A Big 'Butter and Egg' Man

Article excerpt

One of my favorite movies - by that I mean that I've seen it many times and don't mind the thought of seeing it again - is Woody Allen's Radio Days. And one of my favorite running gags in that movie involves Joey, the Woody Allen figure who tells the story from his perspective as a young boy.

It seems that Joey's father has always seen himself as a natural businessman and so continues to embark on a series of entrepreneurial misadventures, none of which ever pans out. Joey continually tries to trick his father into revealing the real source of the family's income. "Your father works hard," his mother tells him. But to Joey's repeated queries about what his father actually does, she replies cryptically, "Your father's a big |butter and egg' man." All of which leaves Joey frustrated and unenlightened about his father's role in the adult world.

I was reminded of Joey recently when I read the comments of Christopher Lasch in the December 7 issue of the New Republic. Lasch was reviewing Meeting at the Crossroads, by Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan. As the father of two preteen daughters, I had eagerly read this book, which details the authors' continuing study of the psychological and social development of girls from childhood through adolescence. In the following sentences from Lasch's review, I could hear echoes of Joey's complaint.

"In most societies known to historians or to anthropologists, the young get an education by working alongside adults. The requirement that adolescents spend most of their time in school is a fairly recent innovation, closely linked to the rise of modern nation states," Lasch wrote. This separation of the young from the adult world, though necessary to a degree in industrial societies, does handicap our children to some extent. …