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posted: 8/6/2012 2:14 PM

Please a parent or follow my own path?

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Q. I am a young man in college with many things going in my favor, including a pair of above-average parents, on the whole. However, one thing that bothers me about my father is his way of controlling my work life. He often advised me as I grew up to enter a certain job field, and steered me in that direction by showing the path required to get there and giving me a firm push (and tuition money). There are several aspects of the career that interest me, and time after time I have put in the effort, knowing that it is a smart decision and that my parents have provided me with opportunities unheard of in many families.

When the inevitable rough patches of school and work come up, though, it can really make me second-guess whether I am putting in this effort to please myself or to please him. I have dreams to take my career in a somewhat different direction from the one he expects, one that would be more risky but also more fulfilling to me. When I try to bring up these ideas to him, I am met with a lot of resistance, to the point of his doubting whether I realize the gilded road is before me.

This fall, I will be entering my last year of school. Is there something to be said of going against a plan largely created by another for the sake of making one's own decisions, even if those decisions wind up being mistakes? The alternative that I'm planning is not unwise in the grand scheme of things; just less practical right now than the option my father is pulling for. Is a sense of autonomy worth sacrificing for an easement of guilt?


A. The last thing you need is another voice from the clouds (or ether) saying, "Do this, child." What you need more than anything is some faith in the authority of your own voice, own desires, own opinions, own competence, own gifts and, yes, own mistakes.

Because I feel so strongly about this, and because nothing undermines your authority more than guidance from people with ulterior motives, I'll disclose mine: I believe the true "gilded road" for any emerging adult is the one that suits and supports their individual passions and strengths. Assuming you've represented them here accurately, I emphatically, strenuously disagree with your father's philosophy and methods.

I also don't think there's any real question about whom you're working to please. You said yourself that your interests point to one path and your father points to another, and look which path you're on. You're choosing to please your father and you know it. (Exhibit A: Your signature.)

So what you're really asking, it seems, is whether you can, without being an ingrate, choose a path that diverges from the one you recognize as the string attached to those gifts.

You know what I think.

You know pretty well what your father thinks.

What do you think?

A more revealing question, perhaps, to ask yourself and potentially your father: Do you think he hoped to raise a strong, independent young man, or a weak, subservient one? And, given that, which is the son he deserves?

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2012 The Washington Post

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