Tuesday, June 10, 2008
"Details" takes up adult child responsibility for parents in flippant style
Sitting in the barber shop this morning I spotted the Holiday 2007 issue of "Details", with the picture of Jonathan Rhys-Myers on front, and found a nice flippant essay inside (on p. 86) by Kayleen Schaefer, “It’s time to cut your parents off. Mom and Dad are living it up well into their sixties, and guess who will pay for it.” I couldn’t find the archive online, so I’ll just comment on the print version. One does visit the public library sometimes, even in the Internet age, or get a paid print subscription. Magazines still need people to buy them, you know.
The article quotes a financial planner Austin Frye from Aventura, FL, as saying “One of the concerns of the earning male today is that he has two generations to take care of. When he reaches his forties, he’s taking care of his children, and he’s taking care of his folks.”
The comment sounds sexist, but, come on, this is "Details", mind you. (They almost published me in 1998.) The emphasis on the article was that Mom and Dad are likely to be living it up in their sixties when they could have thirties years of medicine-prolonged life ahead of them. If they didn’t provide safely for their own retirements, they could gut the lives of their kids. Suze Orman (women’s financial planning guru who often appears on Oprah) is referred to as saying, cut your parents off if you have to. This sounds like parental financial recklessness from the retiring baby boomers is a well-known problem. The article even accuses some parents of using their adult kids as "ATM machines." Perhaps, although it wasn’t the baby boomers, buy and large, who fell for the subprime mortgages; it was younger working adults. Perhaps the tone and substance of the article overreaches reality; there are plenty of "post-working-class" retired people sliding into poverty (with adult children of varying levels of prosperity) who never had the chance to "live it up."
The article is very flippant, but the implications are dead serious. The text of the article doesn’t mention poor laws or filial responsibility laws, but in 28 states adult children could eventually be held legally responsible for providing for their parents even if their parents behave wastefully. Adult children in their prime career years (whatever the economy, which obviously is challenged right now) have every reason to watch what their parents do and assume they will have to take responsibility for it.
This is, as I’ve noted, particularly troubling for LGBT people. The culture of the gay community a two or three decades ago was one of urban segregation from the “family responsibility” created by others, and “escape” from the gratuitous emotions expected in blood-relation family-centered culture. LGBT people may resent the idea of supporting the marriages of others (even their parents) when they do not experience the same level of support in their own lives. But that sounds like the dimension of the problem that is evolving. Family responsibility now goes in both generational directions and involves much more than taking "responsibility" for the children one "chooses" to sire.