The Ne’er Do Well

Dear Micah,

What do I do with an irresponsible child?  My son doesn’t grasp responsibility, work ethic, drive.  In school his grades were middle of the road.  We’d try to motivate him best we could by rewarding good marks and good behavior.  That worked better than other things but he still usually went back to doing just passable work.  I guess I shouldn’t say just passable because he did get into a college, not a great one, but he got in.  He wanted to put college off a year and just work.  It’s time to be enrolling now and he hasn’t even planned it.  The last year he has been working for our family business and his performance matches his school record.  There is no real drive.  He will call out if he feels like doing something else.  He doesn’t have the respect of the other staff.  He doesn’t seem to want to really learn the business with a hope of taking it over one day.  He’s just there passing the time and getting a check.  I know my husband and I have probably indulged him in the past and his behavior is on us somehow.  But I don’t know what to do.  Got any advice to help?


Dear Loran,

Fire him.  He’s got to grow up and become a man.  You didn’t say whether or not he lives with you or on his own but it is time he grew up and took care of himself.  If he lives with you I do not expect you to fire him and put him out in the street.  But you can fire him and provide him with a roof and nothing else.  If he wants to eat, drive a car, have gas, have dates, go to the movies, have a cell phone—he has to get a real live J.O.B.  Working for Mommy and Daddy is not a real job.  You said it yourself he’s been turning in half performances at work and even calling in when he has something better to do with his time.  Would you let your regular staff stay employed doing that?  Of course not.  It’s time to fire him as well.  There are some people who can work for their parents and be very productive and important pieces of their parents’ businesses.  But not everyone has that drive and initiative.  Some people are coasters and need to get out on their own to kick start their ambition.   I will draw from personal experience on this one.  I was basically made to work for my stepfather’s store when I was just out of school.  This was the most boring and uninteresting place on earth to me.  It was not a good fit.  I also had not yet discovered myself and found where I fit into the world and by being pushed into that job– which was just an extension of home–keeping me from figuring out who I was because I was still having to be who they knew me to be.  It was only after I quit and took another job elsewhere, totally unconnected to them, when I discovered I am a good worker and a hard worker and I actually enjoyed going to work!  Does that make sense?  Your son has lived his life being a certain character in the eyes of everyone that knows him.  By working for you he is still that character and nothing has occurred to give him the opportunity to achieve any character development.  He needs a new environment to find himself.  A place where there are no preconceived notions of who he is and what people expect of him.  A place he can wipe the slate clean and be who he wants to be, or even just fall into who he will eventually become, and escape this person he is perceived as being.  College is often the place where kids discover who they really are, but his drive is so broken that college doesn’t appear to be in the picture anytime soon.  He needs to find himself first and he needs to do it fast.  So cut him off.  He has to go out and interview for a job somewhere, get that job all on his own and keep it on his own.  He needs a boss that isn’t Mommy or Daddy.  Someone who will look at him with fresh eyes and have real expectations that he will meet, or fall short of, all on his own and he will experience the reward or the reprimands of what comes from those outcomes.  I think you might see that he could flourish once he feels true independence.  It isn’t necessarily that you have done anything wrong, It’s just that he hasn’t yet bloomed into adulthood and it’s not possible to become an adult when you are always in a position of being the child.  Working for your parents often keeps you in the child role.  It’s time to set him free to survive or fail on his own and let’s turn this overaged kid into a grown up.

Car Talk

Hey Micah,

Leaving this argument between my wife and I to you to settle.  Is it better to let your teen work and save to buy their own car or to just buy it for them at 16?  Our son is turning 16 next year and I have told him he needs to start working to earn some car money so that he can buy himself a good used car down the road.  My wife thinks we should buy him a new car for his birthday and he can work to pay for gas.


Dear Alan,

I fall somewhere in the middle actually.  I don’t really like the way that kids are just handed everything these days:  A new car, a top tier cell phone, designer clothes, limos for prom, ipads, etc.  I think it sets them up for a miserable early adulthood when the money they finally earn can’t even buy them things they want because they already had everything before they started working.  However, I seem to be doing the same thing with my young son by buying him the latest toys and games at every birthday and Christmas.  So who am I to say anything to anyone?  All I know is that when I was a teen no one bought a car for me.  I had to get my own, which took longer than the other kids because I had to work to earn the down payment money.  Then I was able to buy a real piece of crap car that I was embarrassed to have anyone see me drive because everyone else had new cars—or really nice used cars—that their parents had all given them at 16.  I was 18 in a hooptee.  It was mortifying.  I even continued to take the school bus to school because I didn’t want anyone to see my car.  Even the poorer kids had nicer cars.  I worked and worked to cover the payments, the insurance, and the gas and never had any money left for anything else.  Teens like to go out, they like to buy things, have dates etc.  I had no extra money.  Because of this I was always behind in payments because I would use the car payment money on something else that seemed more important in that immediate moment.  This always put me in a stressful bind come payment time.  It didn’t teach me responsibility.  It taught me stress and bad credit and how I can work harder than anyone else and still always be two steps behind those people who do nothing yet always seem to have everything.  So, buy your son a good quality used car that he won’t be embarrassing to drive, and let him work to pay for the gas and all of his other spending.  His part of the deal is to keep up his grades and pitch in at home and then you’ll cover the car and the insurance.  If he ever has a ticket or an accident with the car, then he’ll be responsible for the insurance.

Whatever Happened to Daddy, oh There He Is

Dear Micah,

I bet you haven’t had this problem cross your desk!  My father left the picture when I was around 8 and it was just my mother and me.  I am now 43 years old and saw him recently in my neighborhood visiting the house across the street.  I know its him because I have run into him before although I don’t know if he knew who I was plus I looked him up on Facebook.  My neighbor is his daughter.  I have kept this to myself for a few days because I don’t know if I should let it be or go to her and announce that she has a sister!  Do I even want a sister?  I don’t know.  Do I want to meet him?  He appears to be a father to her so why wasn’t he ever one to me?  I lived my life without him and thought I didn’t even care, but I feel all this rush of so many conflicting feelings when his car is in her driveway.  Advice please!!!

The First Daughter


Dear First Daughter (that you know of),

You asked, do I even want a sister?  You HAVE a sister.  Doesn’t really matter what you want or not because you now know there is one and she’s right across the street from you.  Go meet her.  Tell her your story.  Try to be respectful of the fact that she probably loves this man who abandoned you.  Reserve your hate and anger for him if you want to lash out at him, but do not spill it over onto her.  There are two relationship possibilities here.  One with your sister and a possible reunion with your father.  They do not have to be connected.  It may take you a lot longer to be able to start up with your father, but this sister is a new person that has never harmed you.  I think you might like having a sister.  Try it.  And tell her that you know you’ve given her a lot to digest, and you aren’t even certain yet if you’re ready to be reunited with him, but that you thought a lot about her and decided that you did want to get to know her—especially since you live so close together.  Become her friend.  Sisterhood can occur later.  Start with being a neighbor.  As for your father, I think the more you talk to the sister and hear about her life experience, it might humanize him a little and make you want to get to know him.  He has a lot of explaining to do.  There is a whole side of the story you have never heard, his side.  Granted I don’t see how he can explain away 35 years of neglect, but then again maybe he doesn’t have to.  Maybe all you really need to hear is that he has missed you and been haunted by the loss of you and maybe that can be a place of healing.  He can’t ever really be your father now, but he could become a person you care about.  And that’s better than what he is now to you.  Give it a try.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Even if you get rejected by one or both of them, you’ll at least have had the satisfaction of making them feel uncomfortable now.

If you have a question you’d like to ASK MICAH, please email him at [email protected].  Your question may appear in the print version of the magazine or online.  (Please note if you’d like to be anonymous.)

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