Thursday, January 20, 2005

How to be a Hero to your Kids

Simple: Money.

Well, not exactly.

It's not like buying them off in the sense of handing them wads of cash that will soon result in flash-burn scorch marks on the seat of their pants. Instead, it's what you do with money.

For example: my son recently bought a computer game. Personally, I hate games that only run on PC's. For one thing, Playstation graphics and sound do any game better than any computer. They're designed for that sort of thing.

For another, if you do give in to temptation and buy a game for a PC, it's going to require lots of hardware that you don't have. I know that there are PC-game fanatics with boxes that sport zeon processors and gig's of memory/hard-drive space, but, for most people, the computer in the dining room is a cut-rate box bought on sale from Dell or Gateway. It's a perfect powerhouse for reading email, balancing your checkbook, or cranking out the occasional term paper. But try to run any kind of role-playing game and it'll grind to a halt and the graphics will sputter and hiccup like a George Melies' silent movie.

I know. I've recently been there.

Now, I freely admit to spoiling my kids out of a misplaced sense of guilt over having much, much more than my parents ever did. I also try to over-compensate for the long work hours that take me away from my family, but allow me to spoil my kids. It's a viscous cycle.

Having said that, I was impressed with the single-minded determination with which Jeff pursued this game.

For one thing, he saved his money. My kids don't get an allowance (I figure three hots and a cot are a pretty good deal all on their own) but they do get money from grandparents even more indulgent than I am and, occasionally, they clean me out by making me "assume the position" and pat me down for any loose bills or change I carelessly leave in my pockets. I also hand them way too much lunch money and they've learned that they can buy a coke and a bag of chips for a little more than a dollar and pocket the difference. So, he saved his money.

Secondly, he actively, aggressively, looked for odd-jobs and chores he could do around the house (and for the aforementioned grandpere's) for a couple of bucks. So he picked tangerines, trimmed roses, washed cars, and even went to work with me to help me move computers and rearrange office furniture. It sounds like minor tasks, but they were jobs I couldn't get my better paid peers to help me with. And he did them with enthusiasm. We had a good time!

All that said, he saved up the requisite price of the game and we installed it on his computer. Predictably, it ran like a dog (when it ran at all) and after doing everything I could think of to speed the computer up (and I've been in this game for almost 20 years) we finally decided to look at the box the game came in. There we discovered that this game needed double the RAM we had and an "Advanced Graphics Accelerator Card." All told, about $150 of hardware we didn't have. But I knew where to get it.

A quick visit to, a couple minutes of browsing, and the parts were on their way. When they finally showed up, we took the PC apart together. I walked him through the SIMM and AGP card install, installed the drivers and then manually walked through a system upgrade. When it was all done, the game ran great. Jeff was so excited that he grabbed me and gave me a hug.

That's quite a "thank-you" from a teenage male.

So, remember, when you want to look like a hero in front of your kids - consider money.

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