Sunday, January 15, 2017

Taking Responsibility

I often hear it said that the members of today's generation — known informally as Millennials — are a generation of narcissists. It is equally fashionable to attribute that to poor parenting.

That isn't true in every case, of course. Not all of the Millennials are self–absorbed, and not all of their parents failed in their duty to raise responsible members of society. But it is true in many cases. Those parents would have done well to study the episodes of the Andy Griffith Show whenever issues came up.

I have long thought that Andy Griffith was TV's best father. The episodes of the Andy Griffith Show that focused on the challenges he faced as a single parent were some of the best ever made — and should be required viewing for every parent with or without a partner.

Andy was a smart man, and his wisdom benefited older folks as well as his boy Opie (Ron Howard).

For example — the episode that first aired on this night in 1962, "Bailey's Bad Boy," guest–starring Bill Bixby, who went on to starring roles in My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie's Father and The Incredible Hulk.

Bixby was 27 when he made this episode, playing the spoiled 19–year–old son of an apparently wealthy man. Bixby's character sideswiped a farmer and got hauled in to the Mayberry jail by Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney (Don Knotts).

The young man was a snob who looked down upon country folks like the ones in Mayberry — he saw them as rubes and hayseeds — and his time there was loaded with all kinds of encounters with small–town types, like the time that town drunk Otis (Hal Smith) came in and started raising hell because Bixby was in his cell.

Otis wouldn't be a politically correct character now, but he was always good for some comic relief back in the day — and that is essentially what Otis provided in this episode, diverting attention — but only momentarily — from the serious issue at hand.

If the term affluenza had been in vogue in 1962, Bixby's character could have been its poster child. He clearly had been deprived of parental involvement in his childhood — and he was just as clearly influenced by what he observed in Andy and Opie's relationship.

It wasn't so much the things Andy said as it was the things he did to keep Opie going in the right direction that impressed Bixby. When Opie confessed that he had broken a window, Andy told him he wouldn't receive an allowance until the window had been replaced. (That struck a chord for me because I, too, broke a window when I was a child, and my father didn't give me my allowance until it had been replaced.)

"Why don't you bail the little fellow out?" Bixby asked Andy, observing that it was "just a window."

Andy replied that if he did that, Opie would come to him every time he had a problem, expecting Andy to fix it for him. He wanted Opie to be a responsible adult, to "stand on his own two legs." (Maybe that is what my father wanted as well.)

The wealthy and privileged have their own ways of doing things — and that frequently involves the use of their fortunes as substitutes for direct personal involvement. And so it was that before long Bixby's father sent his attorney to Mayberry to "bail out" Bixby. But Andy wouldn't release him. He said he would hold Bixby until the judge could be there for the trial.

So the attorney tried a different technique, bringing in the farmer who had been involved in the original offense. He had been bribed to change his story and say the accident had been his fault.

That was enough for Andy. He gave in and was about to release Bixby.

But Bixby objected. That wasn't what happened, he said. The exasperated attorney said he didn't know what he would tell Bixby's father.

Andy, who had figured out everything, answered for Bixby. "Why don't you tell Mr. Bailey the boy busted a winder," Andy said in his slow Southern drawl, "and wants to stand on his own two legs?"

It wasn't the best episode of the Andy Griffith Show, but it was a pretty good example of the positive influence Andy could be. Television — and young people — could use more examples like that today.