M is for Money: Return on investment
I know for a fact it’s going to take a long time before I graduate from getting by to getting ahead. I’m in no shape to support another individual, much less both my parents.
My dad walks into the room and tells me he’s thinking about retiring. He asks me when I think he should do it. I barely look up from my relentless Instagram scrolling when I say, “It’s your decision.”
That’s when he drops the bomb — “I need to know when you can start supporting the family.”
I stop scrolling. I sit up straight.
My father is 62, and he’s been working for four decades. I’m 25, and I’ve been working for less than one-fourth that time.
To make it worse, four years ago, I decided to be a stand-up comedian. It’s been a year now since I took it up full time. As a struggling artist, I’m just about managing to get by on my own. I know for a fact it’s going to take a long time before I graduate from getting by to getting ahead. I’m in no shape to support another individual, much less both my parents.
I have a sister. But she’s not really considered part of the family anymore. My parents married her off. Now, she has a family of her own, and my parents refuse to ask her for financial help. And me? I’m the son. Sons aren’t brought up to be part of the family. They’re raised to survive the family.
I can’t blame my parents. They didn’t have the best teachers to show them how to differentiate between the rational and the traditional. Traditions are subject to change, not rationales. But, my parents understand it exactly the other way around.
“I need to know when you’ll start supporting the family.”
The sentence threw me into a panic attack so fast, I spent the next few minutes on the phone with a friend, stress laughing uncontrollably. I sounded like Heath Ledger going over his Joker lines. It felt like my life as I knew it was ending.
My friend instructed me to breathe. I obeyed. Sitting there, forcing air out of my mouth and in through my nostrils, with my father waiting out in the hall to continue the conversation, I tried not to think about money.
Growing up in a middle-class home, you develop a curious relationship with money. It becomes both shunned as a corrupter and elevated to almost godly status. Money complicates everything, but money makes problems go away. Either way, though, money is always on your mind.
But I knew I wanted that to change, for myself. All I had to do was tell my father that.
As if it’s that easy.
My father has spent so much of his life running. First, running to support his parents, then his family, in the hope that one day he could pass the baton to his son, and finally stop. How do I break it to him that I’m not part of this relay? That he’s running a marathon, not a sprint.
For now, all I can do is cheer from the sidelines and throw a water bottle once in a while. But I can’t end the race for him. I’m already running my own, and nowhere near the finish line.
My parents never taught me that it’s okay to say no. That I was allowed to say “I’d really like to help you, but I can’t. I’m sorry.” Again, because they weren’t taught the same thing either. I’m sure every one of us has been in situations that would’ve never escalated if we’d stayed calm and said no at the right time. Maybe even with a smile.
So, this is me, getting off the bed, placing a hand on the doorknob, heartrate finally in check, preparing to say no to my dad with a smile on my face and maybe a tear in my eye.
Hoping he will let me say something else: “I’m here, dad. And I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry if that’s all I can be right now.