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Boys, do as I say, not as I appear to do
Scripps Howard News Service


March 13, 2007
Tuesday AM

All parents worry about setting a good example for their children, and it isn't always easy.

Children are watchful little rascals, and they have impeccable timing. Do something you've cautioned them against - drinking directly from the milk carton, for instance - and they will walk in on you in mid-guzzle. Guaranteed.

If you drop a brick on your foot and unleash a string of curses, you can bet your child will be within earshot. If you're drunkenly watching porn late at night, long after they should be asleep - well, you get the idea.

Being a parent is more than not getting caught engaging in bad habits, however. It's also teaching good behavior to the kids. Personal hygiene, for instance. Good study habits. Using one's blinker. Avoiding a life of crime.

One important area is teaching them how to work. We want our kids to become responsible, job-holding adults, so they can afford high-quality elder care for us in years to come.

We teach our kids to work by showing them how we work hard ourselves, and that's where I've got a problem.

I spent more than 20 years toiling at newspapers, but our two sons barely remember those days. What they know is that Dad has survived the past decade by pecking away at a home computer, doing household chores and sponging off their hard-working mom. Sure, Dad has written a whole shelf-full of books, and he travels a lot and gives lectures and his columns appear in newspapers all over, but the boys don't really register all that. What they see is a grown man who has no job.

To them, that's a role model to emulate.

Our younger son, who's 15, came home from school recently to find me pounding the keyboard, trying to meet a deadline. He didn't notice the frantic nature of the work. What he noted was that I was still in my pajamas.

"You never got dressed today?" he asked.

I muttered something about how I hadn't showered, either.

"That's a good day right there!" he crowed, and he sounded exactly like me.

Our older son, a high-school senior, has reached that point in his life where he absolutely must have a job. Otherwise, he has no money to put gas in his car, and it's not much fun sitting in the driveway making "vroom-vroom" noises.

But this son, the victim of an artistic temperament, doesn't "get" the whole idea of working for a living. He thinks a job would cut into his all-important leisure time. And a boss? Somebody who'll tell him what to do all day? What's up with that?

Dad, this son likes to point out, doesn't have a boss. Dad manages to make a living (sort of) without following rules about schedules and haircuts and neckties. What can I say to that? He's right.

He's taking a home-economics class as part of the Easiest Senior Year Schedule of All Time, and he recently made me a birthday gift there - an apron.

My internal reactions were mixed:

This is a cool apron.

We are the least-manly men in America.

This is what he's doing instead of settling on a career.

At least he's learned to sew. He can get a job in a sweatshop.

I really should wear an apron in the kitchen. All my shirts have grease spatters around the belly area.

Hey, this apron matches my pajamas!

That's a good gift right there. And I'm a bad example.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Boost."
Contact him a ABQBrewer(at)
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Scripps Howard News Service,

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Ketchikan, Alaska