Get your own ham; it’s all about self reliance

ham Get your own ham; its all about self reliance

When my son was just shy of his fifth year, we found ourselves in an Old Country Buffet on a Saturday afternoon. For those of you not familiar with the format of the all-you-can-eat-for-one-low-price buffet, these places usually have a lower price afternoon service that did not include carved meats and a higher price evening service that started about 4:00pm. For the extra savvy buffet-goer, it was generally known that if you came in about 3:30 or so and stalled a bit on some salad, you could sneak in and get the good stuff for a lunch price. I did not partake of this little loophole but sometimes, we found ourselves in that limbo time.

On this particular Saturday, we had started lunch late and my son had eyed the ham they were putting out for dinner. On that day, he really, really wanted a piece of ham and asked if I would get him one. I told him, “If you want ham, you will have to get it yourself.” He knew the lunch/dinner rule. He thought about it and spent the next ten minutes or so pleading with me to get him a slice of ham. I stood fast.

Finally, he stood up and held his plate in his two little hands. “Please, please, please,” he kept saying with his cute little face, two blue eyes and his shock of white blond hair. Sensing I was not going to budge, he started walking backwards toward the buffet line. I suspect that he thought if he kept his face toward me, I would relent. I stood firm. “If you want ham, you will get it yourself.” “What do I say?” “You’ll figure it out.” “Please, daddy. Please, please.” “You’ll figure it out.”

This kept going for thirty feet or so until he disappeared behind the wall of the buffet. My heart was pounding as I waited for him to come back. Within minutes, he came tearing out from behind the wall, with a plate of ham in his hands, face beaming and grinning as wide as I’ve ever seen. He hopped onto his chair and ate and chatted breathlessly about how Serge gave him some ham. “I just asked and he gave it to me,” he said over and over.

I have a memory that has not diminished or flickered in twenty years. He learned self-reliance and hadn’t stopped since. To this day, I need only say, “Get your own ham” and we both know what that means. His younger sister has also since learned the lesson, but that is a story for another day.

What does that have to do with college education?
Learning self-reliance doesn’t start when you graduate from college or when you enter college. It starts much, much sooner. It could even start as early as four years-old when you really want a slice of ham. As a parent of two full-grown adults, I was a bit shocked at how hard the task of teaching self-reliance lay ahead.

When I turned eleven, I got three paper routes that started my working life that has yet to take a break. Throughout high school, I worked evenings and weekends and extra long hours in the summer in hot restaurant kitchens and grimy back-room retail stockrooms. Throughput college, I lived in the worst cockroach-infested hole, drove a broken-down Chevette and lived on coffee, cigarettes and vending machine food for four years. I carried a full-time load and worked a minimum of forty hours a week. For me and most of my college peers, there was no safety net or checks from mom and dad. This was it. I learned self-reliance early and well.

I assumed it was going to be the same for my kids. And I was wrong.

By the time my kids were old enough to have paper routes, the opportunity disappeared. Child labor laws swooped in and made that illegal. “Think of the children” was the rally cry. Baby-sitting and lawn mowing were also out. No good parent now-a-days leaves a twelve year-old in charge of their baby and operating a power lawnmower at such a young age is dangerous. They might cut a foot off.

My job as a parent determined to teach my kids self-reliance became extra hard as I had to fight the school system, the state and even my own parent peers. When I expected my kids to solve their own problems, I was being a bad parent. When I expected my kids to resolve personality conflicts with their teachers, I was being an uninvolved parent. When I expected my kids to fight for their own spot on the team, I was being cruel. In truth, they were expected to get their own ham and they knew it, though they did beg, “please daddy, fix this, just this once.” Looking back now at the self-reliant adults they have become at nineteen and twenty-five, not one of us would have had it any other way.

The earliest a kid can get a work permit in the state of Ohio is sixteen and only when signed off through the school system. The hours are limited and the rules are such a ridiculous burden for employers that most don’t even bother to hire anyone under seventeen. Banks no longer issue checking accounts to anyone of minor age. As a result, most kids enter college having no employment experience and no self-reliance skill.

Colleges know that and they have adapted as quickly and firmly as any institution ever has. In a span of one generation, they have shifted focus from providing an education to being in the food and housing business. Colleges have adopted a Disney Resorts approach where the classes and degrees are just the draw to fill rooms and bellies, all the while milking the parental cows on whom most students are entirely dependent. And that group has more money than starving college students living in rat holes and driving broken-down Chevettes, so prices go up. After all, what parent wouldn’t want the best for their children?

And the dependence continues for another five to six years as colleges institute two-year minimum dorm policies, mandate meal plans and load the curriculum with more courses than can be finished in a four-year period just to ensure students will stay another year. With the extra load, there is no time for working and students and their parents take out larger and larger loans. And still, they learn no self-reliance.

And they graduate in their early-to-mid twenties having been taken care of their entire lives. They step blinking into the sun with their freshly minted degree in one hand and a huge load of debt in another. Nowhere in their entire arsenal can they produce a shred of self-reliance. So they move back home to mom and dad. Or they move into an apartment subsidized by mom and dad, using their huge student loans to justify their living arrangement. And the cycle of dependance continues.

But are recent college grads ready for the working world?
Some are. Those who have figured out that it is mostly about self-reliance will be fine. They will figure out how to get out from underneath their mountain of debt on their own and many are rapidly learning skills they should have learned a few years back. Many will be forced into self-reliance as their parents are forced out of employment or into early retirement with their bank accounts drained and their home foreclosed upon. For those whose reality is shockingly alarmingly, I have no doubt that they will emerge stronger because of it and the working world will be stronger on the other side for them. They will also become better parents, hopefully teaching their kids self-reliance earlier and defying the school and social systems that work to remove that bit of responsibility from parenting.

And then there are some of the mis-guided companies who will hire others and endeavor to continue to cradle them through HR-sponsored training instead of going out and finding college grads who have self-reliance skills and paying them a bit more. I cringe every time I see a new GenY book published about how companies are going to have to be flexible and change to meet the expectations of a generation who has been engineered to have everything done for them. Fortunately, not many of these are being published now as the economy slow-down is forcing a new reality for the GenY generation. Many are seeing how not teaching our kids self-reliance was actually a bad thing long term and are reversing their point of view.

In the end, though, we will all be fine as the Geezer Generations and the GenY generations will band together to ward off the upcoming generations who will also have a sense of entitlement. But this might be a hard fight as this next group will have learned self-reliance.

I am very much aware this opinion piece contains a lot of generalizations, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less true. Your experience as a twenty-something, recent college grad may be entirely different. You may have learned self-reliance early on and if so, great; you are years ahead of your peers and you’ll probably have lost the urge to set us older geezers straight about it. But if you are still walking around with that big chip on your shoulder, feel free to comment below and rant on about how I got everything wrong and stereotyped. Afterwards, if you still have the energy, go out and get your own ham. I’m dining here on mine.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “Recent college grads being prepared for the working world.” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

Blogger Twitter Blog Post
Veronika Miller @modenus
Paul Anater @paul_anater
Rufus Dogg @dogwalkblog DogWalkBlog
Becky Shankle @ecomod
Bob Borson @bobborson
Bonnie Harris @waxgirl333 Wax Marketing
Tim Elmore @TimElmore
Nick Lovelady @cupboards
Tamara Dalton @tammyjdalton
Sean Lintow, Sr. @SLSconstruction
Amy Good @Splintergirl Amy’s Blog
Richard Holschuh @concretedetail Concrete Detail
Tim Bogan @TimBogan Windbag International
Hollie Holcombe @GreenRascal Rascal Design
Cindy FrewenWuellner @Urbanverse Urbanverse
Steve Mouzon @stevemouzon Original Green


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About Rufus Dogg

I'm a dog who writes a blog. It is not a pet blog. It is a real blog that talks about real ideas. No, really. I do my own writing, but I have a really, really cool editor who overlooks the fact that I can't really hit the space-bar key cause I don't have thumbs. I talk about everything from politics to social issues to just rambling about local problems. And, sometimes I just talk about nothing in particular. Google+
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23 Responses to Get your own ham; it’s all about self reliance

  1. Pingback: Does college or anything really prepare you for the real world? | The Homeowner's Resource Center

  2. Becky says:

    I LOVE that ham story! When I was 16 I wanted my Dad to go with me to the ATM for the first time. He told me to go on my own & I’d be fine. I was furious with him for not even riding in the car with me! But I did it & learned that same self reliance your son did.

    I’d venture to say that self reliance, hand-in-hand with critical thinking skills, would arm anyone sufficiently for the real world.

  3. Rufus says:

    Becky, your dad is a very wise man :-)

    Yup, I would tend to agree with you. I think that too many college students worry about gaining specific skills for a career rather than learning general skills and knowledge that can be adapted around whatever they are doing. When I was getting an English degree even in the dark days when college were still in the education business, people would ask me “what the hell are you going to do with an English degree?” Turns out, it’s been useful for pretty much anything I needed or wanted to do!

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  6. Loved this post- reminds me of the upbringing I had!

    Good parents keep their kids close, but let them make their own way(often mistakes). Learning about the world around you is how you survive.

    Really great read.

  7. Pingback: Are You Ready for This? | Concrete Detail

  8. Rufus says:

    Thanks! It’s the old “lead from behind” trick. Should be in every parent’s handbook. The really scary part for me is I just kinda haplessly tripped into this knowledge. Thankfully, I was a quick learner and saw a moral story unfolding as my son was chewing that ham. Parenting can’t be this serendipitous, can it?

  9. Bob Borson says:

    The ham story is a classic one and not too dissimilar a story that quite a few people your age might have (I am inferring your age since you told me your children’s age).

    For my Dad, it wasn’t get your own ham it was “seven”. Whenever we asked for something and got an answer we didn’t like and we moved onto to asking/ begging, his next response was “seven” and like “get you own ham”, that meant he wasn’t going to move off his position so move forward and deal with it yourself. I thought it was mean and made my father appear cold or indifferent at the time but now that I have my own 6 year old, the things he did are appearing in a new light.

    Nice post.

  10. Rufus says:

    The world is a harsh place. Being nipped at by someone in the pack who loves you is far less painful than being ripped apart by those who could care less about you.

  11. Alexandra says:

    I am a geezer at heart as I agree with you in the main. I “forced” my son to get a bus pass when he wanted to go (as a 14-year-old) to a summer class at the city college. He pleaded for a ride. I told him that everywhere else in the world, kids took buses and he’d be fine. He did it and was just as scared as your son at five. But then he came home and talked all about how fun the bus was because you could do stuff “without your parents.” And he took special pride in lording his independence over his 16-year-old cousin who was still getting rides.
    Hard-working kids do exist, and I work with them, but for the most part (I am sad to admit), self-reliance has been replaced with parent-reliance.

  12. Rufus says:

    Self reliance AND peer pressure. Gotta love the results that produces when used for good. :-) Hard-working kids do exist and smart geezers seek them out. If growing up were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

  13. Michael says:

    Totally agree. Gen-Y is very whiny and self-absorbed, and we probably wouldn’t be if we were more self reliant. I’ve had full time jobs almost consistently since the time I turned 15, but going back for my senior year of college this fall, I’d still have to say that the biggest thing I’ve learned at school is self-reliance.

  14. Rufus says:

    The biggest thing I learned in college was how to stand in line for hours! I can turn my brain off, lock my knees and just stand without going crazy. But you kids today don’t even have lines, just spinning cursors on busy registration systems :-)

  15. Pingback: Are college grads ready for the real world | Wax Blog

  16. Geezer generation? which one is that, and please make sure I don’t qualify!
    I was 17 when my parents put me on a plane to LA to start college at USC, all by myself. It was one of the biggest adventures of my life and boy was I scared. But after that, I knew I could do anything. I feel sad that kids don’t have that these days.

  17. Rufus says:

    HA! If you have to ask if you are a member of a Geezer generation, you probably are. If you are now fighting against this label, you DEFINITELY are :-)

    If any parent put a 17 year-old on a plane cross country these days, they would be hauled into court for endangering a minor. Another sad sorry fact; If I took a photo of my kids in a bathtub in Ohio, I could be arrested as a sexual offender, serve time and have to register my whole life. So, no photo exists. I see the State’s point of view, but we’ve gotten to the precipice of insanity with some of this stuff. Is it power or just rampant stupidity from law enforcement? Probably both.

  18. Hey Dad Dog – this story is sublime, nice way to change the lessons to a whole life, not just one period. Ham can take its place next to the beloved “walked five miles in the snow.” Wonder how your son tells the story?

    I really cannot believe all those laws prohibiting teenagers from working. pshaw on us! towards what purpose? does not make sense. lk you, I did so many jobs as a kid, I would have been gone to college broke, graduated in debt instead of completely out of cash. Plus I sure learned to be frugal. So the system is hurting those generations. Spoken like a geezer, I spose! heh.

    cindy @urbanverse

  19. Rufus says:

    If you want to know how he tells the story, ping him at @chirn9980 and ask! :-) He is probably watching these comments anyway and chuckling.

    We’re protecting the children from the big, bad corporations that want to profit from child labor, of course! It’s all about the children.

  20. Hollie Holcombe says:

    I enjoyed the story very much. Thanks for the optimism. I’m not sure which generation I am, but I feel like I’ve been ragged on my whole life. Finally somebody with faith in younger people.

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