Do you need to be poor to succeed?

Last week Aaron Clarey had a video request on the question of whether or not a father should provide his teenage son with a monthly stipend.

A father wants to know if $500-$750 per month will spoil his 15 year old son. Cappy believes so, but his sons potential physical and mental impairments may make this a moot point.

When I saw the video the first thing that I thought was that that amount of money was completely over the top.

Then I received an email from the individual in question who had sent Aaron the video request. It turns out that we have communicated by email before when he gave me positive feedback on my podcast.

For someone who takes his writing skills wa-a-y too seriously, I made two enormous mistakes. I described some of the problems my son has and I threw out a number. This sidetracked the discussion. What I meant to emphasize was to have been was whether Aaron Clarey NEEDED to have been as poor as he was, or whether he would have appreciated the help and still have become the person he is.

From my memory of your book, you came to Cairns with $100. I guess what I’m asking you is, did you NEED to be desperately poor, to galvanise your thinking/actions? Part of me says, yes, only a desperate person will make meaningful changes. On the other hand, how utterly soul destroying it is to lie in bed, wondering how you’re going to pay the bills. I want my boy to “appreciate things” AND not to have to go bed hungry.

This is an extremely important topic and thus an excellent question for a father to ask. A good father wants the best for his son, but just what is the best way to provide the help that the son might require? Are you helping your son by giving him money or bailing him out of his poor decisions?

The short answer is that you are not helping him at all. This was my reply to him:

A man has to stand on his own two feet. The sooner the lesson is learned the better for him.

There are really two questions here. The first is whether or not a father should give his son unearned money, and to that the answer is firmly in the negative. But the second question is whether or not someone needs to be poor to learn this lesson. Here is the rest of my email reply:

Also, I never thought of myself as desperately poor. I made choices that in the short term made money difficult but in the long term paid off. Poor is permanent. Adventure is something different. State of mind and all that.

I have never been poor in my life. There have been times that I have been short of money, but I have never been poor. Poverty is a mindset that determines an individual’s existence. What I mean by that is that if you are born into truly desperate circumstances it is very difficult to escape that cycle. Children are a product of their environment which means that in general they tend to replicate it in adult life.

There is a vast gulf of difference between being poor and striking out on your own. The act of beginning means that you start from zero, but zero does not mean that you are poor. It simply means that you are at the beginning. A young man from an upper middle class family such as my own can never claim to be poor. You can have exactly zero dollars to your name and a pile of debt but you are still not poor.

The reason is because you have options. True poverty is the absence of options. When I arrived in Cairns with barely $100 in my pocket I had a wealth of options available to me. The difficulty was in the choosing. Someone who is poor lacks those same options. They lack them for many reasons; an absence of contacts; an inability to change one’s circumstances; low IQ; poor decision making based on bad childhood examples; criminal behavior, the list is extensive.

Based on Aaron Clarey’s work I have no doubt that he too has never been poor. Short of a dollar most definitely, but never poor.

Lying on your bed not knowing how you’re going to pay the bills is good for a young man. From this need comes the drive to go out and achieve. To make a man of oneself. When I was a young man in Perth I was still making my way but my progress was slow due to the background help I could always rely on from family or even friends. But when I moved across Australia to Sydney my own growth took off at an exponential rate, which only continued when I moved once again to Cairns.

I would not be the person that I am today if I had not made the decision to go on that journey. It was the most important decision I ever made. Everything about me as an adult, every part of what I like about myself, all of it stems from that decision.

As a father, by attempting to subsidize your son you inadvertently stifle and retard his progress.

But there is something worse than even this; a father makes this decision to help his son not from so much of a desire to protect his child but from an equal or even greater desire to protect himself. The father does not want to see the son suffer because the father does not want to suffer himself.

This is a hard reality to wake up to but it is the truth. Ultimately this desire of a father to help his son is a selfish one.

You cannot protect your son from the world, but even more you cannot protect yourself from your own suffering as a parent. Your son needs to strike out on his own. Your son needs to fail in order to learn. But most frightening of all, there are no guarantees in life. He might fail terribly. He might even die in the process.

My father never said a word of discouragement to me when I got on my bike to ride alone across Australia into an unknown future and a certain relationship meltdown. He knew what I was in for but not a word of protest or advice did he utter and not a penny did he give me. That was the greatest thing that my father ever did for me. I will always be grateful for that.

How do you want your son to remember you?

 

 

6 thoughts on “Do you need to be poor to succeed?

  1. Elaine

    You are correct Adam. Do not give your kids money. They will never learn to stand on their own two feet if you do. Mine was a middle class (not upper) family. After high school, our parents were, “bye, see ya”. My siblings (two brothers) and I knew if we were to have food and shelter, we had to earn it on our own. No financial help from parents. We made out fine, all successful.

    Have some cousins that continually sucked off their mother’s wallet, had lots of financial crisis, never did learn to stand on their own. Have a brother-in-law in his late fifties, even to this day, draining his parents retirement. He was constantly bailed out as a young adult, so still doesn’t function without help from parents. Plus he does have a wide lazy streak running through him—just like one of cousins mentioned above.

    Now, I am telling you and your commenters to please read the series of books by Ralph Moody called, ‘Little Britches’. Based on a true story, an eight year old boy’s father dies, he has to become the man of the family. Very good book. Will make your every day life feel lazy–it did for me. Very pertinent to this topic.

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  2. TechieDude

    We treated our kids how we were brought up. the difference is I got a very, very small allowance until I was a teen. My kids had to earn their’s with chores.

    If they wanted something, even at an early age, they had to earn the money to buy it. My son saved his dough and bought his gaming console. If they broke something – like my son breaking his sister’s gameboy out of frustration, or they bumped into something with my car, they had to make it right. It taught them how to handle money. And when they got some, We were hands off with it. It was their money to blow as they pleased. We’d remind them of their wish list, but that was about it.

    That made them hardworking, frugal, and skilled. My son worked with me fixing the house, doing lawn work, doing side jobs. Some, like when I was moonlighting, he earned good money and amassed a serious array of man skills.

    they had to pay for gas when they used the car. When they went to college, they knew we’d only pay a portion, at best. And I told each one of them what my parents told me – when you are 18, you’re an adult. You go away to school, or you stay home and go to school, or you get a job and move out. Pick one.

    My oldest came to me and told me she was thinking of spending a semester studying in Italy. I told her it sounded awesome. Go for it. Then I reminded her, she’s an adult now. You figure out how to pay for it, and it sounds like fun.

    Never ever give them unearned money.

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  3. I have provided money to my boys on a strict basis. College, if you’re attending college for a STEM degree I will provide you with a stipend for most of your living and college expenses. I consider that a job, and thus will provide pay. Your grades are your performance metric, and you can get fired. If you need a decent criminal defense attorney, one shall be provided. You have a right to that, but it’s a one shot deal. There are no second bites at that apple.

    My favorite thing that I told my boys, which my father also said to me, you can have anything you can pay for.

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  4. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 03.27.18 : The Other McCain

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