Growing up a redneck I was raised on the joys of manual labor, sweet tea, and southern cliché’s. I was born and bred on dirt roads where a good standard of living meant a roof over your head and food on the table, anything beyond that was luxury. And if someone happened to possess any unnecessary splendors there were said to be
‘ livin’ high on the hog’
Let me take a moment to educate my Yankee and Jewish readers. There are many edible parts of a pig; in fact you can eat almost the entire animal except the hoofs, ears, and tail (unless you’re in China). While there’s little you can’t consume, some parts of the swine are of better quality than others and the general rule of thumb is the farther off the ground the higher the standard and as such the more expensive the meat.
So if someone is said to be ‘livin’ high on the hog’ not only can they afford the good stuff but pretty much anything else they want. In backwoods terms having money might mean driving the newest 4×4 extended cab pick-up truck, owning the biggest John Deere tractor (air conditioned of course), or having ample free time to justify a bass boat parked behind the doublewide trailer.
When I was a kid every one of our neighbors had a crop. And by crop I don’t mean marijuana growing in the basement but tobacco, corn, or a soybean crop all of which served as a means of putting extra dollars in the coffee can. So when these men would come home from their 9-5 job at the factory, mill, or shop they’d hop on the tractor and head out to the field until dark. Saturdays were a workday just like any other and half the time Sundays meant that old-time-religion got passed up for bush-hogging a field, plowing a field or baling hay – especially if they could make a few bucks from it. I was raised to work first and play second – if there was time left.
This work philosophy more often that not played itself out with dads spending very little one-on-one time with their kids. Which was OK for them because that was momma’s job anyway; the man had one responsibility and that was keep the roof over our heads and food on the table.
I often wonder if those old boys back home ever ask themselves if all the blood sweat and tears were worth it? Do they have a sense of regret at never taking their wives on a vacation, their son on a camping trip or little girl on a daddy/daughter date? Do they look back on those years with fond memories or are they glad that’s finally over?
Was living high on the hog worth the high cost?
While that might seem a bit to ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or for the 21st century not only do many people still live this way in the country but we city folk aren’t all that different. We’ve just replaced the tractors, bush hogs, and tobacco crops with meetings, conference calls, and dinners. Instead of that Ford F350 or Mercury bass boat it’s new the 7 series BMW or lake house.
How often do we come home from the office an hour before bedtime only to grab left overs out of the frig and head to the home office working until midnight? While the only time our kids get of us is a goodnight peck on the cheek on the way up the stairs.
I have a friend who is uber-successful by most people’s standards. He is sought after in his industry and has a thriving career. The money from which keeps him in his golf-course-living, foreign-car-driving lifestyle. From the outside he’s living the American dream on steroids. His wife’s biggest daily headache is what tennis outfit to wear and whether she’ll have one or two mimosas at brunch. The nanny picks the kids up from private school early on Friday so they can beat traffic getting to their condo at the beach.
So where’s the problem with that? To keep this super charged lifestyle going my friend works, a lot. Typically he’s pulling 60-80 hour weeks. He travels for business for days on end and when he is home he’s knee deep in conference calls, business planning, or putting out fires. At 45 he looks a decade older with hair that necessitates a comb-over and a waist line that bares witness to the last time he walked in a gym, plus he takes a small pharmacy everywhere he goes.
He willingly admits he’s going to burn out and probably die young but stays drawn in by the money and lifestyle it affords. Plus it’s all he has in his life. He regrets he doesn’t have a relationship with his kids and confesses his marriage is a sham of financial convenience; living by the axiom
“it’s cheaper to keep her”
The wife medicates herself with Ambient, merlot, and retail therapy as she tries to avoid the loneliness of going to bed alone whether he’s home or not. He’s almost certain she’s having an affair but he isn’t around enough to prove it. His kids are insufferable brats who expect everything with respect for nothing and have learned to play their parents like a musical instrument.
From society’s vantage point my friend and his family have what everybody wants– but theirs live are a complete train wreck. Once you get past the prestigious address, manicured lawn, and three-car garage it’s is dysfunction and misery on a colossal scale. And he isn’t the only one. This type of problem is happening in household across the country every day.
And while it might be easy to see this as an extreme example, I’m convinced there isn’t a father today who isn’t doing the same thing at some level. Maybe it’s a possible promotion or a new jet-ski. Maybe it’s a new business that is taking up a lot of time or a high-level project at work. The question fathers continually must ask themselves isn’t “if” but “what”
am I paying to live high on the hog?