This past holiday season, a major auto manufacturer ran a television ad with a pony in it. I would like to offer a rebuttal.
The commercial featured a young girl in flashback mode imploring her future self not to forget "the best Christmas present ever," a pony named Dolly. "Remember you yelled so loud the neighbors heard you?" the girl reminded her adult self. "Ann Marie was so jealous."
Yes, Ann Marie was so jealous that she dropped her new Breyer model to the floor the instant she laid eyes on Dolly standing in her (former) BFF's living room. You know how bad girls get.
The commercial concluded with the girl's adult self declaring that her brand new car was now "the best Christmas present ever." Move over Dolly, you lost your blue ribbon.
We need to take a closer look at this. Flashback Girl was describing a singular moment, an instant of undiluted euphoria. A snapshot in time, if you will. While that snapshot gave her a lifetime of memories, there is more to this than a fantasy come true. If every picture is worth a thousand words, we should be able to deduce something about the before and the after of the Dolly Snapshot. You know, those gritty details of real life that make an island of such moments. Look out: here comes the Grinch with an ice-cold bucket
The Before is easy to figure out. As an experienced father of two horse-crazed daughters, I am absolutely convinced it was the dad, in the role of "hero," who bought Dolly for the girl. And I'm equally certain that Hero Dad bought Dolly without the mother's knowledge. And to complete the Before Picture, Hero Dad snuck Dolly into the family living room behind the mother's back.
All told, a monumental achievement. But not a smart one.
We know this about the father's role in the Before Picture because Hero Dads rarely involve themselves or even think about the details of the After Picture. And if you know anything about the equine digestive system, you already know something about the After Picture of bringing a nervous pony into the living room. No doubt the neighbors heard two screams that special morning.
The problem with reality is that it keeps coming at you day after day. Dolly will expect to be fed. And probably soon. And then soon after that. Where will all the hay, grain and supplements come from? And where will it be stored? And what, pray tell, is this family going to do with the ever-expanding manure pile?
Someone will have to turn Dolly out every day. And bring her back in at night. Once the barn gets built, that is. Someone will have to groom her, pick her hooves, and muck her stall. Someone will have to schedule vet and farrier appointments.
Who is going to do all of this? In a Just World, Hero Dad would be assigned to these tasks. In a Smart World, the girl would have to learn how to do it all. In Our World, the mom would be doing it. Until (cue Carol Channing): Well, goodbye Dolly.
Meanwhile, next door, Ann Marie goes on to complete her Breyer model collection. Her future adult self puts the whole thing on e-Bay and this nets her a cool ten grand (important note: her boring parents made Ann Marie save the original boxes). And with the money her parents saved by not buying her a pony, they were able to send her to a nice college where she majored in marketing. Today, Ann Marie's future adult self makes a six-figure income producing TV commercials for major automobile manufacturers.
On the other hand, I suppose things could have been different for Dolly and her new family. With the right attitude and preparation, the parents could have worked together to use "The Best Present Ever" as an opportunity to teach their daughter about responsibility and dedication. It would have required a lot of work and sacrifice from everyone. But in the process of caring for Dolly, the girl would develop a bond with the pony far more meaningful than that initial rush of excitement on Christmas morning. With the New Culture of Dependency about to engulf us all, it's nice to think that parents can still find ways to help their kids develop the confidence and self-reliance they will need in order to become fully functioning human beings.
Or maybe that's just my fantasy.