I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately, and I want to halt and reverse it. The other day I told Daniel to come to the dinner table, as we were ready to eat. “Okay,” he replied. “Hey, could you get my juice for me?” When I responded, “Yes, Daniel, I could, but you have two healthy legs and a fine brain and I think you’re capable of getting it for yourself,” he harrumphed like a man wrestling with the arcane provisions of the Federal Tax Code on the evening of April 14.
Twenty-four hours later I found Luke sitting cross-legged in front of our TV, playing a game on the Wii. “Dad,” he began, never taking his eyes off the television. “Could you get me some cereal? Thanks,” he concluded without waiting for a response to his command rather lamely disguised as aquestion. I watched him whack a tennis ball on the screen and replied, “Well, Luke, I think I’ll opt out this time. Thanks for asking, but I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a father if I robbed you of the opportunity to fix your own snack. Just think of the feeling of satisfaction you’ll generate by hiking through our kitchen, foraging through our pantry, and reaping your own harvest of whole grain oat flour, soluble corn fiber, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil!” Perturbed, he lumbered to his feet after a few seconds and whined, “why do I have to do everything?!” That exclamation, also lamely disguised as a question, drew a head shake, frown, and silent thought or two from me.
The next night I hollered at Abby from the back door. “Abby, c’mon. Time for basketball practice. Let’s go!” She shuffled downstairs and put her tennis shoes on. “Don’t forget your coat,” I reminded her, pointing to the long, warm, dark brown outerwear hanging on the rack ten feet away. She sighed heavily and adopted an expression of one enduring abject physical persecution, as if she were Prisoner 24601 hauling a ship by rope back to port. “Dad, please. Would you get it for me? I’m soooooooo tired.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. She was closer to the coat than I, and in any case it could be retrieved after taking three paces. I was speechless. I shook my head and walked to the car, waiting for her to channel her inner Valjean and exert an ounce of effort, or quickly master telekinesis to transport her coat to her arms, whichever came first.
What’s going on? I wondered. How have these once fairly hard working, fairly self-reliant children become so lazy and pathetic? A couple of days later I had an epiphany, and like many of my epiphanies it occurred in a bathroom. As I looked in the mirror above the sink I could almost hear the X-Files music playing in the background: the water faucet operated on a motion sensor, no energy required on my part. I gazed at the urinal—same thing. As I readied to dry my hands I realized the paper towel dispenser operated similarly. I had done my business without having to depress, pull, or push a single handle. By the looks of it, that overall theme of sloth had seeped into the patrons’ ability to discard their trash as used paper towels littered the floor surrounding the garbage can. Apparently, it’s asking too much to require men to actually place their detritus IN the receptacle designed for that purpose. Sigh.
Let’s face it. We’ve been moving in this direction for a long time, a process that predates my birth by decades (and perhaps centuries or millennia), and there’s no going back. My father once told me, only half-jokingly, that the most important functions I served as a boy were (1) dishwasher, (2) garage door opener, particularly on bad weather days, (3) television channel changer, and (4) family snow shoveler laureate. Heavens! What good would I be now? (Don’t answer that.) My children find it quaint, if not ridiculous, that my peers and I actually washed dishes by hand and that we—GASP!—turned a knob if we wanted to switch from watching Captain Kangaroo to, say, Bugs Bunny or Bullwinkle. In my day, if we wanted to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without having to muddle through the bread crust, we took care of it the old fashioned way, by gum: We peeled it off by hand!
Who’s responsible for this depressing movement, this slouching toward infantilization? What’s their motive? I intend to find out. The truth is out there.
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.