control teen, have you been told, “You need to be more strict”? Have you also been told, “You need to be more lenient”? For a teen who is not working up to his capacity in school, have you been told, “Don’t help him with his homework; he’ll only become dependent and not know how to fulfill his responsibilities on his own.” Have you also been told, “Of course, you should help him with his homework; otherwise he won’t feel loved.” For a teen with a substance abuse problem, have you been told, “Let him smoke pot at home; at least he’ll be safe”? Have you also been told, “Don’t allow him to smoke at all; force him to give up marijuana.”?
Are you sitting down? Are you ready for the oddest question you’ve ever been asked in all your years of parenting?
What if it doesn’t matter what you do? What if all these variables–strict versus lenient, help with home work versus no help with homework, allowing him to smoke pot versus trying to stop him from smoking pot–make no difference whatsoever? What if all those variables and many more like them JUST DON’T MATTER?
Answer–the best I have after 30 years of thinking about this–and a preview of my book on the subject, in the newsletter for next week.