A bad week to point out role models

January 24, 1998|By ROB KASPER

LIKE A LOT OF pushy parents, I try to acquaint my kids with the world of work. Last Saturday, for instance, I tried to introduce my 12-year-old son to the joys of being a plumber.

My mission was to repair a pop-up drain in a bathroom sink. The lift rod that moves the drain stopper up and down had stopped working. To fix it, I needed an assistant to stand at the sink, operating the stopper while I was down on the floor and sprawled out underneath the sink. I worked a deal with the kid. If he would help me fix the sink, later I would drive him to a gym and play basketball with him. He agreed.

We headed for an upstairs bathroom, where I gave the kid a little career insight. "This is one reason why I never wanted to be a plumber," I told him, as I slid underneath the sink. "Plumbers have to work on their backs, in small, dark spaces. I have trouble doing that."

I didn't mention that plumbers also have to have forearms the size of tree trunks, which they use to yank stubborn pipes into submission. My arms are the size of tree limbs, skinny ones.

I was trying to inspire my kid to succeed where I had failed, to become a skilled plumber.

The kid seemed interested when I explained how a pop-up drain worked. I showed him how the lift rod protruded through the faucet.

The lift rod was connected to a rod with holes in it, called the clevis rod. The clevis rod was supposed to be connected with a spring clip to the pivot rod. But the spring clip had come loose.

The kid obediently moved the lift rod up and down at my request until I had the spring clip back in place. I was thinking, "Maybe I have a plumber here," when I heard the kid holler "Gross!"

He had spotted a grayish lump composed of soap and who-knows-what. Earlier in the day I had fished this lump from the drain with a straightened-out coat hanger. I had set the unsightly lump next to the sink. When the kid saw the clog, he ran to the other side of room. He returned to the job site only after I had wrapped it in tissue and carried it away.

This squeamishness was a sign to me that the kid might not be willing to pursue a career in plumbing.

This was not the first time I had disagreed with my kids about careers they might consider.

A few weeks ago, for instance, the 12-year-old and I spent the better part of an evening in an emergency room, making sure he didn't have a broken bone. He didn't.

Like most parents, I regard an emergency-room visit as a trying time. But once the kid was out of pain, he seemed to treat the experience as a chance to check out a future employer.

On our drive home, all I could think of was the hot meal and cold beverages waiting for me in our kitchen. But the kid peppered me with questions about the computer and other machines that the doctor had manipulated during treatment. The kid concluded that being an emergency-room doctor would be "a cool job."

I disagreed. I wanted to tell the kid that he should base his assessments of a job on its grunt work, not just its apparent glamour. I wanted to tell him that he should not only look at the dazzling parts of a job but also at its unpleasant aspects -- its "gross" underbelly.

I kept my mouth shut. Which turned out to be lucky for me. Preaching to my kid would have only added to my troubles on the advice-giving front. For years I have mentioned that I thought it would be nice to have a professional basketball player or a president of the United States in the family.

Then last week a star of the area's professional basketball team was arrested on a handful of charges, including speeding, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana. Meanwhile, the president of the United States was fighting accusations that he had had an affair with a White House intern and then instructed her to lie about it under oath.

Last week, in my estimation, was a bad week for those of us looking for career role models for kids. This week I think I'll go back to pushing a career in plumbing.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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