$60,000 in Tuition, and My Son Wants to Become a Farmer?

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Social Q’s

My wife and I are spending a fortune to send our son to an Ivy League college. Over the holidays, he came home and told us that he loves his agricultural science class and wants to volunteer at a sustainable farm over the summer. Excuse me, but I am not paying $60,000 a year (after taxes) for him to become a farmer. My wife tells me to relax; his interests will probably change. He is only a freshman. But what if they don’t? How should I handle this?


I love Burt Bacharach and Hal David. (What right-thinking child of the ’70s doesn’t?) But I have a bone to pick with some lyrics in “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” namely: “Lord, we don’t need another meadow. There are cornfields and wheat fields enough to grow.” Not true! If your son wants to be part of the revolution in sustainable farming and end world hunger, more power to him. (Or your wife may be right: He could trade in his overalls by Labor Day. He’s just starting out. What better time to explore?)

Still, you have a point. He who pays the piper calls the tune, as the proverb goes. But did you tell your son, before school began, that it was Goldman Sachs or bust? Probably not. (I also suspect that your parameters for acceptable study are broader than that.) You and your wife should discuss the education you are willing to underwrite and share the news with your son. He may accept your decision on his behalf. But here’s hoping he won’t. There are surely less controlling ways to teach him the consequences of his professional choices.

Patriotism in Passing

After school drop-off, I take my dog on a walk past my son’s elementary school. With its new public address system, you can hear announcements outside the building, too. I find it charming to hear students offering weather forecasts and birthday greetings to classmates. But as a patriotic American, I find myself in a quandary when the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Should we stop for a moment, out of respect, or keep walking?


The answer to your question is simple, but your “patriotic American” language touched a nerve. So, buckle in for a short detour. Patriotism has little to do with flag-waving or fetishizing the national anthem. (It has even less to do with flag-shaped lapel pins.) Real patriotism involves personal sacrifice: paying taxes rather than finding loopholes; investing real time and energy to make our communities better for everyone; and loving America, even when our countrymen and -women do things we disagree with.

Frankly, I know relatively few “patriotic Americans” — though dudes with flag pins abound. Most of us claim we’re too busy to get involved. But I aim to do better this year. And in case any of you are not truly patriotic either, I hope you will join me.

Now that that’s off my chest, back to national symbols. Unless it is Beyoncé singing, you probably don’t jump to your feet for the national anthem when watching televised football games, correct? Nor do you stop running if your jog takes you past the anthem-singing portion of a Little League game. Same here: No need to put your hand over your heart for overheard Pledges of Allegiance. (Or join in serenading Janie W. on the glorious occasion of her ninth birthday.) You are not part of the actual audience.

A Mother-Daughter Storm

My girlfriend and I have a loving and supportive relationship. I thought it was great, until I met her mom. She and my girlfriend are more intense together in every way than we are: fighting harder, laughing louder and irresistible to each other. Is this a bad sign for our relationship? Should I talk to my girlfriend about it?


Eight words for you, Jason: “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” on HBO. Find it, watch it, learn from it. Many of us with tempestuous relationships with a parent spend years, mostly disastrously, trying to replicate those five-alarm fires. Later (often after therapy), we realize that over the long haul, quieter relationships can be more fulfilling than fireworks. My hunch is that your girlfriend is already onto this. But no harm in asking, “Honey, do you ever wish that we were as intense as you and your mom are?”

When Not to Give Back

I started dating my significant other a year ago. We broke up for a few months, then got back together again recently. His birthday was during our time apart; mine is coming up. I would feel bad about receiving a birthday gift from him, without giving him one. Should I give him a gift retroactively?


No. Focus your energy on learning to accept a gift gracefully (by savoring the loving spark that prompted it and thanking your guy sincerely). Avoid creating profit-and-loss statements that catalog gifts given versus those received. That is the road to tit-for-tat-ville and makes us small in the face of kind gestures.