The NY Times on Sunday had yet another one of those “let’s get the readers’ goats” articles that they are so famous for.
This one was about parents buying co-ops and condos so that their adult kids could live in Manhattan.
Now, I do not have children, but I cannot categorically state that, if I did have children and if I could afford to plop a spare $1.15M down on an apartment for them, that I wouldn’t.
What if, for example, my hypothetical, non-existent son wanted to be a writer and wanted to live in Manhattan. I’m pretty sure that I would want him to experience living in some dump in Alphabet City, just so he would have something to write about. But what if he were bitten by a rat? Could I live with myself?
Certainly, I wouldn’t say, ‘Man up and become a hedge-fund-hog so you can afford to live some place decent.’
And just as certainly, I wouldn’t go so far as to fully support the next Jonathan Safran Foer. No, my expectation would be that the next Jonathan Safran Foer could get his great-American-novel writerly head out of his great-American-novel writerly arse for enough hours each week working at some sort of job, no matter how meagerly paid and menial, to cover a good wad of his expenses.
But, certainly, I would not want to have to confront the choice between nagging my hypothetical, non-existent son to become a hedgie and letting him get bitten by a rat.
Ditto my hypothetical, non-existent daughter if she wanted to live in New York City doing something non-profitable and noble, that she could do while wearing jeans and a tee-shirt, rather than get some cut-throat, Devil Wears Prada job where she had to dress-to-the-nines – the kind of glossy job that pays crap but is glamorous. Admittedly, I’d be more inclined to subsidize a do-gooder rather than a look-gooder. But in neither case would I want my hypothetical, non-existent daughter to live in rat-bitten squalor, either.
But, I don’t know, I think maybe I’d help them live in Hoboken or Queens before I’d hand them the key to a $1.15M co-op in Manhattan.
But that’s just me. And it’s all hypothetical and non-existent, anyway.
The kicker in the article for me was the psychiatrist who bought his young adult twins, 26 year olds, a son and a daughter, a two-bedroom place on the upper East Side for $800K.
Dad rationalized the gift. After all, his children would inherit the money after his death, so why not let them enjoy it now? And he is, of course, correct.
But then he said:
…we liked the idea that this apartment was going to be theirs once we had gifted it to them. It was a way of helping them become independent.
A way of helping them become independent.
Unlike Dr. Peter Clagnaz, the father with the checkbook, I am not a psychiatrist. So maybe there’s some psychological or psychiatric nuance that I’m missing here. But how does buying an $800K apartment for your young adult children help them become independent?
Does it mean that they’ll no longer have to keep calling home at the age of 26 looking for a monthly handout? Is that what passes for independence these days?
I think Dr. Peter needs a reality check. Calling Dr. Phil.
Wait. I just remembered – actually, that’s I lie: I just Wikipedia's old Phil – one of his sons works for him and/or with him; plus Phil had worked with and/or for his father – so I guess he’s not exactly the founding father of offspring independence enabling.
Look, as the incredibly shrinking middle-class becomes more and more hollowed out, who can blame parents for doing everything they can to help ensure that their kids have at least a toe-hold in what remains of it.
But what happened to letting your kids do at least a bit of time in their twenties living in less than elegant digs, doubling, tripling, quadrupling up with roommates? Not to mention what happened to kids expecting, even demanding, this sort of experience? Maybe it’s never been the reality for the children of the well-to-do, and that this is nothing new.
And whatever happened to the post-consumer society? To less is more? To let’s all downsize and live within our own (and our country’s) means?
Guess that’s happening outside of the precincts of 21st century Manhattan.
Meanwhile, the whole thing’s put me in mind of my first apartment. Senior year in college, my roommate and I moved off campus and into a 2-BR apartment on Boston’s Queensbury Street. It was in an old building, and was decidedly un-updated: claw foot tub,no shower, and an 1920’s era black and white enamel gas stove on spindle legs called the Detroit Jewel. The Detroit Jewel was blessedly replaced by the landlord, a notorious slumlord of the era, as was the equally ancient refrigerator.
Shortly after Joyce and I moved in, my mother and father came by with my sister Trish. As I proudly walked them up the front walk, I saw that we were going to have to step over a drunken bum who was asleep in the vestibule.
Hey, what were they going to say or do about it? It was my place, and I was paying for it by working as a waitress.
It’s not like they were any position to buy me a condo – if condos had even existed then. It’s not like, even if they’d offered, I’d have taken any money from them so that I could swing nicer digs.
I was independent.
Call me crazy, but I really think that the best way to help your children become independent is to let them actually be independent.
Dr. Clagnaz is apparently aware that there’s some correlation between money and independence. He’s just got his causality a bit backwards.
Which is not to say that I wouldn’t help my hypothetical, non-existent child out of rat-bite alley.
By the way, that first night in the apartment on Queensbury Street, I woke in the middle of the night from a dream in which there was a rat running over my bed covers. No rat bite, but I still don’t know whether it was dream or reality.
Independence sure can come at a price.