Cuentos, Familia

Dad schools Cindy, part 4.0

Benny: Man, you think too much! I bet you get straight A’s and shit!
Smalls: No, I got a B once. Well, actually it was an A minus but it should have been a B.
Benny: Man, this is baseball, you gotta stop thinking! Just have fun. If you were having fun, you would have caught that ball!
(from The Sandlot, 1993)

I got a lot of A’s as a kid. A lot. I was, like, a genius. Gifted even. (/snark)

After hearing my classmates brag about their monetary awards for good grades ($20 an A, $10 a B and so on), I was rather annoyed. All I got for my good grades was encouragement and praise. Who wants that?

When I was 11-years old I found the courage to bring this up to mom and dad. I offhandedly suggested that they get in line with other Glenelder Elementary parents. Mom laughed. She must have done the math in her head and realized she’d be paying out over $100 each quarter just for my grades.

“No, mija,” dad replied.

Then he started with the lecture. Oh no. When we got to a certain age, we no longer were spanked. We were lectured. That was worse. While a spanking only affected the wrongdoer and was over in a few minutes, the lecture often involved all siblings and lasted half an hour. Whenever Danny got in trouble or decided to talk back, I’d have to sit through that lecture too. The time paled in comparison to the guilt. Dad was good at making us realize how much we’d disappointed him and mom. I still dread those lectures. Actually, dad didn’t lecture this time. He told a story with a lesson (close enough).

Dad took his stance on cash for grades from Paco, the former co-director (along with his wife, Alba) of the Spanish-language choir. Paco insisted that he never gave his daughters money for their grades. Why pay them for doing well in school? They’re supposed to get good grades.

I was enlightened. Paco made a lot of sense. Plus, I couldn’t argue against the logic of a man who had recently passed away. It was clearly disrespectful to retort something like, “Paco’s advice is dumb” or “why do you have to raise us like he raised his daughters?” I was satisfied for time being. For the next seven years or so, I just kept earning A’s and B’s without expecting any award aside from being placed on the honor roll and getting a bumper sticker.

On a nice April Saturday, dad told Adrian he’d pay him $20 if he hit a home run at his Little League game that afternoon. Dad didn’t go to the game that afternoon. He was working. Lori, Danny and I all went to the park to support Adrian. My injustice feelers didn’t go off then. After all, I didn’t think Adrian would hit a home run. I’d been to plenty of his games. He was a good player, but he didn’t hit home runs.

Until that day. Adrian hit one out of the park. Lori, Danny and I cheered for our little brother as he ran the bases and was greeted with high fives from his team. Neither mom nor dad were there to witness the home run due to work.

I immediately thought of the promised $20. “Do you think dad will pay up?”

Lori shrugged.

After the game, Danny drove us home. We pulled in to the driveway, to find dad’s Jeep parked besides mom’s Durango. (Don’t judge us and our SUVs!)

Adrian ran out out of the car and rushed in to share his good news.

“I hit a home run!”

“Wow!” dad smiled and hugged Adrian. He looked proud and a little sad he’d missed Adrian’s home run. Dad got out his wallet and handed him a crisp twenty dollar bill.

I watched with disbelief, jealousy and a bit of anger. I pulled Lori into our room.

“This isn’t fair. Why does Adrian get $20 for a home run and we don’t get anything for good grades? Dad said we don’t get paid because we’re supposed to do well in school. Well, isn’t Adrian supposed to do well in baseball too? We need to talk to him.”

Lori nodded, clearly annoyed too. As the girls, we were used to bringing home better grades than our brothers.

She followed me out to the kitchen where dad and mom were eating a late lunch.

“I need to talk to you,” I said, feeling myself get nervous. I didn’t have much experience questioning dad, that was was Danny’s job.

I sat down at one of the empty seats and began, “I don’t think it’s fair that Adrian gets $20 for hitting a home run.”

I stated my case as if I’d written out my argument beforehand. While I didn’t want dad to take back the $20, I thought a reward for hitting a home run was similar to a reward for earning an A grade. It was wrong to reward his sons monetarily for doing well in sports while not doing the same for his daughters’ academic success. It was sexism!

Dad listened to me until I finished.

“You’re right, mija. We’ve never paid you girls for your good grades, but you’re already getting paid and you’ll continue to get paid.”

He then brought up the cost of applying to college. There were AP and SAT tests to take, applications to submit, colleges to visit, and college itself. And then there was all the money they’d put in to our extracurricular activities. How about that trip to England and Scotland with the band? What about how he and mom did not ask us to work as teenagers and just expected us to be students and help out at home?

Damn. Why was dad so smart and why did he have to make sense? Even if I had the “talk back to your parents” gene, I couldn’t come back with anything other than whining, “but it’s still not fair!”

Adrian kept his $20. Dad finished his dinner. Lori and I returned to our bedrooms to finish our homework. We had more A’s to earn.


10 thoughts on “Dad schools Cindy, part 4.0

  1. spam fried rice says:

    dude… i never even got a “good job” for good grades. I got, “A’s huh? Well, there’s always room for improvement.” When I said, “But that’s the highest it can go!” The parents said, “Well I’m sure you didn’t get 100’s on all your tests.” GRRRR.

  2. My parents’ philosophy on money for grades was identical to your parents. Surely a big part of it had to do with having six kids and a bunch of smartie pants, but more than that, they believed that we should be getting those grades anyway.

    Interesting you mention them “paying you for grades” by paying for your activities, etc. I tell my siblings who still live at home and are in college or have jobs that the price they pay to live at home are their chores and the relatively few things my parents ask of them. I don’t want to hear their complaining about the dishes if they’re not even paying rent!

  3. I went through the same thing growing up. I was hardly a genius, getting mostly B’s in elementary school, but I remember my cousins — who were rascals and hoodlums, but played baseball really well — would always get money, or a new Nerf toy, or some special dinner when they played well and I got crap when I received an A in math & English one year.

    I never cared after a while, and now I know my dad was doing a good thing by distancing that feeling of entitlement from me. Unfortunately, the trend didn’t stick. My 16-year-old nephew (my Brother’s oldest) is on fire. He’s been nominated to attend the National Young Leader’s Conference in D.C. this year, he’s going to Paris in June with 10 other honor’s students, he has an iPhone (I couldn’t get a beeper at 16!) and he has a 3.9 gpa throughout two years of high school. My dad’s perspective? The kid gets paid $10 an A. Damn the times have changed.

  4. I love your dads parenting philosophy, where he explains the reasons behind each act and encourages respectful dialogue. I remember reading a short description of Milton Friedman’s parenting style by his son, who said that his father insisted on always having a rationale for why he does things. He would explain it to his children and give them the ability to retort. It was the exact opposite of how I was raised. Both of my parents rarely explained why and I hated it. My mom even had a magnet on the fridge that read, “There are only two rules in this house: 1. Mom is always right, 2. When mom is wrong, refer to rule number 1.” It never made sense and I plan to follow your dads philosophy with my kid.

    Regarding paying for grades, I am torn. Of course paying smart kids for good grades is not a good idea, after all, they find getting good grades easy. But what about the marginal kid who has to study harder to get good grades? Paco’s response of “Why pay them for doing well in school. They’re supposed to get good grades.” does not follow, were not talking about paying a kid not to get F’s. Anything more than a C would be directly correlated with effort, and trade offs. Why should I study harder instead of say, hang out more with my friends? Play video games? Chat with my girlfriend? Etc. Time is valuable and if you want to reallocate my time, it makes sense that you adjust priorities accordingly. Its what we do in the economy all the time, whether were talking about our mechanics, babysitters, teachers, or doctors – the more time and attention you want them to spend on a certain task, the more you pay them.

    On the other hand, you are supposed to teach a kid a love for education in and of itself and paying a kid to study can, in the long run, take away from that. But again, this depends. The easier school is for you, the more you will naturally love it. But not everybody is smart, there are marginal kids and those kids will not so easily develop a love for education – just as I would not so easily develop a love for playing basketball, as much as say, my 7 foot neighbor. Where to strike that balance? I guess its up to the parents who know their kids best, but whatever the decision, it seems clear to me that the lower you go in IQ, the more paying kids for grades makes sense (but for it to work, its more than a simple $20/A, the pay has to be proportional to the valued effort it takes to get those grades – for example, if a kid is really in love with his girlfriend, and wants to spend every minute with her, you are going to have to pay him a whole lot more than $20/A to get any real change in his grades…but this is another topic for another post).

    Btw, love your new layout and I see that your dad missed your brothers game. Tisk, tisk, tisk, what kind of father misses his sons sports games? 😉

  5. I use that same kind of logic on my sisters and friends. Learning to be a smart ass like that has helped me learn many a lesson and in turn, help others learn lessons as well. Example, “Ohh I’m tired because I have to wake early.” (early being 8 a.m.) Me, “Back when I was an apprentice electrician I had to get up at 4 a.m. to be in Santa Monica by 7 a.m. everyday.” Friend gives me evil look of, “I hate your guts pedejo.” I smirk back because they know I’m right. Check and mate haha

  6. lori says:

    ah ha ha!!!! i remember that day… we thought we we’re so slick, and we’re so excited to come up with a such strong argument… we thought we we’re so badass that we finally could beat dad and all his reasoning…. man we were so wrong.

  7. anytime you can start off a blog post with a quote from Sandlot, you’ve got my attention. Great lesson from dad, great movie.

  8. dr. pz says:

    Your dad sounds like a wonderful parent. 🙂 Perhaps a happy medium to HPs torn comment about whether to pay for good grades or not is to set aside some money every time your child pulls off an A or B in a college trust fund. I think it is a good way for parents to save $ and the child feels like they “earned” something for their hard work. Whether or not parents can afford to do so or whether young kids can understand delayed gratification is another story. 🙂

  9. MMR says:

    I remember those days of debating with my dad. My dad came from the same school of thought as HP’s mom – dad is always right. I miss those days. My dad now suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease (really Lewey Body Dementia) and Parkinson’s Disease and has lost his powerful voice. You are doing a wonderful job of chronicling your parent’s stories. I wish I had thought of doing such at an earlier time.

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