They’re paying more attention than you think

We were warming up before the ‘cross race at Vail Lake. “Yeah,” I said. “I just told him how I felt.”

“How was that?” asked Dandy.

“I told him that he should tell them to all fuck off.”


“So what if it’s not accounting or business? Who the fuck are they to tell him what to study?”

“I guess so.”

“He was upset. All his friends were either saying ‘I admire you,’ as if he were storming the beach at Guadalcanal in the face of certain death, or ‘You’ll never get a job with that,’ or ‘What a waste of your parents’ money.'”

“I can kind of see their point.”

“Everyone can. But their point isn’t my point.”

“Which is?”

“Which is basically, look, if you want to waste my money, the best way to do it is to study some bullshit subject you hate. You think I’m shelling out all this money so you can get a job? I’m not. I’m shelling it out because this is the one time in your life when you can discover what really lights your fire. When you can bend your mind to the greatest thinkers in the history of the world. When you can rub cerebrums with some of the smartest professors anywhere. When you can decide what goes into that malleable, sponge-like brain of yours.”

“What’d he say?”

“Not much. He just doubled down on the philosophy courses and added a German minor to his philosophy major.”

“And you’re good with that?”

“Hell, yes. Philosophy is like marathoning for the mind. And ‘foreign languages are the root of all education,’ according to Cervantes.”

“I had a similar conversation with my daughter, but it took a different tack.”


“She wants to major in English. We told her that she’s got to focus on something that’s going to make her employable. English is a dead end.”

“Every family has to figure it out, and there’s no ‘right’ answer. But weren’t you an English major? And isn’t your Ph.D. in English?”

“Sure. But you know how many English majors ever made it in tech? Like, three.”

“And you’re one of them. Brains and savvy and good people skills and expertise.”

“Yeah, but … ”



“You gotta own it, pal.”

“Own what?”

“Their path.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Dude. My son’s a philosophy major because I was a philosophy major, except I couldn’t do symbolic logic so I switched to history. He’s a German minor because of his name — Hans — and because I studied at the University of Bonn and loved German, even though I suck at it.”


“So he’s followed in my footsteps and has chosen a better path. He is who he is because I made him that way even when I wasn’t trying to. How can I tell him not to be a philosophy major? His grandpa was a philosophy major. I was a philosophy major. It’s like syphilis, right? Passed down from father to son. You gotta own it.”

“Well, my daughter was a pretty whiz-bang English student in high school.”

“Of course she was. She was fucking awesome, and I’ve never even met her.”

“So how do you know, then?”

“Because I know you, and you’re fucking awesome. And you’re not one of those dads who tried to cram his life down his kids’ throats. You just walked. And she grew up watching your back.”

“Pretty funny you should say that. I’ll never forget when she was in high school and we discussed dark romanticism. She so totally got it; instantaneously. The other kids were clueless. Poe and the abnegation of god … she picked it up in a flash. So amazing.”

“Amazing? Hardly. She had an old man who, against his will and better judgment, transmitted that love of the written word and that passion for literature. And now you’re telling her she can’t follow the thing that defines YOU because she might not get a job?”

“She’s so much like me, man … ”

“Of course she is. You made her, Dandy. Now you gotta own it. And you know what?”


“There’s a billion dads out there would give anything to have a kid pursue what they pursued. You applied just the right amount of genes and passion, minus the pressure. She flowered into this brilliant young woman who has everything you had, in spades. Own it, buddy. It’s yours.”

Dandy didn’t say anything, but when the gun went off he tore my fucking legs off. I followed him around the course for forty minutes before it became money time, and he rode me off his wheel. When I finished I was covered in filth and mud and sand and dirt and grass and sweat and snot and spit. My lungs felt like they’d been pumped full of toxic sludge.

The next day Dandy sent me a text. “Talked to my daughter last night, and said to her, ‘Do it. You’ve made me proud.'”

I got a lump in my throat, but it was probably from all that sand and muck I had to swallow sitting on his wheel. Yeah, that’s it.

24 thoughts on “They’re paying more attention than you think”

  1. My dad taught philosophy for 30 years and wrote a book on symbolic logic, so I am biased.

    One year one of the highly recruited students on Wall Street was a 4.0 student in philosophy. To paraphrase Merill Lynch- “We want people that can think. It is easier to teach our industry than how to think critically.”

    Favorite t-shit:
    Front: U of M Philosophy
    Back: “It works in practice, but does it work in theory?”

    A footnote:
    Econ/Poly Sci, Associates in Computer Programming later. All this following a stint studying something my heart wasn’t in. In hindsight, I should have just gone somewhere, anywhere and wrestled.

    oh, yeah, absolutely beautiful writing today.

    1. Thanks. Philosophy is still the hardest and most beautiful subject. Everything else is derivative. Of course, mathematicians say the same thing.

    1. Own it, pal! Because the only person who ever said business classes are interesting is … no one.

    1. When they’re extolling the virtues of meth and unemployment, that’s one thing. When they’re only doing what they’ve learned to love because of you, well, follow your gut. Let the others follow the herd.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. This is the issue that essentially ended my first marriage! She wanted the kids to be more structured, and be able to get jobs. I tried to be a good dad and lead by example. I have felt guilty a whole lot about that ‘dad leadership’ thing. From Bio-Chem to an MBA, to a career, and now
    Economics in was like I kept those degrees coming!…education never stops, and it is the reading, the understanding, the processing, and the process that end up counting. Thank you very much for writing this.

    1. It’s not what we say, it’s what we do, which probably doesn’t bode all that well for me, in fact.

  3. Lauren (Dandy's kid)

    Oh my GOD this is so cool and amazing! Wow! For the record, business literally makes me want to rip my teeth out one by one with Vice grips because that would be much less painful. I am so happy you posted this today! Yay!

  4. Arkansas Traveler

    At one point I was about to marry that bitch of a banker’s daughter, studying for the Series 7 and 65, and fast-tracked for a “career” stealing peoples’ money in the OTC bond market- sure glad that fell through. Sometimes against the stream is the only way to swim. But that doesn’t stop my mother from reminding me: “You know…it’s never too late for law school…”

  5. Wow. This one resonates with me. I have always hoped that I too have ‘applied the right amount of genes and passion, minus the pressure.’ I somewhat regret ‘influencing’ my daughter to spend a year in Florence – yet despite some struggle she made it work. (And dad got to visit) Now 8 months shy of an Architecture Degree, she possesses a drive and commitment that I absolutely envy.

  6. And then there are those, as I, who far exceeded their parents’ expectations by not going to jail (except once) and did not borrow money from them. Or as Dear Old Dad from MIT matriculation enjoined:
    “Son, you have no discernible skills other than reading well, writing fast, and being a smart ass. The law is your only option.

  7. Nice piece. Been supportive of “find your path” to my English/music major daughter. But often get the comment “hah, what’s she gonna do with that?” As does she. You’re right, f– em. Sending her this.

  8. I can relate to this . My youngest son never did the usual and loved cross country running which to me was another version of ‘cross. He went to college as a dual major BFA of Oil Painting and German. Who was to know that after having to defend his paintings with faculty and peers would lead him to a law degree. He’s a helluva negotiator now after living as a dirt poor artist. The beauty of the whole thing is watching my grandaughter paint with him.

  9. My daughter is ten and I’m already guilty of trying to convince her that she should focus on math and science so she can get into Princeton or Stanford. Reading this blog reminded me that my aim ought to be to help my daughter realize her dreams and potential and not try to vicariously achieve through her what I failed to do myself. Thanks for the lesson.

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