Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lies My Parents Told Me

Let me state right at the top - I did not have an abusive childhood. I was not raised in some kind of propaganda bubble of distortions that burst violently when I struck out on my own. My parents were not those kinds of people. They loved me and my siblings, and wanted only the best for us. They put a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and in my specific case, me through college. Twice. They were loving, caring, and nurturing people. I have written stories on this blog about their compassionate nature.

But they told me lies.

Not knowingly. This was not an attempt at brainwashing. Instead, they conveyed certain “truths” as they understood them that, due to changes in our socioeconomic and cultural mores, became falsehoods. I certainly do not blame them for this. They thought they were imparting undeniable, unchanging realities as a preparation for my adult life. As I found out, they weren’t. Case in point - here was something my dad told me as a teenager:

“Get a Union job and you will have a job for life.”

Wow. By today’s standards that is an almost laughable statement. But in 1972 in Akron, Ohio, it was a truth. Akron was a Union town. Voted Democrat like clockwork. Dominated by a rubber industry that showed no signs of letting up. The rivers were polluted and the odor of burnt rubber permeated the air. The economy hummed along, and with it, tens of thousands of good-paying union jobs in the factories. So to my dad, getting one of those plum union positions were basically a contract for life. Do forty-odd years at a union job, get a gold watch and a nice pension, and spend your golden years playing golf and visiting Florida twice a year. It worked for him.

But it didn’t work for me. When I graduated college in 1981, the rubber industry was in decline. Wildcat strikes and union concessions crippled the industry (example - the United Rubber Workers negotiated a contract that provided a THIRTY FIVE PERCENT pay increase for their workers over THREE years). Jobs were lost to foreign companies. Akron suffered along with our compatriots in the auto industry - Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit. Those Union jobs dried up and went away. What my dad told me ended up being a lie. Here was another -

“The most important thing you can have is good credit.”

Now, having good credit is important. But the most important thing I could have? Eh. I would place a number of things higher - happiness, good health, peace of mind, healthy children - above having a good credit score. Maybe I am picking apart dad’s advice too much, but I distinctly remember him telling me that good credit was “The most important” thing I could have. Okay, maybe that’s a top-tenner. But no way is it the most important thing. Finally, there was this one:

“Real estate is the best investment you can make.”

Hey, good advice. Unless you bought a house in 2005. Suddenly that “best investment” became a sinkhole of negative equity. Again, in my parent’s time, purchasing a house was a consistent, three-to-five percent a year increasing investment. In the last decade it has become anything but that. Home buying has become as speculative as buying stocks. This will hopefully change as we dig out of the major recession that the implosion of the housing market caused, but I would seriously question the wisdom of real estate being the “best investment you can make.” Hell, these days even municipal bonds aren’t a sure thing. Shove the money under a mattress.

And ironically, purchasing a home that has precipitously declined in value has affected my…get ready…credit score. All I needed was to get laid off from a union job and my parents would have hit the trifecta.

The lesson? To me it's this: My parents meant well...but they could not have predicted how our world changed.

Who could have?

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