Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Money and Family

The news report back in March, 2010, said that eighty-something sisters Theresa Sokaitis and Rose Bakaysa were battling it out in court over a $500,000 Powerball jackpot. Apparently, the sisters had at one time agreed, in writing, to split any lottery and gambling winnings 50-50. Then, over five years ago, the sisters argued over a smaller sum of money, and that argument escalated into years of not speaking to each other, and then this, one sister suing the other for a share of the half-million-dollar Powerball prize. See here for the judge’s ruling in May. 

Money. Fights over money. I've watched families break apart over money, including my own. My mother's brothers and brother-in-law abandoned my mother's restaurant business to start their own restaurant on the eve of my brother's wedding in Hawaii. We had purchased first class tickets for Mom and Dad to fly from Detroit to Honolulu for the wedding, but Mom never got to go, having to stay behind to salvage her business and her livelihood. My father had worked and sacrificed for years to sponsor those uncles and their families to immigrate from Hong Kong to the U.S. I think those uncles broke my father's heart. I know they destroyed any feelings of affection that my brother and I had for them to this day. 

As a commercial lender, I used to talk to my customers about money, because it was important for me to evaluate the likelihood of those customers repaying their loans as agreed. A customer’s promise to honor his or her loan agreement boiled down to a capability to repay and a commitment to live up to his or her word. My due diligence as a lender in analyzing the financial statements, sizing up the business operation and reviewing inventory and collateral was only part of the art of lending. Weighing the trustworthiness of a customer depended upon building enough of a relationship to read a person’s character. This was lending back in the days when bankers were part of their communities and knew their customers in settings other than just the lending relationship. 

Walking away from money is something I’ve done a few times in my life. Like the time I got divorced and walked away with only my clothes and personal belongings, because the most important thing was to walk away with my sanity – more important than fighting over money and ending up being defined by the money that was won or lost. Of course, it helps to have either enough money so that you don’t worry about how you’re going to pay the rent or a secure enough job so that you don’t worry about your next paycheck. Ultimately, the greatest security is a sense of self-confidence that you'll be okay, that you'll land on your feet and be able to do what it takes to get started again in a new situation. As a more mature adult, I have had those securities. As a young adult, I had the security of family on whom I could rely, and assurance of that family support freed me to make choices and try “going for it” in ways that I otherwise might not have done.

Today, I think the money situation is tough for young people, because of the recent banking and market failures in the economy and the lack of jobs with decent wages coupled with the millennial generation’s valuing free time as much as hard work, expectations of a certain standard of living and the rising cost of healthcare. I know many twenty-somethings with college degrees who haven’t been able to land jobs with good pay and benefits. Even those with graduate degrees don’t necessarily do better in the job market. Many of my peers are helping to raise grandchildren and making room for married and partnered children to move back into their homes because of financial setbacks. 

Being flexible and adaptable is the key these days to making our families work. It’s probably also helpful to scrap any carved-in-stone notions of what families are supposed to look like and how they’re supposed to work so that we are nimble when our families come calling for help, as some of them surely will. Luckily for us, our family has been acculturated to think in terms of multigenerational living together and our younger generations having the freedom and welcome to float back and forth between the homes of their aunts and uncles for limited and extended periods of time. 

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