My mother and father split up when I was still very young – I don’t even remember it. Until I went to boarding school, I spent some of my time with my mother and some of it with my father.
My mother was an authoritarian woman, while my father, despite being in the military, was a far softer touch. Whenever I went to spend time with him, I’d have a lot of fun, staying with his officer friends. Just 4 or 5, I was a small, blond and cute kid who liked playing and wrestling “with the boys.”
Traditionally, you would first ask a small child his or her name when you met them. The second question was also about which school they were going to and which grade they were in. If, perchance, they were not yet in school, the stand-in question was this:
“What are you going to be when you grow up?”
Whenever I was with my mother, I would say that I was going to be the captain of the Yavuz, the most magnificent battleship in the navy’s fleet. As far as I know, it had been involved in some heroic activity in World War I that was retold like a legend. Because this had left a mark on me, I provided this answer to all relevant inquiries:
“I’m going to be the captain of the Yavuz.”
Whenever I went to my father’s place, his officer mates would teach me things that I hadn’t seen at my mother’s place, one of which was my future “occupation.” On this front, they rigorously enjoined me regarding one occupation, making me repeat it time and time again to see if I was pronouncing it correctly.
“When people ask, say that you are going to be a pimp when you grow up!”
“If anyone asks why, make sure you say ‘it’s a very respectable occupation, that’s why.’ Right then, let’s hear you say it one more time!”
I repeated the phrase. They broke into fits of laughter and took a sip of their rakı. One time, they even gave me a bit, saying it was water. Everything was different with men who were preparing to go to war and die. I liked this difference and had a lot of fun with them.
My father was the commander of an artillery brigade that was set to participate in the Korean War. One day, we were coming back from some military exercises and had stopped for a break by the side of the road. As we were drinking from a fountain, a car stopped beside us.
“Wow, the chief,” they said.
It was the mayor. The mayor exited the vehicle, along with his three daughters, who were quite young and beautiful. Seeing a blond, rotund child amid the herd of officers, they made a beeline toward me and started to pinch and kiss me. After the physical harassment had been completed, the questions began:
“What’s your name?”
As they were going through the list, the question that was a fixture in the repertoire arrived:
“So, tell us, what are you going to be when you grow up?”
With my chest filling with pride, I said what I had learned from the officers:
“I’m going to be a pimp!”
“What?!?! What kind of thing is that to say?” they exclaimed in shock, bringing their hands to their open mouths.
I felt the need to elaborate further:
“Because it’s a very respectable profession!”
I don’t remember the rest. As it is, close to 70 years have passed.
The incident came to mind again years later as I was having a bite at a café-restaurant in Tokyo. A cute robot had welcomed us. It asked us our name and then said “welcome.”
But it got me thinking: robots are programmed; what if things that are taught to it are like the things that were taught to me when I was young? Can you imagine what would happen?
“So tell me, what’s your name?”
“What are you going to be when you grow up, Robot X?”
“I’m going to be a pimp!”
“What?!?! Whatever for?”
“It’s a very respectable profession, that’s why!”
I started to laugh, but my wife immediately stepped in to control the situation: “Don’t laugh all on your own; they’ll think you’re crazy!”
I took a sip of my sake and related the story. She started to laugh too…
I don’t remember the name of the café-restaurant – it was an enjoyable place in the Omotesando Hills complex, with lots of books on the walls.
I broke into a fit of laughter again on the way out.
“Why are you laughing again this time?” my wife asked.
“As soon as we get to San Francisco, I’m going to teach Aslan (my 3-year-old grandson) about what he’s going to be when he grows up!”
“Don’t you dare!” my wife admonished me. As if that wasn’t enough, she waved her finger at me and repeated her stern warning.
“When I was a child,” I said, “The most desirable occupations were to be an officer or a civil servant. When I was in my youth, being a doctor, an engineer and a lawyer came to the fore. I wonder what young mothers and fathers want their children to become now?”