Attitudes



Don Shook


 
© Copyright 2018 by Don Shook



Photo of a Texas ranch gate.

 This story is based on an ongoing relationship between father and son which was fairly typical of small-town North Texas during the 1950's.  Affection was expressed by a silent bond, assumed rather than expressed.  But it was strong and stable...carrying over into adulthood.  One that would seem unrecognizable by today's standards.

As a typical, self-centered, hormone-motivated teenager, I was constantly at odds with my father (I called him Daddy) over my attitude. In his words, I had a bad one. I usually either ignored, or bristled over his accusations. And, of course, this reaction was only further evidence of my bad attitude.

Today I realize this was natural. It was part of the dominant male figure (him) getting ready to toss the inferior male figure (me) out of the family domicile on his butt into the big, wide, wonderful world. Once out there, and in the ensuing years, I realized how right he was most of the time. I, like a majority of teenagers, simply wanted what I wanted when, where, and how I wanted it. Consequently, when my “wants” conflicted with his, I displayed a bad attitude. I either resented vociferously, disagreed helplessly, or resisted silently and let him know it. This usually resulted in his display of a stern temper or a leather belt. Either or both most often temporarily terminated my bad attitude, especially when embellished with some painful red whelps.

My, oh my how things have changed. For the most part teenagers still largely ignore parental demands that oppose their own. Locked into technology enforcing their own realities, the bulk of young people are simply oblivious to most things deviating from online participation. Parental or adult chastisement effects them not one whit, unless a threat to their electronic refuges.

Alright, no Facebook for a month,” proclamations by parents are met with looks of astonished disbelief or nonchalant shrugs. Protected self-esteem has erected an almost robotic defense against any assault on their well-being. Such an “attitude” seems to have replaced those of fear and loathing. Being largely pampered pictures of perfection, these icons of their own erection are seldom accused of “bad attitudes” since that too might damage their fragile psyches. And, goodness…perish that thought. What would busy, irresponsible parents do? File suit or wail incessantly?

Due to liberal entitlement ideology and government programs, too many young people today actually expect to be entitled…to everything. The claim is that they deserve free tuition, free food, free loans, free housing, free drugs and, naturally, freedom from any responsibility that obligates them or encumbers their video-game obsessions. “What, work? Later, man I’m playing pokemon.” Ah, the farmer and the cowman should be friends. Or is that cowPERSON?

It seems that today a bad attitude is disagreeing with anything reeking of politically- correct malarkey. After all, the new establishment contends there’s no such thing as a bad attitude, only bad contentions labeling their drivel as drivel. Anyone not willing to work, be responsible, polite, or principled, or that blatantly prevaricate, simply indicates a free and open society evolving toward transcendentalism. Consequently, “bad attitudes” cannot possibly co-exist with the wonder of such a vision. Any attitude, like any action, is commendable and rationalized as in accord with the progressive agenda. Of course, this excludes attitudes or actions inharmonious with radical “fundamental transformations.” These are held to be sacrosanct and violated only at the risk of severe penalties. What an attitude! “Can I have another cookie, Mommy?”

Often during my adolescence, parents, teachers, and most authority figures would feel obliged to say, “Change your attitude, Mister (boy, you, son, Donald, nitwit) or suffer the consequences.” Naturally, these were supposedly much more severe than the reasons my attitude needed changing. In keeping with the platitude “discretion is the better part of valor”, I would usually forsake whatever attitude I had and conform to whatever was expected. Most would then assume my attitude had changed. Most were wrong. I was simply wise enough to know that a perceived “bad attitude” produced negative results. What was perceived the opposite, was usually rewarded. “Such a good boy. Here’s your cookie.” Most could play this game to the hilt, a precursor to surviving in the business world later on. Down deep though, attitudes usually remained intact.

Today too much of the world plays the same game, but in a more complicated, certainly more serious manner. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Certainly. But in a few years, Mr Putin is gonna’ put it back up.”

You have a bad attitude.”

So?” And that ends that.

Attitudes can make or break you. A good one is generally viewed as conducive to getting the job, making the sale, or, if a politician, fooling all of the people most of the time. It sets a positive tone which makes one seem to be on top of the world. This works well unless you’re a “flat earther”, then it only leads to leading others off the edge. Still, a good attitude seems to be contagious, spewing scads of negative ions into the air, which is positive. I always tried to convince Daddy that my attitude mimicked a negative ion. He always responded with, “Finish mowing the yard!” He wasn’t big on analogies.

Inversely, a bad attitude is generally viewed as “bad.” This can also be appealing, but only to similarly-minded reprobates. In our fast-moving society a bad attitude seems to be the purview of atheists, Baywatch addicts, and Democrats. However, do-gooders find a great challenge in attempted conversion of “bad-attituders”, affording them a respected rung on the attitude ladder of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Starbucks’ regulars. All we like sheep have gone astray. My pubescent bad attitude pales in comparison with the aforementioned. “I said, finish mowing the damn yard, Donald!”

It ain’t rained all summer, Daddy. The grass is dirt.”

You gotta’ bad attitude, boy.”

And he had a bad belt. Still, by the time I hit the big, wide, wonderful world my attitude hadn’t changed much. Except when I needed money.

Today attitudes don’t seem to make much of a difference. Primarily because the blank look on the faces of most young people makes it hard to tell what attitude they have. Asking produces a similar result. Vacant stares, closed mouths, and glazed eyes somehow convey the idea that, once away from their iphones, they really don’t have attitudes about much. Was there an invasion of the body snatchers? Don’t get me wrong, you can converse with them once you get past the “likes”, “awesomes”, “cools”, “mans” and “Ya knows” there can be a glimmer of a discussion…lasting, if lucky, all of thirty-five seconds.

Attitudes can be equated with dispositions, perspectives, and reactions. Having a “good attitude” is easy when things go your way. “Look, Daddy I finished the yard.” Or, difficult when they don’t, “Good. Now clean out the garage.” a bad one. This is human nature. Whoops! HuPERSON nature. Do I still have a bad attitude?

Don Shook, past president of the Fort Worth Poetry Society is a writer, actor, director and producer who has worked with such stars as Dick Clark, Cybil Shepherd, Debbie Reynolds and Betty Buckley. Formerly with NBC in New York, he has performed in theatre, film and television across the country including Carnegie Hall, New York City and five years as a resident performer at Casa Manana Musicals in Fort Worth. He was named by Angels Without Wings as the 2009 Senior Poet Laureate of Texas for his poem “This Too Shall Pass”, and has written five novels and an acting handbook Entitled “Actors Soup”, self-published in 2014.


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