The "help wanted" pages are filled with job descriptions that defy comprehension. This probably explains why so many parents can't quite figure out what it is their children do for a living. And it can lead to parental queries like this one from my mother-in-law to my husband Mark:
"Tell me exactly what your job is. Go slowly. I have to write it down."
Mark hadn't switched employers or secured a promotion; he's been doing essentially the same work for ten years. So why the sudden curiosity? Because his parents recently attended a wedding packed with inquisitive relatives. Relatives who appeared to be more interested in Mark's career than they were in the bride and groom.
"Jeff/Harry/Beth is doing great. He/she's a CPA/GYN/PHD," they reportedly said. "So how's Mark? What did you say he does?"
"Something with computers," my mother-in-law answered at first. "And banking, I think."
"That's sounds nice," they responded, "but what exactly does he do?"
"Well I'm not sure, but I know it's very important. So doesn't Sheila make a lovely bride?"
"How could you not know what your own son does for a living?" they prodded, refusing to be distracted by something as inconsequential as the bride's appearance. "What is he -- some kind of spy?"
"Everyone thinks you're with the CIA," Mark's mother complained the moment she came home. "They kept me so busy with their questions, I almost missed dessert. The only way I got to the ruggelah, was to promise to write and explain precisely what you do. So what do you do?"
For the next hour I listened as Mark tried to describe his job, and his mother grew more and more confused. Do other people have this problem, I wondered. So I decided to ask some friends.
"I just tell my folks I work with numbers," an econometrics expert told me. "It doesn't really satisfy them, but it's the best I can do."
"All my parents know is I work with lab rats," said a scientist friend whose job I can't begin to describe.
"I do junk bond work," replied a securities attorney. "How would you like to explain that to your parents?"
The solution to this job generation gap came to me as I listened to the tenth description of an indescribable job. From now on, at least once a year, we should take our parents to work with us. After all, there's already an annual Take Our Daughters To Work Day and a strong move afoot to include sons. But, shockingly, nobody has protested the exclusion of parents. Such blatant discrimination goes to the very essence of parenting -- parents' inalienable right to brag about their kids.
Imagine the educational benefit of parents sitting with their children at the conference table/laboratory/computer room. Witnessing their daughters' demos and their sons' presentations. Watching their offspring interact with bosses, clients, co-workers (both enemies and friends). Gazing as their progeny dodge phone calls, pound keyboards, glare at computer screens, and curse the invention of the fax machine.
There are risks, of course. Dad may cross-examine the boss about health insurance and the company's retirement plan. Mom may whip out a tape measure and compare office footage on her hands and knees. Both will conclude you're smarter than your boss and make sure to let him know it. And you can be sure that one of them will demand to know when you're getting a promotion.
But despite the risks, we owe it to our parents to expose them to our work environments. Besides, a discreetly whispered warning is usually all it takes to get parents to behave. The warning? "If you get me fired, I'll move back home."
Mark is very excited by my idea and plans to try it at his firm next month. What does Mark do? Something with computers. And banking, I think.