One of the stranger gifts God has given me is the ability to interpret dress patterns. In view of the fact that most pattern instructions are written in an obscure Polynesian dialect of pidgen English, that’s no mean gift.

The last time I was called on to display this talent was when my 12-year-old daughter decided she could no longer put off her home ec project, much as she hated the course. The assignment was to make a dress from a pattern of her choice.

At her request I had explained some of the intricacies of the diagram to her, and she was at the sewing machine working against the clock with mounting frustration. Suddenly she threw the dress down and exclaimed, “I don’t see why I have to take a dumb course like this anyhow!”

“Why did you?” I asked in typical fatherly ignorance.

“Daddy,” she replied in the patronizing tone she reserves for very small children and me, “it’s required.”

“Oh.” I responded brilliantly.

“But it’s dumb,” she continued. “Why do I need to spend all this time learning how to make a dress when I’ll probably never do it again? When I become a psychiatrist all my clothes will be tailor made!”

Frankly, I thought she had a point, and a glance at the partly finished dress confirmed it. But since we parents and teachers have to stick together in self-defense, I told her she’d better get back to work and stop complaining.

Then in my best counseling manner I went on to point out that even psychiatrists have to do things in their training that are not particularly fun but are necessary to reach their goal.

Although she wasn’t completely convinced, my speech helped a little, since this image of herself as a psychiatrist conditions all her activities. A home ec course has no meaning because ...

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