New Youth Connections, New York
“You want to be a what?”
My dad looked at me like I had four eyes.
“An anthropologist,” I said. “It’s perfect for me. Cultures, languages, traveling and …”
“Wait, wait, wait. What about a doctor? A lawyer? You want to dig around in the dirt and look for bones?”
His face was a picture of pure perplexity.
“Actually, that’s an archaeologist,” I said. “Anthropologists study humans. They study different societies and what divides and binds us.”
“Listen, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but these types of professions don’t make money. Fields like medicine and law will always make money because they will always be needed. You have to be where the money is.”
What was my dad saying? What was wrong with being an anthropologist? It’s not like I wanted to run away to join the circus. Being an anthropologist seemed perfect. It took all the things that I loved about life and people and rolled them into one interesting career. I’d travel the world, sampling cultures, and then settle down to teach at a university when I wanted to start a family.
I’d always thought my dad understood me. Now I felt betrayed.
But was my dad right? Come to think of it, I’d never heard anyone say, “Ooh, I really want to be an anthropologist.” Many of my friends wanted to be doctors or lawyers. Would I be throwing away my hard work in high school and college by pursuing a career that didn’t pay much?
I began to think of what else I could be. When I considered being a psychologist instead, my dad shot that idea down too.
“It’s very competitive and very few psychologists get paid a lot,” he said.
Ugh. What was his obsession with money? It was driving me insane.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. About nine years ago, my family emigrated from Trinidad, an island in the West Indies, to the United States. When we lived in Trinidad, we weren’t struggling or in the midst of political uprisings, unlike many immigrants from other countries. I had a peaceful, normal childhood. The sole reason my family moved to the United States was that golden word: opportunity. My parents saw that my brother and I had the potential and the drive to rise much higher than they had.
We were leaving our comfortable island on a single hope; that my brother and I would “make it.”
“What about the dreams and sacrifices of my parents?” I thought. “Maybe I should forget my aspirations and do something that makes them happy.”
My mind was twisting and turning among the possible paths to take, but I didn’t find an answer.
I decided to pay a visit to my school’s guidance counselor. She welcomed me and asked me what was on my mind.
“I want to become an anthropologist but my dad wants me to choose a career that would make more money,” I said.
“My dad told me not to be a teacher because it would not pay much money, but becoming a teacher was the best thing I ever did,” she said. “If you choose a job just for money, you may not be happy.” She suggested that I volunteer and get internships to obtain a clearer picture about my future.
Even though her advice was reasonable, I had a feeling that it was easier said than done. I also knew that I couldn’t run around trying to please everyone forever. No matter how much advice I received, my confusion would remain until I was ready to clarify it myself. Something simply had to make sense within me.
I finally decided to talk to my parents about my feelings. My father’s response didn’t surprise me. He said his definition of success was earning lots of money. But my mother’s response caught me off guard.
“I just want you to go to college, gain higher education and choose a job that you feel comfortable with,” she said.
When I asked her what she would prefer me to do, she said, “I wouldn’t make that decision. Never. That’s your individual choice. That’s a call you have to make.”
Although my dad’s responses were expected, my conversation with him also gave me a sense of clarity. I understood why he thought the way he did. His family didn’t have much money when he was a child. So he focused on making enough so his family could live comfortably. I began to understand both my mother and my father, and in understanding them, I began to understand me.
© Youth Communication/New York Center Inc. www.youthcomm.org.