When I was a kid growing up in Cincinnati in the 1970s, my dad was a newspaper carrier. I started working for him when I was in second grade. He would pick me up at school, and we would get home for dinner. I earned 50 cents.
By the time I was in high school, I was working several days a week, including overnight on Saturday to deliver the Sunday papers. I remember one Saturday night, sitting in the back of the van bagging papers for my dad. I had to take a 2-inch thick section and a smaller news section, fold them in half together, and stuff them into a bag.
The expectation was that I would bag papers fast enough to keep my dad supplied with papers to throw onto the customers’ driveways. I was feeling caught up, so I opened a paper and started reading the sports section. Noticing me in the rearview mirror, my dad yelled out, “I’m not paying you to read the paper!”
Without a word, I put the sports section back and began bagging papers again, fast. I bagged so many papers that they were sliding down onto the front seats and under my dad’s feet by the gas and brake pedals. His scolding motivated me to prove to him that I did know how to work.
It was the last time my dad ever yelled at me about my work habits.
Watching my son Henry and his sixth-grade teammates practice basketball in the Glenburn gym, I was wondering how many kids today know how to work. The coach pushes them pretty hard some days, and they do what he asks as best they can.
But I do not see them pushing themselves. Is the difference between them at this age and me in the van delivering papers with my dad one of a few years’ maturity? Or do we protect our children from work too much?
I wondered how many of these kids had to do chores: make their beds, set the table for dinner, mow the lawn in the summer, vacuum the house, shovel the driveway when it snows. I know Henry doesn’t; as a parent, I had to ask myself if I was doing Henry a disservice by not giving him chores.
When my dad yelled at me for reading the paper, I remember thinking that I was going to show him. I knew I was better than his accusation: I did earn the money he paid me.
Maybe the world that we have created for our children is too safe and does not challenge them enough. Maybe they really do not know what they are capable of.
Have we taught our children to expect things without teaching them how to work for them and earn them? The coach and I ask the kids to work hard at practice and even on their own between practices. We tell them that through hard work they will earn the success they have.
I did not play basketball as a kid; I learned to work by delivering papers. Henry and his friends do not have jobs; they have basketball. They are learning that they have to earn their victories.
In the end that may be more important than anything that happens on the court.