“Teaching kids to count is fine but teaching them what counts is best.”— Bob Talbert (1936-1999), sportswriter, editor, and columnist at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.
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“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
At my day job as editor and publisher of the Center, Texas, Light and Champion newspaper, we posed that quintessential question to Shelby County first graders a couple of weeks ago. The results were published in this week’s edition. It’s our annual peek into the minds of those who will someday shape our future.
Asking a child what they want to be when they grow up is a question typically posed by those who have already achieved some degree of success with their answer. However, my son, Lee, played the game with me some years ago when he asked what I wanted to be when I grow up.
Trying to recall what I dreamed of being at his age caused me to wish I had been one to keep a diary on those kinds of thoughts. However, writing a column off-and-on for almost 40 years has been a similar exercise.
As we prepared to publish the comments of 2022’s first graders, it reminded me of that conversation with my son when he was about 12 and a column I wrote about it.
“Dad,” Lee asked with a smile, “What do you want to be when you grow up.”
“To tell the truth,” I responded, “I don’t plan to grow up if I can help it. What do you want to be?”
“I don’t know,” he smiled with a shoulder shrug, making me realize it was a question he had been asking himself. And honestly, “I don’t know,” is sometimes the best I can do for myself, even today. Forty, 50, then 60 sailed by faster than Superman’s speeding bullet—a sobering occurrence for one who vowed long ago never to grow up.
Best I can remember, it was a cowboy or a fireman and everything in between. I often daydreamed of flying airplanes. Other times about driving trucks. But every summer afternoon, when the ice cream truck turned onto Redbud Street in Mount Pleasant, I knew what I wanted to do. Visions of driving that ice cream truck captivated any and all aspirations I had about the future.
My high school buddy, Doug Davidson, got that gig once in the early 60s. Even as a teenager, I enviously watched him bring joy to the neighborhood kids in the form of fudge bars, Dixie cups, push ups, and Dreamsicles.
Capitalizing on the conversation with my son as an opportunity to offer direction on things in life that really count, I began to ramble about what I wanted to be when I grew up—if I ever did. Which I haven’t.
Nonetheless, I offered some advice that I hoped he would take to heart as he grew up—which he has. He is now 42.
“Whatever I wanted to be,” I began, “I hope I’ve grown up to become someone who is not pretentious: trying to be anything other than who I am. I also hope I’ve grown up to be someone who says good things about people when they deserve it. In other words, being myself and being an encourager for others.”
Noticing that I still had his attention, I slipped in another more. “I’ve tried to grow up laughing at myself as needed. Oh, most importantly, trusting God to run His universe instead trying to do it myself. Have to admit, though, that one has been difficult”.
Guessing I had by then exceeded the attention span if a 12-year-old for topics of such a serious nature, I decided to wrap it up while I was presumably still ahead.
“And hopefully, I’ve grown up devoting as much time to keeping my body and mind as healthy as I have my cars.”
“Or, your dog,” Lee interjected wryly.
“You’re right,” I admitted. “I hope I’ve grown up enjoying life as much as Ol’ Max does. Dogs have no pretensions.” I ended my thoughts there and sat back, waiting for a response. Seconds seemed like an eternity before he said anything.
“Is that all, Dad.”
“Well, no …” I hesitated in reflection. “Just to keep everything in perspective, there will always be those days when your biggest dream is still just to drive the ice cream truck.”
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