From Brooklyn… Armed With Love

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April 19, 2015

Sunset. Gorgeous yachts. Paddle-boarders with long blond hair. Electric boats carrying waving children. Friends drinking wine, laughing, waving back. It all seemed surreal.

How did I get here… this sort-of poor kid from Brooklyn? Do you ever think about things like that? I don’t, very often, but I did the other gorgeous night as a guest in a beautiful home on the bay, in Newport Beach, California.

The third anniversary of my Mom’s death is approaching and that makes me nostalgic. Not only for who she was but for who I was as part of my family of origin.

We lived in a one- bedroom apartment, until I was 13, with hardly enough room for a family of four, which included Mom, Dad, my sister Janie and me.

My childhood friend, Joel, e- mailed to tell me he “bought an island,” somewhere in Maine. Never mind that we hadn’t communicated for twenty years. He had lived in the apartment upstairs and we had shared “morse code messages” tapped out on the heat pipe that ran through his kitchen and mine. He knew I’d understand the irony that he should now own an island.

We didn’t know we were poor, because in so many ways we were privileged. To the best of their ability, our parents valued education and culture and family. We had more books than money. Joel had a piano. My friend, Paul had a TV. We shared.

I got a first inkling that money was an issue, when at twelve, I asked for an electric typewriter. I might as well have asked for a horse. There was clearly no room for this kind of a luxury.

So I learned to work. It took me a year of babysitting and when I had earned almost enough, my parents gave me the rest of what I needed to make that incredible, oh-so-sweet purchase.

I wished for that kind of experience for my own children… for everyone’s children… for my grandchildren. To be able to have a goal, to imagine a path, to delay gratification and to ultimately succeed by one’s own steam sets the stage for the kind productive lives we wish for everybody.

Don’t you agree?

My own children grew up challenged, not by relative poverty, but by relative affluence. My daughter, when a kindergartener, asked, “How come I haven’t been to England yet?”.

It must have been so painful for my parents to say “No” when there were things they just couldn’t afford. But when your adored child begs you to make an extravagant purchase that you really can afford, I think it may be harder, in a way refuse them. Even when, in your heart of hearts, you know it’s the right thing to do.

It takes a lot of vigilance, I think, to balance even relative privilege with creating opportunity for our children to feel really good about their own personal victories.

P.S. TAKE NOTE: There was a feature about wealth in the Wall Street Journal this week. It concerned the 1%, whoever they are, and what happens when they distribute their assets down to the next generations.

Within two generation cycles, 70% of Grandpa’s fortune is gone. Within three generations, 90% disappears.

A call for action?


Thanks For Visiting,

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