In Heaven’s Name, Grow Up

curmudgeon logo2Every now and then something gets posted on my Facebook feed that I find annoying.  I’m sure that never happens to anyone else.  My most recent annoyance was a small, three paragraph newspaper article, undated, in which a principal, a John Tapene, quoted a judge, unnamed, and purported to give advice to teens who asked the questions, “Where can we go?  What can we do?”  Apparently this little clip has gone viral on the web.

Now most of the time when I find something that annoys me on my Facebook feed I simply resort to the “ultimate solution” which is that little box at the top right corner with an “X” in it.  But for some reason this one not only annoyed me, but it also intrigued me because I alternately agreed with it and then got angry over it.  So, like the unfortunate bricklayer, I couldn’t let go.   A few minutes research revealed that Mr. Tapene is a New Zealand principal quoting a Colorado judge and that the original comments were made in 1959 – before I even became a teenager.  Since it is possible you haven’t seen it, here is the original open letter written by Judge Philip B. Gilliam of Denver, Co, not the abridged version that went viral:

Open letter to Teen-ager

 Always we hear the plaintive cry of the teen-ager. What can we do?  …Where can we go?

 The answer is GO HOME!

 Hang the storm windows, paint the woodwork. Rake the leaves, mow the lawn, shovel the walk. Wash the car, learn to cook, scrub some floors. Repair the sink, build a boat, get a job.

 Help the minister, priest, or rabbi, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army. Visit the sick, assist the poor, study your lessons. And then when you are through – and not too tired – read a book.

 Your parents do not owe you entertainment. Your city or village does not owe you recreational facilities.

 The world does not owe you a living…You owe the world something.

 You owe it your time and your energy and your talents so that no one will be at war or in poverty or sick or lonely again.

 Grow up; quit being a crybaby. Get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone, and start acting like a man or a lady.

You’re supposed to be mature enough to accept some of the responsibility your parents have carried for years.

 They have nursed, protected, helped, appealed, begged, excused, tolerated and denied themselves needed comforts so that you could have every benefit. This they have done gladly, for you are their dearest treasure.

 But now, you have no right to expect them to bow to every whim and fancy just because selfish ego instead of common sense dominates your personality, thinking and request.

 In Heaven’s name, grow up and go home!

 – South Bend Tribune, Sunday, Dec. 6, 1959.

Now, on the one hand, this is the sort of thing I grew up listening to all the time.   It turns out that Judge Gilliam was a well-respected member of the judiciary who worked in the juvenile court system and worked to ensure proper treatment of children in the courts.  He obviously dealt with teenagers in trouble.  He obviously had heard all the excuses.  I wonder if he would say the same thing today.

I grew up in a middle class family.  I went to high school.  I went to college.  We didn’t have a great deal of money, but we made ends meet.  Back then, I think the judge’s advice would have applied to me if I had gotten into trouble.

Looking at it now, it still seems to hold some truth for some teenagers.  But not all.  Maybe even not most.

The answer is GO HOME!

 Sure, if you have a home to go to.  There are about 21,040,000 teenagers in this country.  Over 1,683,000 of them have no home, not even a foster home.  That’s nearly eight percent.  They live on the street, behind the Fred Meyer, or in a refrigerator box in an alley.

 Repair the sink, build a boat…

 Sure.  Build a boat, guys.  Of those 21 million teenagers, twenty-two percent live below the poverty line.  It won’t be much of a boat.

 …get a job.

Sure.  Just get right into that line of PhD’s and 30-year-seniority union workers out there who are out of work and get yourself one of those puppies.  Just walk down to the local soda shop and tell them you want to be a jerk.

The world does not owe you a living…You owe the world something.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Your mother was a crack cocaine whore and she beat the crap out of you until you ran away from home to get away from her and you never knew your dad, but, damn it, kid, you owe the world something!  After all, it’s given you so much.

You’re supposed to be mature enough to accept some of the responsibility your parents have carried for years…. for you are their dearest treasure.

 And they carried it so damn well, didn’t they?  That’s why you have that house with the white picket fence and that great job with $60K a year.  You are their greatest treasure and those bruises around your ears are to remind you of that.

…you have no right to expect them to bow to every whim and fancy just because selfish ego instead of common sense dominates your personality, thinking and request.

And it is selfish ego that makes you think you are entitled to decent meals and decent education and a warm, dry place to sleep at night.

Entitled.  Now there’s a loaded word in our modern society.  Here’s another: Constitution.  Our constitution says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

So, look kids, you have a right to life.  In fact, there are many who would argue that you exist because of that right.  “Go forth and multiply” is really the first commandment, isn’t it?  Go make babies.  God says so.  Whether you can feed them, clothe them, educate them, tolerate them, define for them what liberty actually is, or explain how to pursue happiness, make those babies.

And then what?  Well, let them hang the storm windows, paint the woodwork, rake the leaves, mow the lawn, shovel the walk. Wash the car, learn to cook, scrub some floors.  That’s why you have kids isn’t it?

Life is a gift, right?  Everyone knows that.  We gave you the gift of life.  Be grateful.  But some of you are not grateful, are you?  Of those 21 million of you teenagers out there, eight percent of you will try to commit suicide.  Ungrateful SOBs.

You have a right to the gift of  life.  Yeah, I know you didn’t ask for it.  It isn’t like Christmas.  You don’t get to choose.  But you got it, so deal with it!  Your parents do not owe you entertainment. Your city or village does not owe you recreational facilities.  We don’t owe you.  You owe us!

OK, OK.  So there are good parents out there.  I know that.  There are parents who have nursed, protected, helped, appealed, begged, excused, tolerated and denied themselves needed comforts so that you could have every benefit.  They have done their damnedest  to provide for your liberty and your happiness.  And you do owe these parents something because they not only gave you that gift of life (and it is a gift), but they tried as best they could to make you understand that.

And if your name is Charlie Sheen then I think the good judge’s words are aimed squarely at you.  And I agree with him.

But for the vast majority of teenagers in this country today this internet meme is a narrow, dated view of reality that fits right in with the make-believe view of our country that seems to permeate one segment of the culture.  We are not who we were.  There is not a soda shop on every other corner.  There are not 12 kids in every classroom, teens don’t build downhill racers out of orange crates, and white picket fences are few and far between.

We expect our youth to solve the problems we have not been able to.   As Mr. Smith said, “ we better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do” so that no one will be at war or in poverty or sick or lonely again. 

But we don’t build youth camps.  Instead we argue over whether those who realize they don’t have the means or desire to raise children to be productive members of society have no option but to bring them into the world in the first place.  We then effectively deny a significant portion of those children the basic necessities for their pursuit of happiness and we deny all of them the best educational opportunities we could provide if we wanted to.

In Heaven’s name, grow up people.  It’s time every teenager had a good home to go back to.

Your Humble Servant,

The Wilowbrook Curmudgeon

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