You always figured that if someone was going to squash your plans it would be Heather. Somehow you hoped she’d just let you go. After all, you’d already purchased the tickets. Bad ideas usually need someone to either acquiesce or ignore for them to succeed. Your father coming to visit never occurred to you as even a remote possibility.
You grew up in a middle/nearly upper middle class household. As an only child you always got what you wanted and were never pushed too hard. Your mother didn’t work. You got plenty of attention. Life was soft. Life was good.
College was like high school without rules. As long as your grades were good you could do whatever you wanted. Your credit card had your father’s name on it and the bank account you withdrew money from to pay rent and bills was regularly replenished by him. You didn’t really understand all the work he had to do to make that happen.
Your father was type A all the way. His upbringing was meager. Since the age of twelve he had worked nearly every day. He represented that segment of the population that is always striving to get ahead. He read self-help books like they were bibles with graphs. The only time he ever raised his hand to you since you were a child was when as a teenager you mocked him and hid cheese all over the house. That actually angered your mother more as she was finding little yellow cubes of cheddar for months afterwards.
The knock on the door is unexpected, but thanks to Heather, your place is clean and you’re dressed at four o’clock on a weekday afternoon. Your father makes with the usual pleasantries and takes a genuine liking to Milo. His remark about having a dog will teach you responsibility completely escapes you even though you are desperately trying to figure out why he is here.
He says the two of you need to talk and the butterflies in your stomach begin to stir. You start to imagine worst case scenarios. Is he sick? Is mom sick? Were you adopted and this is how he’s going to break news?
“I see some new stuff in here and I think I smell perfume.”
“It’s Heather. She’s moved in, kind of. I hope that’s okay.”
“That’s great. Your mother and I really like her.” You are relieved. “Is it getting serious?”
“We have talked about maybe getting married. So, I guess it is.”
He seems pleased. “I guess we all have to grow up sooner or later. Nothing does the trick like marriage.”
You wonder if he and mom are getting divorced.
“I bet you’re wondering why I’m here.”
“Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“I took the day off.” He never does that. You brace yourself for the bad news.
“I came by to talk about your future.” A wave of relief passes over your body.
“Thank God. You had me scared for minute.” You crack a big smile that he doesn’t return.
“This is serious, Mark.” He leans in. “I have been very easy on you. Probably easier than I should have been, but I have had a tough life and I wanted to make sure my son didn’t have to struggle like I did.”
As a child you learned that the only way to survive a lecture was to sit perfectly still, make eye contact, and nod appropriately. If you follow these guidelines it will pass by quickly and painlessly and things will soon return to normal.
“Have you found a job?” He asks.
“Not yet.” You reply with the earnestness of a witness at a murder trial.
“Have you been looking?”
“Yes Sir.” This is true if you consider ice cream taster and bungee jump operator as jobs.
“Craigslist doesn’t count.” You’ve been found out. You try to not show any weakness.
“I have found you a job. It is with a marketing firm my company does business with. What they need fits in with your major. They want to meet you on Monday. You’ll need to wear a suit and tie.”
This ruins your whole summer plan. You need to wriggle off this hook. All you can think to say is, “I can’t.”
“Why not?” He does not like your response.
“I have plans.” You don’t want to whine, but you start to anyways. “I was thinking I’d do a little traveling. See the country. Catch a few shows. Clear my head before I, you know, grow up and get a job.”
“How long is this supposed to take?”
Negotiating is good. You might be able to pull this off. “Till Labor Day. First week after. I’ll be pounding the street with my resume in hand. I just want a couple months. A career is a lifetime.”
“Just what is it you are going to put on your resume? You have never had a job. You didn’t intern last year so you could chase nin all over the country so you have already seen the country.”
This isn’t going well, but you decide to correct him anyways. “It was Nine Inch Nails.”
“I don’t care who they were.”
You lose. The only thing to do now is sit back and take it.
“It is time to grow up now, son. I have been footing the bill for twenty two years. I can’t do it forever. If you don’t take this job I’ll have to cut you off. I don’t want to, but I’ll have to. Do you think Heather is going to marry someone who can’t take care of himself? As far as I can tell the only plan you have right now is to get a job and get on with your life as an adult.”
“You’re right. I’ll do it.” You were never going to win. The best you can do is be magnanimous in defeat. “Thank you. I know you are looking out for me. What do you want me to do?”
“Get a haircut.” He smiles when he says this and you feel like you can relax again.
“I want you to know this is not a permanent position. They have only agreed to take you on for six months. You are basically below starting level so you are going to need to kick some ass if you want them to keep you. The money is not going to be very good, but I don’t want you to focus on that. Better pay will come with better work and I will continue to support you as long as you are working. Are you up to it?”
“Absolutely!” You try to match his enthusiasm.
“I just got done reading a book called Carving Out Your Future. I’m going to loan it to you and I want you to read it. Basically, it is a cook book for success.”
“Sounds interesting.” You are playing along.
“It’s bullshit. But, the one thing it does is that in each of the recipes for maximizing potential is that they all include greatness. You need to add greatness to everything you do. Whether baking a cake or exercising stock options. If you add greatness all your dreams will come true.”
You figure that it is harmless pop psychology and you grimace at the pun you just made in your mind. “I’ll read it.”
He stays for dinner that Heather makes and the three of you get to spend some quality time together before he leaves. He is wise enough not to get too involved in the whole engagement discussion and instead talks about your new job and embarrassing childhood memories. You begin to think that it was lucky for you that he came along when he did. There is no way Heather would let you fly around the country with your drinking buddies. You’d lose that fight too and it would be a lot uglier. It’s a good thing you can use Craigslist to unload the tickets before she ever finds out.