How to Deal with Dueling Alex P. Keatons

alex p keatonThis Dad doesn’t need a DeLorean to travel back to the Reagan era.

I just look at my two young sons and see “Family Ties” playing out before my eyes. For those of you who didn’t watch that NBC comedy, it starred Michael J. Fox as the bright, entrepreneurial Alex P. Keaton. Alex’s lust for capitalism had few rivals. He worshiped President Ronald Reagan and supply-side economics, not hippies (like his parents in their younger days).

He longed to be part of the 1 percent before the term came into vogue. Reagan even said “Family Ties” was his favorite television show at one point. Hard to blame him.

Which brings us to Eli and Ben. The brothers live for money, toys and any combination of the two. When they get a new toy after saving up their chore money and good behavior incentives, they immediately want something newer. It’s instantaneous and sad all at once.

Toys and cash. Cash and toys.

There’s a part of me that can’t help but approve. Alex P. Keaton’s conservatism was a laugh getter on the series, which often sided with his bleeding-heart parents. As a conservative father I enjoy seeing my sons taking part in our economic system while understanding how to earn money through hard work.

I still hate how quickly they need a new toy fix. So what’s a Dad to do?

  • Put a Brake on Spending: Now, I’m not a fan of artificial market constraints, but I’ll make an exception for my young children. I recently told Eli he can’t get a remote control boat even though he’s saved up enough money to buy it for himself. It’s time to appreciate his current toy – a remote control helicopter – first.
  • Caveat Emptor: Eli is obsessed with the aforementioned helicopter. Only his current model isn’t his first purchase. It’s roughly his third remote control device. The first broke in under 2 minutes. The second lasted nearly a day. The third managed to stay intact for about a week. Each time we discussed the nature of the toy (gently stamp them “fragile”) and let them know he was making a risky purchase. Then we allowed him to decide what he wanted to do. Now, even though his current copter could break as I’m typing this, he’s treating it with care and respect. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
  • Talk About the Have Nots: It’s our version of, “eat your spinach… there are starving children in [Fill in the Blank].” Parents have always struggled to give their kids some perspective as they push away their plates or otherwise show their spoiled side. With our sons, it means reminding them they have access to things many other children lack, and they better stop and think about that for a moment. Do these lessons sink in? Maybe not. It’s important to share them all the same. After a while, they’ll get the message on one level or another.

If those all fail, I might start streaming “Family Ties” episodes for them to see. If they’re going to emulate Alex P. Keaton, they might as well dress the part.


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