Overachiever son ditches fast track after college

Is it time for a father-son talk?

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My son, “Ron,” 27, works part time at a low-pressure, low-paying job. He has a four-year college degree my ex-wife and I paid for and he graduated with honors but has never worked in that field and shows no interest in doing so. I thought we had raised him to have a strong work ethic. He lives independently because his well-employed girlfriend, “Ann,” pays most of their bills. When he visits, I do occasionally have to give him some gas or spending money, but it’s not much.

My wife is very concerned that if he and Ann broke up, he’d have to move in with us or his mother, and thinks it’s time for a serious father/son talk. I trust that we raised him right and he’ll eventually find his direction in life. And not everyone needs to be a CEO, right? Should I talk with him or not?

— Parent

Not. Not your business.

And certainly not his stepmother’s. Her worst-case scenario hasn’t even happened — and she can avoid it just by saying “no.”

Re: Ron:

What about ending the practice of giving him gas and spending money? You can decline to be an enabler in even a small way, right?

— Just a Suggestion

Significant money, then it’s time for a talk. If it’s peanuts, I think there’s actually more to gain by not shaming him; seeking 20 bucks for gas is quite obviously not a good look on an educated and capable 27-year-old not otherwise under duress, so why say it out loud. A parent’s choice not to bust chops can be a gift as opposed to a parenting lapse. So it’s complicated.

Re: Ron:

If Ron and Ann are happy, then “house-husband” with a side gig in a job of his own choosing is a perfectly valid choice. How does that not equate to a “strong work ethic”? I consider it antiquated thinking that someone with a four-year degree must be on a career path or it was all a waste.

— Perfectly Valid


Re: Ron:

I was all set to go off with my high GPA and four-year degree and Be Successful in Life. But I did a 180 and went into a creative field for less money, and I have no regrets.

Still, every time I see my dad he feels the need to have the “we really expect more from you” heart-to-heart. And you know what that’s done? Nothing. I still live my life my way. And my dad wonders why they see less of me.

— No Regrets

Thanks so much for this.

The life of an ambition-track kid (leadership! sports! college!) is now so structured and front-loaded with grades and activities and programs and scores and oh-my-sweet-baby-deity the Expectaaaations! — and the ambient culture is either demanding or judging excellence, or it’s snarking about participation trophies and safe spaces. So if a highly decorated current young adult is in the midst of a crisis of the Point of It All, then welcome to the freaking club.

Therefore, in this scenario, it’s a bit rich for the probable source of such pressure to be mystified as to its lingering effects.

Not that this explains Ron, just that it’s a phenomenon reaching its prime.

— Washington Post Writers Group

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