The boy, the money and the fireplace
When I was a kid, my grandma was my main storyteller. Every night before tucking me into bed, I’d get a fantastic tale, usually from the Puranas, but often times just some folk tales or stories her elders told her.
One particular story has always stuck with me and goes something like this. (Keep in mind this was originally told to me in the context of 1960s-ish India, so the context-translation attempt might be a bit off)
Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived with his parents in their house. Now, this boy’s family was quite well off, and the boy himself was reasonably spoiled. Whatever he wanted, he’d get. His mom in particular was lenient on him, letting him have what he wanted whenever he wanted. Money, games, anything. The boy’s dad on the other hand, was a very hardworking man. He was often away for work, and when he did come home, he’d be strict and wouldn’t take any bullshit. He’d be hard on his son to study, learn and grow as a person. And that meant the boy favored his easygoing mom.
One day when the boy’s dad came home to find the boy mindlessly playing video games, he got very upset. The boy’s dad yelled at the boy about wasting his time and for not doing anything productive. He got mad about the boy’s spoiled state, and about how much the boy took his privileged life for granted.
Such was the dad’s anger, that as a punishment, he told the boy that he wouldn’t let him have dinner from now on until he showed him money that he earned at the end of each day to pay for his lifestyle.
The boy thought, “Fine. screw you. I’ll make money and get my stuff together. You just wait and see.”
The next day, the boy woke up thinking of ways to make money. After a few hours of procrastinating, he gave up and went to his mom. Mom, being the lenient one, gave him some money to show his father at the end of the day. After all, she couldn’t bear the thought of her son going hungry at night. In the evening, when the dad came home from work, he asked the boy how much he’d made. The boy showed his dad the money. The dad, unconvinced of any kind of honest work by the boy, threw the money in the fireplace. And the boy casually sat down for dinner, having produced money from his pocket.
This went on for a few days — every evening, the boy’s dad would ask his son to show him money. The boy would pull out a wad of cash, given to him by his mother. And the dad would throw the money in the fire, with neither the boy nor the mother saying anything. But even the mother grew tired of her complicity in the boy’s dishonesty. A few days later, she told the boy she would stop giving him money.
The boy thought, ”Fine. screw you. I’ll make money and get my stuff together. You just wait and see.”
And the next day, he woke up thinking of ways to make money. But this time it was different. He had no one to turn to, no one to give him cash, no one with an easy way out. He had to put his ideas to the test. So he tried going down to the city and working as a paper-delivery boy. But the first hour itself, he’d fallen off his bike and gotten all the papers wet. Needless to say, he was fired. He went around town trying to get work at a few different places, but nowhere would hire him.
Finally, with evening approaching, the boy, by now tired and sad, went to their town’s train station. There, he saw other young guys carrying bags for people and being paid. Seeing this as a chance to make his cash for the day, he took to doing the same. And he made money, albeit far less than what his mother had been giving him the past week.
Tired and wiped out, the boy came back home, looking visibly exhausted. Hungry, he sat down to his family’s dinner table. At that point, his dad, as usual, asked to see his earnings for the day. The boy pulled out the noticeably smaller wad of cash and handed it to his dad. The dad voiced his displeasure at the smaller amount of money, and motioned to throw the money in the fireplace (as he’d been doing nightly). At that point, the boy, alarmed that his dad would throw out the money to burn, lunged forward and snatched the money from his dad’s hands.
Upset, the boy yelled, “How could you throw that money away! I spent hours working hard at the train station for that money!”
The dad, now with a pleased look on his face, said to his son, “Aha! So now you know what it feels like to do a hard day’s work. The way you just got upset? That’s exactly how I’d feel when I’d see you wasting time and not doing anything with your life. Seeing you, my son, idle, is the same to me as throwing away anything I’ve earned to give you a good life.”
Having realized the err of his ways, the boy emotionally said sorry to his dad and the family lived happily ever after.
This story is one that, regardless of time, context and other specifics, has takeaways that are good to remind ourselves of often.