I think I spend a lot more time thinking about The Boy's future than he does. Not his immediate future, like what he'll have for lunch or what he's getting for his birthday, although I do spend a fair amount of time pondering those things, too. No, I think a lot about what he'll be when he grows up. Maybe too much. As if what I want has anything to do with it at all.
Being 4, he is still in the blissfully unrealistic stage of career planning. I remember going on Bozo the Clown's show with my neighborhood playgroup in 1969. Bozo asked Leo Bialkowski what he wanted to be when he grew up, and Leo answered without hesitation, "A firetruck. Do you want to hear me sing ‘Hey Jude?' " Bozo did not, but that mattered about as much to Leo as the fact that he couldn't technically be a firetruck when he grew up. He sang anyway. I don't know what he's doing now, but I'm pretty sure he's not a firetruck.
If you ask The Boy what he wants to be, he'll say a spaceman or a Power Ranger. Technically I suppose he could be a spaceman, and I would be awfully proud of him if he were to become an astronaut, but honestly I would just as soon he outgrow that ambition. Not to quash his dreams or anything, but I would prefer that he choose a job that doesn't consistently top the list of most dangerous jobs in the world. Ditto for logging, ice trucking and the Special Forces. Not that he'll ask for my permission; I'm just going on record as opposed.
When he's playing, I'm always studying him for signs of talents or skills that might serve him well in the working world. When he helps make dinner, I see him as a chef at his own restaurant. When he matches his father's workout push-up for push-up, I imagine him owning a gym, or as a personal trainer. When I can't coax him out of bed in the morning, I think maybe he'll run a nightclub, or work the graveyard shift as an emergency-room surgeon. I watch for the cues that will help me guide him, gently, in any direction that might keep him from the bread line when he gets older.
I consider my own career path a cautionary tale. I got praise for my writing from the time I picked up a crayon. I went to summer creative-writing workshops, contributed to the John B. Cary school poetry book and started announcing I would be a writer when I was not much older than The Boy. Everyone encouraged me, and as evidenced by my presence here, I did in fact become a writer, even though it was almost as hard as turning into a firetruck. Unfortunately, the firetruck gig would probably have been more lucrative. Even with a couple of well-received books and a regular magazine column, I still have to keep a day job. Most writers do. Nobody mentioned that when I was plotting my path. Or maybe they did, and I was too proud to listen.
My hopes for The Boy are probably what any parent wants for their child. I do not want him to lack for necessities. If he can afford luxuries, all the better, but mostly I want him to have a job that enables him to keep a roof over his head and food on the table. I want him to have a job that he enjoys, working with people that he likes or at least can get along with for a few hours of the day, and I want him to feel good about what he does, whether it's designing space stations or frosting someone's hair. If it makes him happy, it will make me happy.
Last week, he told me he was going to open his own store. The store, he announced, would be called Popcorn City. It would sell nothing but popcorn — all different flavors of popcorn. There would be cheese popcorn, spicy popcorn, chocolate popcorn and stew-flavored popcorn. Of course there would also be buttered popcorn, because that's his favorite. I think there actually was such a store at the ill-fated Main Street Station shopping mall back in the '80s. It didn't last long, but maybe it was just before its time. I told The Boy that Popcorn City sounded like a fine idea.
"Can you make me some popcorn now?" he asked. All that planning makes a guy hungry.
"Why don't you make it?" I teased. "After all, you're the expert."
"Sorry," he said, without budging from the couch. "I'm not allowed to make it. I'm still in training."
Management material right there. I think he'll be just fine.