Better Be

I wrote this column for a local newspaper last month, and I intended for there to be a sequel. However, the sequel met with a little resistance from my Brain Trust (and rightly so) and it wasn’t deemed proper for a newspaper. So, I’ll post it here instead:


Better Be

My wife and I have been discussing more and more, as many in our age group have had to do in these troubled times, the idea of whether or not it would be feasible (both logistically and financially) to bring a child into this world. If we were to do so, or if blind fortune would smile down upon us and suddenly grant us the means to do so, it has occurred to me that I would suddenly be responsible for the life, prosperity, and overall wellbeing of a human being, particularly if the child in question turned out to be male. When last we met, I spoke about how we as a country need to “Be Better,” and this time, as the main male role model of a hypothetical person’s life, I will be talking about everything the future John Leitzen III had “Better Be.”

First and foremost, John, you had better be strong. It’s a rough world out there, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to get any smoother for us, or our country, or our world, and so you will need some significant fortitude to make it through to a successful adulthood. You will need the strength to be honest, generous, kind, and loyal… but most importantly you will need to be strong enough to turn around and immediately plunge a knife into the living heart of each of those aspects when the need should arrive. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world anymore, it’s a dog-eat-dog-and-bone-and-skin-and-fur-and-consumes-the-very-soul-and-essence-of-dog world… and you had better be strong enough to not only be good, but to know just when exactly to be a little bit evil, or you will not survive.

Second, my son, you had better be smart… and I don’t mean smart in a conjugating verbs, quadratics in your head, knowing the name of Robert E. Lee’s horse kind of smart. I don’t care if you dig ditches or perform heart transplants, but whatever you do, you had darn well better be smart at it. This is a world where you can’t even mow lawns without some sort of certificate or degree, so Jack will have to leave All Trades at home and focus on being a Master of One, the smartest possible ditch-digger/heart surgeon that walks on the surface of the scalded Earth. What’s more, John, and what is crucial, is that you had better be smart enough to know exactly when to shut up and fly right, even in the face of obvious incompetence, or you will find yourself marginalized in an overpriced rental for the rest of your days.

Lastly, young Johann, you had better be just plain better. It doesn’t matter what you do, why you do it, or how you choose to, but you had better make sure that you are the best, and if you are not, then you’d best be the best at making sure everyone else at least thinks you’re the best. Forget the steak, focus on sizzle. Bewitch them with words and paint yourself as the reincarnated spirit of Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie with, of course, a firm grasp of social media. However, if you happen to be the best or better than your competition, son, you’ll need to learn to only be better, not best. Best will get you fired, will leave you alone in the break room, or see your chances at advancement dissolve. You’ll need to lie that you are the best, but take care to make sure you actually are not the best. It will be difficult, my son, and that is why I am telling you this now. If you don’t learn these lessons early, it will be too late.

I will have to push you. I will have to challenge you. I will have to make sure that you simply are better, because Johnny, I don’t want you sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon at twenty-eight years of age thinking that your professional career has already peaked by way of a part-time position you held two years ago, and it’s all downhill from there. You may have heard people talk about the Chinese “Tiger Parents,” to which I will only scoff and tell you to keep practicing your Mandarin. I will not be a tiger; I will be a Chimera. A Manticore. I’ll be a Which-What-Who, because I see what problems can come when you get soft, John. When you think it will be easy so you slack off a little in college, or you take it easy as early as high school. I know what havoc that will wreak on you, and your partner, further along in the future… and knowing that now I cannot bear to put my own son through that.
So, sleep well, Jacky-Boy. Tomorrow, you’ll start Kindergarten, and I will make doubly sure that you are the smartest child in that class. Or, at least, you better be.

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