Birthright

“Joel, I can’t stress this enough, you need to reconsider this decision before it’s too late.” Richard Collins said.

“Dad, it’s what I want to do. It’s not like I just woke up this morning and suddenly decided to change everything. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and nothing else makes sense to me. It’s the life I want, it’s who I truly want to be.” Joel said.

“To be a cook, you’re giving up on college to become a cook? What kind of life is that Joel? It’s certainly not the kind of life that a Collins is destined for. Jesus Christ, your great grandfather was on the Supreme Court! Your grandfather was on the Supreme Court of the State of New York. And, although I chose a slightly different path, I still went to the same law school they did. I doubt I’d be where I am today with Goldman, if I hadn’t chosen to follow in their footsteps.”

“I get all that Dad, but it’s just not what interests me. I have no desire to be a lawyer, or a judge, or a politician like Uncle Robert. Going to a top notch culinary school isn’t like I’m some kind of university dropout who’s heading off to vocational school. I’ve been to three interviews, and a pretty tough skills evaluation – all of which I passed with flying colors. That means they see something in me that they want to have at their school.” Joel said.

“Sure they do Joel, they see the Collins name and know there’s a cash-cow to milk. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound as harsh as it did, I know you have a lot of terrific qualities son, and maybe that’s why this is such a difficult discussion for me. I don’t want to see you waste those talents making dinner for a room full of strangers.” Richard said, calming his tone.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not a money thing Dad, they’ve got dozens of students who come from wealthy families. The people I’ve already met there seem to have a lot of integrity, and I doubt they would be just winking me in because they’re after another tuition.”

“I’m trying to think of a way to put this that you understand; that you’ll possibly see from my point of view. You’re in a very privileged group of people Joel, and I don’t just mean our family or friends. I mean you’re in the upper half of a percent of American wealthy families. We’re the people who helped build this country into what it is today. As I was getting to earlier, we’re the lawyers, the judges, and the lawmakers that help keep America in good shape. In a way, we’re the backbone of the American system, whether it’s in business, politics or finance. We set the course, we influence the political system, and we discourage the usurpers who want to change that.

Life in this country is pretty damn good Joel, and that didn’t happen by accident. It takes committed men and woman who know what parts they need to play. You’re part of a very special group of people, but it’s also a group who has a set of responsibilities laid out before them Joel. I’m not saying that you’re predestined to one single occupation, you still have plenty of great choices son. They’re simply choices that better fit our station and responsibility. They’re the kinds of professions that contribute to the betterment of this country of ours.”

“Wow, that’s pretty dramatic Dad. Are you about to tell me about the secret society I’m going to be inducted into? Do I get to learn the special handshake so I can gain entry into their lair? I’m sorry Dad, I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but I really doubt that one Collins son heading off to culinary school, instead of an Ivy League law school, isn’t going to radically shift the course of the country. Look, you and Mom have always told me that I should make the choices that make me happy. I’m just following that advice now, so it’s not some rebellion or acting out, it’s me doing what I truly want to.” Joel said.

“Back when your mother and I said that, we were talking about what little league sport you wanted to join, not your life’s work. Joel, you are destined to be an influencer of other men, the kind of man who others look to for their own direction. I’m not disparaging the culinary profession Joel, but it certainly isn’t what we tried to set you up for. You went to the best schools, you had the best mentors and guidance we could get for you, and that wasn’t so you could become a chef. It was because your mother and I both believed that someday you’d become the kind of man that we both knew you could be.” His father told him.

“Wow, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? I mean, I get that it’s not what you and Mom pictured for me, but it’s exactly what I want to do. I’ll just be right up front about it, I have zero desire to be a lawyer, zero desire to be a judge or politician. Let the people who want to be those things pursue those paths, but don’t expect me to. I’m not going to spend the next four years of my life trying to be something that I already know I will hate. What kind of life is that?” Joel said.

“Now who’s being dramatic? You already know you’ll hate it, huh? Where are you hiding that crystal ball, in your back pocket? You can see into the future so well, but yet you can’t see the writing on the wall right in front of you. The gloves come off now Joel, I thought I could encourage you to reconsider, but I see that’s a lost cause now. So, I’ll get to the bottom line then, law school will be fully financed with a stipend to boot – anything else will have to be done on your own. I’m truly sorry that it has to be this way son, but take some small solace in that you’re not the first one to face this choice. My own father had to do the same thing with me, back when I couldn’t find my own ass with both hands. I chose the right path, in hindsight, I really did. I still think you have a good shot at doing the same thing, but you need to stop getting in your own way. Those high ideals about ‘doing what you feel is your true calling’ are just misleading you son. Sometime in this life we all have to do things that, at first, aren’t what we want to do. It’s that illusion of free choice, versus predestination that fools us. We all have parts to play, and this is yours, Joel – if you take it. If you don’t, well… I don’t want to have to imagine that.”

“Are you freaking serious right now? You’re just going to cut me off for having the audacity to pursue my own dreams? For not towing the family-line? And, Mom, she’s cool with this too? Wow, this really blows apart so much of what I was sure you guys had taught me while I was growing up. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to be in the ruling class Dad. I don’t want to be ‘special’ or a person others look to for guidance. Not unless it’s in a Michelin Star kitchen! If I have to work a job all day long, I’ll still take my classes at night. Sorry, but your threatening to cut me off isn’t going to stop me from doing what I know is right for me.” Joel said defiantly.

“I’m really sorry it’s come to this Joel, I truly am. I can only hope that someday you will reconsider this conversation, and realize that it wasn’t some evil plot to force you into a life you’d be unhappy in. We don’t always get our way son, and that’s okay – we adjust to what life brings us. I hope you’ll see that one day.”

“Whatever you want to think Dad, it’s cool. Although, I am really curious what it was that you gave up on to ‘do the right thing’ like your dad wanted. What did you want to do with your life, before grandpop talked you out of it? What was it?” Joel asked.

“Not that it changes anything now, but I wanted to go into the sciences, physics specifically. I was fascinated by Einstein’s theories, and Planck’s writings, and I also had a head for numbers. I’m only telling you this because I want to add that I don’t regret my choices Joel, not one bit. The world is full of great physicists, but it’s not many that get the opportunities that I’ve had since those days.” Richard said.

“Really? You really believe that investing other people’s money in the stock market has been more satisfying than possibly discovering something in physics? I just can’t see the comparison Dad, I really can’t.”

“I know you think I just massage people’s money to create more wealth for them, but it’s so much more than that Joel. We make decisions almost weekly that affect different events all over the globe. Choosing to fund, or not to fund, the different projects, governments, or individuals we deal with, changes the global landscape and balances of power. Goddamnit Joel, we’ve stopped coups, funded rebellions, and made or broke world leaders during my time at Goldman. You have no idea what we’re capable of influencing, or directly affecting. It’s not all pretty, but it’s part of what we see as our responsibility to maintaining this way of life we all enjoy. The American dream is a reality because of a system that was put in place over two hundred years ago, and it’s up to real people to keep that dream alive and well.”

“So there it is, finally laid out in its full glory. Keeping the American Dream alive! That’s a pretty lofty purpose Dad, I wish you all the best with it. Me, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. I guess it’s a surprise to you that I don’t actually want to keep everything just as it is. There’s so many underprivileged people in this country, marginalized and cast aside to suffer their fates, as you see them anyway. I don’t want any part of that unless it’s about helping them all get more of what they deserve. Because, I don’t think those people really are predestined to a life of poverty Dad, I think they’re in the situations they’re in because of people like you. To you, the status quo means the rich staying rich, and the poor staying poor. Let the middle class do all the work, and sprinkle them with a few toys to make them feel good, and all is well. Isn’t that the idea Dad? And when anyone, like some ambitious politician, puts his hand into the pockets of the rich, you cut that fucker off, right? No one takes from this ‘upper half of one percent’ if you can help it, I’m positive that’s a fact.

But, before you shit yourself and call me a communist, let me say one more thing; I’m not some naïve social justice warrior Dad, and I’m not a closet Socialist either. I’m just a guy who thinks that the deck has been stacked against the little-guy for far too long. All those other ‘privileged families’ you were talking about… they should take a look back at history, and learn from it. When the rich deprive everyone else for too long, bad things happen to them. Reference the French revolution if you don’t believe me. When the scales tip way too far in your direction, and for too long, people will do something to regain some balance. I know where I want to be, when and if that happens, and it’s not holed-up in my mansion on the hill somewhere.” Joel said.

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