BH Interview: Ken Wahl on How Actors Learn to Take Government Handouts

Note: With the recent spate of shootings with young people, it is timely that Ken Wahl and I happened to be talking about youth, self-respect and parental discipline. These conversations were conducted a week prior to the Connecticut school shooting.

Gary Graham: Years ago I had two step-kids. And when I came into their lives they were 6 and 8. They needed discipline … they needed parameters.

Ken Wahl: You don’t have to be afraid of the ‘D’ word, Discipline’s okay …

Graham: Right – but I decided to take it a little further. Beyond setting rules and showing them sports and how to throw a good spiral pass … when they asked for money, I’d say, Well here’s what it is – welcome to the Bank of Gary. I’m gonna advance you each a small line of credit. I’m going to loan you that $5 you’re asking for, and you’re going to pay it back with 10 percent interest. And I’m going to give you three months to pay it back. Now, if you do it, you will establish a credit rating with me. Pay it off, take a few weeks or a month to do it, give me a quarter a week, fifty cents a week… take three months to pay it back. Pay it back over time.

Wahl: That’s interesting.

Graham: And if you’ve got good credit, then next time you can borrow more, as long as you pay it back. Very rudimentary ideas of finance … and I was basically doing it as a lark. But I figured, if I’m going to do this as a lark, it may as well be a logical lark.

Wahl: Yeah, that’s pretty good!

Graham: So I’d forgotten about it, right – what I’d done with them all those years ago. Then I get together with them … and they have houses they own, new trucks, families of their own … one of them runs post-production at Universal Studios and the other is a highly placed manager at FOX SPORTS ... good jobs, and a good financial base … and I think, wait – weren’t these just crazy kids, getting trouble all the time a few years back?

(Wahl laughs)

Graham: And I ask them, Hey guys where did you learn to do all this … and they said, Dad it was from you! You taught us all that! Bank of Gary … five dollar loans ... I said, But you were little kids! But they remembered … Raising adults …

Wahl: That’s right. With my kids I had a little different tact. I gave [my kids] an allowance, but it was performance-based. They had no set allowance. It was, You do the chores you’re supposed to do, and if you do them very well you might get a little bit of a bonus. So my thing was, reward them for good behavior and punish them for bad behavior. So those were the parameters there. If they made their bed and they cleaned their closet and the room was nice and straight, you get eight dollars this week … and if it wasn’t very good, you’re only gonna get two, cuz you didn’t take out the garbage on Wednesday like you were supposed to. It was all based on performance.

Graham: The gratuity.

Wahl: Right.

Graham: Tip your kids! (they laugh) A related story – a while back I was recently in a café. The waitress was neglectful, you had to flag her down, then she’d forget about you … and I left a very small tip. An insult really, but … it reflected the service. I sent in the other day … and she was on her game, she was very attentive, gave excellent service. And I tipped her triple what I was going to leave. Performance-related.

Wahl: There you go, she remembered you because you tipped her poorly, but it was due to her own performance.

Graham: It should never be a "given."

Wahl: It’s not to be taken for granted.

Graham: If it’s a "given" then it’s welfare.

Wahl: This is the philosophy of the liberals – getting something for nothing.

Graham: Are people deserving of an income just because they draw breath?

Wahl: Just because they exist. It’s preposterous. And furthermore … Why would you even want that anyway? I mean, Where’s the personal pride? Not only should you not get it, but you shouldn’t even want it. Now of course, if you’re disabled that’s another thing. I’m on disability now. But I paid into it my whole life. And I hated getting it – I waited seven years before I got it because it disgusted me so much. I didn’t want it. After I got hurt, I went back to work twice, and both times it put me back in the hospital. So then I knew I had to hang it up – and I finally did, after seven years, I applied and got the disability. The disability that I get, which I’m grateful for the rest of America helping me get – but it’s such a small percentage compared to what I was able to make when I was working, so, not just on a moral level but also on a financial level – I didn’t want it.

Graham: I hear you.

Wahl: I remember when I first started and I did my first job, and everybody told me the day that it was over, Go down to the unemployment office tomorrow, you get unemployment [payments].

Graham: Oh yeah.

Wahl: And I said, No I refuse to do that, I don’t want to get unemployment. It just doesn’t feel right.

Graham: Doesn’t feel right. I’m not working now, I’m not earning.

Wahl: It’s the time, you know, when you’re between jobs. That was the advice I was given after my very first job. They said, As soon as they yell “Wrap” and you’re done, go down to the Unemployment Office the next day, and get unemployment [payments] until you get your next job. And … it just didn’t sit right with me. And I never did, I never once collected unemployment. Don’t get me wrong … I’ve learned, I’ve got to be really careful here with the things I say about this … I don’t have anything against people that do do that, and you do pay into it, it’s ‘unemployment insurance’ … so by all mean. I’m just saying personally, it was a thing about myself. I know my Dad wouldn’t have been proud of me if I’d taken unemployment.

Graham: I had a friend in high school, it was the first year of college … and he came from an upper-middle-class family, he drove a Porsche … and he had a job that he got laid off from … and he said he standing in the unemployment line, waiting to file … and he looked out at his Porsche parked on the street … and I thought “What the hell am I doing?” … and I turned around and left.

Wahl: Yeah, good. But let me qualify – I was a teenager, I didn’t have any responsibilities. But had I been in the situation where I had kids and I had to put food on the table, I would have taken it. But in my situation, I figured I’d leave that in the pot for somebody who needs it more than I do.

Graham: You raise a good point about "pride" … about the general lexicon of our times. It seems that in this era, as opposed to our parents’ era, that words like "pride" are less important. And with the diminishment of pride also goes the diminishment of "shame." People don’t feel shame anymore for shameful actions.

Wahl: No, they don’t. Shame is a wonderful "self-regulator" on your actions.

Graham: A self-regulator, a governor on your actions. And people have sort of lost that in an "anything goes" attitude.

Wahl: In my case, I think my parents got it spot on. Just the right amount. I was close, I loved my parents, but as I said before, when I got out of line, I was appropriately frightened to death. (laughs) When I needed it. But that was very rare. But you knew, as you say – the parameters. You can go up to this line, but don’t cross it. And that has been completely wiped out. Now things are so complicated – now, you look at a kid cross-eyed, you get arrested for child abuse. All the kids that I knew – if you were in a grocery store and you got out of line, your mom would give you a whack across the back of your head. In the grocery store. Now, you cannot do that – if you touch a kid … 

Graham: The kid will be taken away from you. For disciplining your own kid! And you may do jail time.

Wahl: Yes. In public, if you do that. Somebody will call the cops, and child protective services … and yes, you could possibly face jail time and have your kid taken away from you.

Graham: And even if you don’t, just the general attitude … you are looked upon and reviled as some kind of cretin. I remember growing up in school, and we were kids and loved to screw around and cut up, disrupt the class … and when you’d get out of control, the teacher would give you The Look. And sometimes they’d go get The Paddle. You know the ones with the holes drilled into it?

Wahl: Yeah, the drill the holes to cut down on the wind resistance, so they can really give you a good whack.

Graham: Send you to the rear of the classroom ....

Wahl: They’d make this thing real aerodynamic so we can really wind up and let ‘em have it.

Graham: I had one of those. One. And that’s all it took, I never needed another one.

Wahl: Can you imagine [a teacher] doing that now?

Graham: They’d handcuff you, perp-walk you down the front of the school, put you in the squad car.

Wahl: Yeah. That’s why I say … the kids did not spoil themselves. It’s not their fault they’re as spoiled and undisciplined as they are. And it’s getting worse as time goes on. And you catch yourself, you say, oh that’s sounds so fuddy-duddy, I sound like my old man … But it’s just a fact. And we can see this … with kids bringing guns to school, knives to school … they’ve got metal detectors in schools now. That’s proof that’s it’s gotten worse. Because there have always been fights in schools, fist fights and things like that. And kids will always be rowdy. As long as there are kids, there will always be rowdiness. But to what point? We’re getting to the point now where they’re not just being rowdy and being an idiot and getting into fist fights … they’re becoming murderers.

Graham: What is it, is it violent video games, is it bad parenting, is it lack of discipline?

Wahl: I think it started before video games got popular. I really think it’s the Liberal mores that have crept in slowly as time goes on. Where did it start? I’ll pinpoint it – November 22, 1963. [John]Kennedy was assassinated. 70 percent of Americans believe that was a conspiracy. Then you had the Vietnam war. And the students at that time, in the Vietnam war era are now the teachers and professors. And their liberal mores came into play and they rejected everything that was Establishment. And they would reject it for no other reason than to reject it. They were rejecting it gratuitously; whether it was helpful or harmful. They’d say well that’s The Establishment, so we don’t want it. They would just go against it because it was simply The Establishment.

Graham: The Critical Theory.

Wahl: And that’s been going on since the mid-sixties. On through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and so on… Now this Liberal tone is pervasive everywhere – the parent have gotten more liberal with the kids, and the kids get away with things that previous generations did not. And that’s why you have this trouble. I would think it will have to change at some point. It’s getting such that it’s so bad … I mean, the fact that you have to have armed guards and metal detectors in schools… It’s a travesty that you need that. That’s ridiculous.

To be continued…


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