TOM WAS DRESSED in somewhat shabby attire, with a couple of small holes in his pants legs, a soiled mark on one shirtsleeve, and shoes whose appearance revealed they had covered considerable mileage. There he was, sitting in a fast-food restaurant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, relishing each bite of his sandwich and constantly commenting to my daughter, Sheri, and me as to how good the food smelled. When we had finished eating and departed in our separate directions, I inquired of Sheri if we shouldn’t organize some kind of a welfare campaign to help feed and clothe this poor, unfortunate, struggling student.
You can imagine my surprise when she explained to me that this young man was the son of a wealthy furniture manufacturing executive in a town a few hundred miles from the university. This led me to the natural question of why he was projecting such a poverty-stricken image. Was he pretending to be someone he wasn’t? Or maybe he just couldn’t manage all those bundles of green stuff I imagined his parents were sending him each month.
After assuring me that none of my assumptions were correct, Sheri explained that Tom’s father had, at one time, been very supportive of Tom and his vocational goals, while he was attending engineering school and preparing for what his dad felt would be a responsible position in their family-owned company. But during his sophomore year, Tom decided that this line of work wasn’t for him, and he switched into the college of fine arts and became a drawing and painting major. His father, enraged by the decision, which frustrated all of his vocational plans for Tom, immediately stopped sending him financial aid and announced, “If you’re going into that, you’ll have to make it on your own.”
So Tom’s world of wardrobes, sports cars, and ample pocket change had now been replaced by worn-out jeans and a longing hunger at the local burger place. Yet he had a sense of accomplishment. He had made a decision about what he wanted to do with his life and was now following through on it.