March 01, 2008 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
There is no instruction manual for being a parent. Done properly — with strength and determination — it is a difficult job. Done poorly — by weak parents who cave into a child’s every demand — it may be superficially easier, but the results are predictable. Good parenting generally leads to the formation of a reasonably mature, competent adult. Those of lousy parenting often create a failure.
San Diego readers Glenn and Mary Anne are close to retirement. He has practiced optometry for over 30 years, while Mary Anne is an elementary school teacher. They have a 30-year-old daughter, “who is a well-paid Physicians Assistant in Mill Valley,” while their son Clark, “is a gifted 24-year-old with a fine mind but lazy, with an excuse for every short-coming. He’s working at a San Diego Costco in charge of Roasted Chickens,” the couple’s e-mail began.
Mom and Dad to the Rescue
“We have always bailed Clark out of everything, primarily when he overspent and needed money. He never establishes financial priorities. For the past year, he has been renting a house from us but has never paid the rent. It is $675, easily half of what it should be. We have read your column online for years, and felt that you could provide some practical, common sense advice, as this can’t go on forever,” their statement concluded.
The Problem is Rarely the Problem
After speaking with them for about a half an hour and how they provided for the two children in their estate plan, it was clear past-due rent was the least of their worries. Clark was a financial time-bomb. But the couple didn’t have a clue as to how much of a risk he was to their future plans.
I set up a conference call with him and his parents, immediately asking, “How soon can you and your wife move out?”
“Move OUT???” “What are you talking about?” he asked. “Who the ##$!!! are you?”
“I’m just a lawyer and newspaper writer, and I can see that your parents have to evict you for non-payment of rent.”
He and his wife were not living on welfare. Clark “managed” their finances, depositing both paychecks — $4,000 — into his account. Yet, he casually told me, “I owe about $2,000 to the gas and electric company, and around $5,000 in credit card debt.” “Don’t tell me. The credit card debt is for a big screen TV, right?” I asked. (That was a pure guess on my part — a lucky one!)
“Well, my parents agreed that I would pay whatever I could afford to pay for rent.” “Doesn’t it bother you that nothing at all has been paid for a rental which you have at a fraction of what a normal tenant would pay?” Clark’s answer? “The rent was their decision, and besides, they told me to pay what I could.”
The Earthquake Excuse — It’s not my Fault
I asked how Clark was months behind with his electric and gas bills. “Well, before they were about to turn me off, I went into their office, with $500 in cash to pay, but they said I could be put on a monthly average plan, and to not worry about paying that now. It was their fault I fell behind,” he matter-of-factly stated.
Our conversation went on like that, this 24-year-old young man blaming others for his financial irresponsibility. The excuses were brilliantly phrased; Clark was highly persuasive, articulate, quick, and could easily rationalize behavior which pointed in one direction: He lacks a moral compass and is completely unable to empathize. It is all about him: Narcissistic, self-centered. There is only one way to deal with such people; do not give them wiggle room. Don’t give them the chance to get into your pocket!
Our conversation was pleasant and I asked him to call me back the next day with his decision.
Within 30 seconds of releasing Clark from the conference call, Mary Anne’s cell phone rang, sonny boy calling. She put it on hands-free.
“Are you really going to evict me? If you do, it will be the end of my marriage and I will lose my job,” he cried. “It will be in the hands of a San Diego lawyer tomorrow, so figure out what you are going to do, and call dad and me tonight,” she replied in an ice-cold voice.
Later that evening, they agreed on weekly payments of $250.
Find an Independent Trustee
When that call ended, I asked Mary Anne to describe their daughter. “Just the opposite of Clark. She’s like me, an enabler, weak and caves in easily.” “In your will and family trust, how do you provide for the two kids?” I asked.
“Our daughter is to manage all of the trust assets, and has freedom to pay Clark’s living expenses.”
“Your son is strong, bright, persuasive and, in my opinion, not especially moral. Your daughter is weak. This is an ideal situation for Clark. He will probably swindle her out of even her own trust money, just as he has manipulated you for years,” I said.
I urged them to immediately get into the offices of an Estate Planning attorney and have their Trust and Will re-drafted. “Your daughter should not be the trustee, but rather, someone who Clark cannot control,” I stressed. Both agreed.
Parents who are always there, always give, shield their children from feeling the pain of every wrong decision may live to see the day when, they too, become a victim.
As of the date this story was written, Clark is making those weekly rent payments.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.