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John Ratzenberger was one of the first people I met on my first day in show business. For those of you under, say, 40, he played Cliff Clavin, the talkative fantasist letter carrier on Cheers, which was my first job as a professional writer. (For those of you who would like to contribute to the Rob Long Residual Fund, feel free to buy the entire series here.) He was a lovely and smart guy back then. He still is. Here is his latest column for Time, in which he expounds on a subject he’s deeply passionate about:
The whole process of knowing how to make things, fix things and build things, fascinated me to the point that, by the time I was 14 years old, I had decided that I wanted to learn how to build a house and everything in it. In fact, I built the first couch I ever owned for my first real apartment. It may not have won any beauty contests, but it sure was comfortable. I ultimately saw my childhood goal of building a house come to fruition, many times over, while working as a house-framer before I landed the role of “Cliff” on Cheers.
Read the whole thing, but here’s the kicker:
We take for granted that this great symphony of things we use every day will continue to exist. Why else would many school systems nationwide cancel the very shop and home economic courses that gave us the generation we crown as “the greatest”? For close to 30 years now we have been graduating students who go on to college without knowing how to read a ruler, use a screw driver or change a tire. We’ve raised an entire generation of narcissists with low self-esteem, posting countless “selfies” in a constant pursuit of validation.
You want children to experience self-esteem? Teach them the rudiments of creating something from scratch. Let them experience the pride they’ll have in knowing they made something real—not a code on a computer, but something they can hold in their hands and use. Develop their innate common sense by thinking through the obstacles intrinsic in building something. As we push our children to become better “thinkers,” don’t ignore the side of their brain that longs to “tinker.” It’s going to take some discipline and interest on your part. So put down your iPhone, turn off the TV and pick up a tool kit. Make something! You owe it your kid—and to yourself.