One thing I am eternally thankful to my father for–and that I hope to pass on to my own son–is that he never got involved with the status game.
Status is an important part of human interactions, and it is especially important to men (see Brett McKay’s excellent series on men and status at The Art of Manliness here for more information). However, American consumer culture has created a focus on the wrong kind of status.
I’m talking, of course, about the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality so prevalent among many of us, especially those who are well-off. My father, for example, is a physician. He earns a nice living. Yet somehow he managed to avoid this cultural trap.
I grew up in a relatively affluent area, where lots of kids also had parents who were professionals. And as little kids are wont to do, I remember lots of them bragging about exotic vacations they took, new cars they bought, their swimming pools, their legion of Nintendo games, and so on.
At some point I remember asking my dad why we didn’t have the Mercedes or whatever. And I’ll never forget his answer:
“I make enough money to have three expensive cars, a swimming pool, a much bigger house, and take several vacations every year. But if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to have you or your siblings.”
Wow. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a 10-year-old. And here I am, 25 years later, and that still resonates, especially as I have a child of my own and the desire for more.
The status game focuses our attention and resources to ephemeral things that really do not matter. What good are material things if you have nobody important in your life you share them with? Do these consumer objects really replace family? Or to paraphrase somebody much wiser, what good is the whole world at the expense of your soul?
So thanks dad, never being delinquent on the mortgage. Thanks dad, for being a Subaru guy. Thanks dad, for using that extra money for musical instruments and music lessons, art supplies, family trips, and spending time with us and the rest of the family instead of being a slave to your job.
And thank you most of all for teaching me to avoid the status game. It’s not always easy to do, but my life has been better off for it.
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