Father’s Day – what is it really all about? Not the shower head with the wireless speaker that the pre-Father’s Day edition of “What’s Hot” would have us believe – at least not in my house. As I savoured the peace and tranquillity of my audibly unenhanced shower on Father’s Day last Sunday, it seemed as good a time as any to reflect on my responsibilities as a father. At the same time, my mind inevitably turned to my father, our relationship and the important role he has played in my life.
“Son, you’ll earn your living with your head, rather than your hands” is the fatherly advice that I remember most from my childhood. I always knew where it came from. Straight from the heart, informed by a genuine desire for his son to have a better working life than his and indeed his father before him. I duly obliged and ultimately went to University, studying law rather than entering the building trade, as every male member of my family had always done both before and since for that matter. But was this the best advice for me? And, more to the point for present purposes, is it in essence the sort of advice that I should now be relaying to my own children?
Lurking not too far beneath the surface of my father’s pleadings is the latent sense that somehow manual labour is inferior to other types of work. He is not alone in being attracted to such a proposition. In the Cayman Islands, we have seen many a young person aspire, often at the behest of their parents, to simply work in a bank, more so for the perception engendered by the shirt and tie sported on a daily basis, than either the long-term opportunities or even the financial rewards that this career choice has brought in the end.
The irony is that while many of these not so young any more people quickly reached their proverbial glass ceilings, the Cayman Islands now imports highly paid technicians with precisely the skills for which many of Cayman’s forefathers were so renowned. This irony is not lost on me. I have seen many of my contemporaries in England, where I was raised, pick up a trade and do very nicely thank you very much, while I have exercised my brain literally in the pursuit of academic credentials on comparatively lower wages.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not jealous. My personal career decisions have tended to be influenced more by a desire to make a difference to the society in which I live and in the lives of the people around me. Reconciling my father’s adage with this aspiration, I have long since resolved that I could make more of a difference with my head, rather than with my hands.
However, much as I want to instil similar beliefs in my children, I am wary of positioning this in such a way that it echoes the career defining guidance handed down by my father, merely substituting his generation’s emphasis on upward social mobility with my strong sense of social justice. Instead, I want my children to make their own informed choices in respect of what career they wish to pursue. On this basis, one of my jobs as a father must then be to open their minds as best I can and to expose them to as many opportunities as possible.
This is not as easy a task as it sounds and seems, if anything, to be becoming more difficult by the day. I have, I think, identified the source of this increasing difficulty. It is technology, or more accurately, the pace of technological change. As this drives relentlessly onward, my father is already a casualty. While he still revels in an oft-told joke about not being able to get a particular television channel on the microwave, this joke belies the reality. The unfortunate reality is that he is still struggling to get to grips with the programming of a video recorder that is now itself redundant and has been left behind by the advances in technology on so many levels.
However, every time I am given a lesson in PowerPoint by my eight-year old, or schooled in the spatial awareness app, Flow, by my six-year old, I fear that I too may be heading in the same direction. The common denominator in my father’s challenges, my own deficiencies and the talent displayed by my children is that they all indicate how one now needs to be technologically proficient in order to thrive, if not survive, in the world in which we currently live. It follows that with further advances technology will inevitably shape the future working world too and with that the types of jobs that will be available when my children and their generation graduate from school.
Given the pace of technological advancement, preparing children for jobs that in many instances may have yet to be invented can appear akin to taking a shot in the dark. That said, putting one’s head in the sand and ignoring the issue altogether cannot be the answer. The only viable option is to fully embrace technology and wherever possible to integrate it into every facet of a student’s learning experience moving forward. Equally, if, as seems likely, this pace does not let up, there can be no end to one’s learning in the future. Our children must truly become lifelong learners and we must not just pay lip service to the concept.
Perhaps therein lies the answer to my question as to what advice I should be giving to my children and how I should best prepare them for the future: retain a passion for learning and you will always have options, not just in terms of how you can earn a living, but this will be the best chance you will have to live your life the way you see fit. And if you keep ahead of the technological curve, this too will stand you in good stead.
Little did I realise that technological advances, like the shower head with the wireless speaker, really were the key to understanding Father’s Day and defining my parental responsibilities.