The American Dream vs. the American Greed

Last week at church, our newly-installed vicar preached about greed vs. generosity, and he ripped a little on the American Dream, which he defined as each generation having better stuff and living more comfortably than their parents did.

I think he’s right, letting that consume you definitely leads to problems. But I was taught that the American Dream was more about opportunity than it was about materialism. And maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong.

I’m probably 10 years older than the vicar is, and I attended schools that didn’t exactly value new history books. So what I was taught probably dates back two generations, not just one.

And when I was in school, for the most part they taught us that the American Dream was about opportunity, and about parents giving their kids better opportunities than they had.

Today, I hear marketers on the radio saying, "That’s the American Dream, isn’t it? Owning a home?" Or tying the American Dream to any other materialistic thing.

Note the shift. It shifted from the kids to self.

I don’t know exactly why my direct ancestor, Adam Farquhar, came to the Americas in the 1700s (perhaps 1729). Presumably it was because he couldn’t get land in Scotland. But you see the American Dream working from generation to generation. Adam’s son Benajah owned land. Benajah’s son Edward became a doctor. At least five of Edward’s sons, including my ancestor Isaac, became doctors. Isaac’s son Ralph didn’t become a doctor, but he became a successful businessman who hobnobbed with some very powerful people. Ralph Jr. revived the family tradition of being doctors, and he was wealthy enough to give my dad every opportunity in the world.

My dad never did become as wealthy or as successful as his dad was. But by Dad’s own admission, he was a slacker. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. Look at things strictly in material terms, and Dad set the Farquhar line back a couple of generations.

But Dad gave me opportunities. Wherever we lived, he got me into a good school. When circumstances found us living in a town that didn’t have a good high school, Dad moved us out before I turned 14, so that my sister and I could go to good high schools. And Dad saw to it that we would be able to go to college.

My sons aren’t old enough to go to school yet, but they live in a good school district. And I did what I had to do in order to ensure they would have a choice between several good preschools, to get them a good foundation. I don’t know if either of them will be reading at age 3 like I was, but I’m going to make sure they have that chance.

I may have to make some personal sacrifices in order for them to have what they need. But for what Dad spent getting me a good high school education, he could have been driving Lincolns instead of those Dodge pickup trucks he drove. (And this was before pickup trucks became status symbols. Dad didn’t want his patients thinking they were paying for him to have an extravagant lifestyle.)

So I don’t have any problem brown-bagging my lunch, driving an older car, or using an older computer so my sons can go to good preschools. And given the choice between a smaller house in a great school district and a bigger house in a bad district, I’ll keep what I already have, so they can go to good schools.

What they make of it is up to them. But never let it be said that I didn’t get them the opportunity.

3 thoughts on “The American Dream vs. the American Greed

  • August 1, 2010 at 11:25 pm
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    "Sons", plural? When did Number Two Son arrive?

    And congratulations!!

  • August 4, 2010 at 7:28 pm
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    I’m probably 10 years older than the vicar is"
    I was going to ask you what model car your vicar drove until I read this. Is he old enough to have a license?
    .
    Preachers have a tendency to make people feel bad about their wealth hoping they will donate more to the Preacher.
    Preachers, like Joel Osteen, promise great riches if you will but make him rich first.
    Osteen, and many other famous Preachers, would never consider riding a donkey. Humility is not in their character.

  • October 1, 2010 at 9:36 pm
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    Catching up here. Not quite sure who wrote the two comments (I lost that in the import), but I have a pretty good idea.

    Vicar and driving: Kids born the year I graduated high school can drive and will be able to vote in the next presidential election. I’ve been blogging since I was 24, so I guess in some minds I’ll always be 24, but I’m on the wrong side of 35 now.

    Sons: Yes, plural. Our second son was born mid-summer. The second is more mellow than me, which is a good thing.

    Preachers and money: Adjusted for cost of living, almost all Lutheran pastors make less money than I make. That’s generally a good thing, and it’s one reason I’m Lutheran. Unfortunately some Lutheran churches go too far to the other extreme and pay their pastors so poorly that they could qualify for welfare, which I don’t see as a good thing. Especially considering the church makes those men go to school longer than medical doctors have to.

    Point taken about the prosperity gospel, but not all churches subscribe to it.

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