This past weekend, two articles about money in the context of the parent-child-and older parent-adult child relationship caught my eye. The first, by Beth Kobliner, Help Your Grown Children Without Going Broke was in Parade (it was short...did you see it?) was a very brief overview of the topic. The second, Should You Bail Out Spendthrift Parents? on MSN.com, by Liz Pulliam Weston, went deeper about the flip side, including the emotional issues around money.
When I was a teenager my father's business went "belly up" (mom's words, dad's words). We abruptly moved from New York to California to live with relatives because the money was gone (down the drain gone). It was around this time that Dad flatly denounced God. I remember standing in the kitchen and he was leaning against the sink. He had a can of Shasta orange soda in his hand and when I asked why he wasn't dressed to go to temple-it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the only time we went to temple just to, I think, show God we weren't all bad—Dad held up the can as if to toast. Very slowly, he said, the "big guy" was a conceited power broker. An abandoner. Those weren't his exact words, but that's what I heard. Dad was so hurt, dejected—and that broke my heart. So did this: that God was the enemy, this unseen entity wielded power unfairly, especially when it came to money. Dad had already battled cancer—and won. Now God was really being a jerk.
"I'm through with him," my father said. I wasn't through with God. But, somehow, my 13-year-old brain took my father's sentiment personally.
My mother was very superstitious. In a way, knocking on wood three times was her faith. She very much wanted her family to be safe, to shield us from pain. And she'd drive you crazy finding pieces of wood to knock on, and turning over glasses and spitting three times to make sure she succeeded. It wasn't working.
Dad had been a salesman (and a damn good one-in later years he'd bounce back). Selling was his passion. It wasn't poor technique that made his business fizzle. It was, I see now, his ego (I know—we all have one, right?). He went against sound legal advice (something to do with a patent) and got sued. Hence, the penalties. Hence, the belly-up-ness. My father didn't see it this way. He saw a "creative expression" that was not rewarded.
Somehow, all things creative and all things money got intertwined in my head, along with the relationship I had with my parents. Oh, my father's business bounced back, but money remained a huge part of his identity. He was a do-it-yourselfer. Unlike my mother he was not superstitious. In a way, my mother had her form of prayer. My father just had himself.
Everything was a battle, and sometimes he won.
Though I don't have to deal with the decision today I wonder, sometimes, had I been older and of working age when my father was in his greatest struggle, what would I have done?
What would you do?
I first wrote about money and my parents on The Writer's [Inner] Journey.