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Thanks for the College Education, Dad! Now Can You Buy Me a Beer?

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Thanks for the college education, Dad! Now can you buy me a beer?

My husband and I can brag to our kids that we were homeless as teenagers, that we've had to sleep in our cars, that our parents just let us figure out survival skills while they went off and did whatever they were doing. We have had to do without parents to help us buy cars, houses, college educations or even help with babysitting for our kids. We tell our kids they have it lucky and they tell us the bar wasn't very high. Of course their lives are better than ours. Ours sucked, they say.

Every generation of parents likes to say, "When we were young..." We walked uphill through the snow each way and we were grateful for snow. We were grateful for uncooked chili beans. We cooked rice over an open stove. We didn't listen to rap music. We wore clothes. Our asses were not falling out of our pants; our stomachs were not showing. We didn't run around naked. We didn't have sex with everyone on the block until we were married. We didn't ask our parents for money. We studied hard and we worked and we weren't lazy. But is that all true of this generation?

This generation of parents have it rough playing the innocent. Kids have only to listen to the music of the '60s and '60s and read a little history to know that their parents were having sex, doing drugs, lying around in parks reading Kerouac, listening to music their parents hated, growing their hair long and walking naked through the streets of Berkeley.

But still, my kids' dad for example, born in 1952, was worried about the draft. That alone made him grow up faster than today's kids. He had to have a car and some money to get laid. He couldn't just skateboard over to a girl's house, watch TV, eat her parents' food and call that being a boyfriend. There was this thing called, "dating," which sounds hopelessly old-fashioned now, but yes, it was this thing we did back then and it involved planning, sometimes reservations and driving to some place where food was consumed and yes, paid for. Then sometimes there was sex. But there was a ritual first -- a ritual mating dance. And that dance is all but gone.

I teach in the MFA program at San Diego State University, and when I ask my students what they are going to do with their graduate education, they don't plan to teach. My Masters graduating class was divided into three groups: the group I was in, PhD bound; the group planning to teach K-12, but make more money than with a BA and possibly move into administration; and the group planning to teach at a community college. Not my students at SDSU -- only one was planning to teach at a community college.

MY SDSU students do not think they are going to get regular jobs. Last summer, as they graduated, I asked what they were going to do next. One was going to be a farmer. One was going to China to teach. One wanted to do physical labor like digging ditches. One was going to live in the woods in Maine. They all assumed that with an MFA they were still basically unemployable as teachers. They knew that there are no jobs, so they planned to do odd jobs and live with their parents.

You ask graduating students what they plan to do next and the answer is "plan?" The question parents ask each other these days is, "How are the kids? And are they off the family payroll yet?" That's the big dream -- to get the kids off the payroll by the time they're 30. We'd like our kids to pay all their own bills -- to be independent. In the Victorian Age, parents began to glorify childhood. By the 21st-century, childhood is one-third of your life. Enjoy it.