Fifteen minutes into the conversation, my father asked me, “So what do you want to major in?” It was something I’d consistently avoided thinking about, toying with the idea of being a history or politics major, but ultimately not being able to reach a decision. Before the words “I’m not sure” could even leave my lips, he started listing majors that he forbade me to pursue. History, psychology and philosophy were all subjects I just could not study. “If you major in those, you won’t get a job, and you’ll never be independent”.
In that moment I felt somehow wronged, only to feel supremely guilty not five minutes later. My dad was paying my full tuition, and because he worked 9 to 5 for 20 years, I was able to attend this school. I owed my father an incalculable debt; surely I could sacrifice a few choices when he had sacrificed years. Yet it still felt unfair. If I slowly discovered that I passionately loved the social sciences, why shouldn’t I pursue them?
Maybe it came later for me than for most people, but I suddenly felt the contradiction in pleasing both my parents and myself. Growing up, my father barely had enough to eat and had to work every day in the summer in order to earn money for college. While at college, he gave up his interest in political theory in favor of mathematics because that would help him support his future family. My father wants a safe future for me with enough food to eat and a cozy house to live in. He wants me to have an easier life than he did.
In general, I feel like parents want security for their children because it brings them peace of mind. But children have to make decisions for their future and live with them long after their beloved parents have passed on. While I’m grateful for all that they’ve done for me, it seems unreasonable to live my life solely according to what they think is best. It is, after all, my life and the fact is that my circumstances truly are different from theirs.
Even if I were to study something practical like biology, then go on to medical school, and become a successful doctor at age 26, would that really make me any happier? Biology and medical school are notoriously difficult, and they would be doubly challenging because I have no real interest in the field. Would it not be better to do something I actually like and then live with the consequences? Ultimately I have to live with my decisions. I could make a horrendous mistake and regret it for the rest of my life, but it would still be my mistake to regret. If I were to go along with their advice and become a doctor only to fail later on, would it not be double the mistake on both their part and my part?
Perhaps I simply don’t have the threat of starvation looming over my head. It doesn’t feel like a mistake in what to study will lead me to live in a cardboard box on the street. Maybe that’s overconfident of me, but I feel like most Whitman students feel the same. Its ironic to me how the only reason I have the luxury of choosing to study something I like is because of my father giving up that exact thing. It’s something that I’ve been unable to reconcile within myself. Call me selfish, but I don’t want to wake up old and wrinkly having realized that I never truly lived.