I just read a Business Insider article about very rich people who have publicly announced that they won't leave much or even any money to their children. At least two of them said that they want their "last check" to bounce.
My father died on February 23, 2013. He left all his wealth to his six children. That money guarantees me security for the rest of my life and makes it possible for me to pursue my dreams. I now have the wherewithal to write full time, self-publish, and not worry about the future. It was an act of supreme generosity on the part of my father, not the most emotionally generous of men. Being fifty-one and afflicted with Meniere's disease, I appreciate my father's legacy more than you can ever understand. It's a giant load off my mind to not have to worry about what will happen to me.
In many ways I never had a life, except for the three good years with Carmen. But at least now, the likelihood of ending my days in a homeless shelter is remote. For that I can thank my father.
Everyone is free to do whatever they want with their money. However, reading the statements of these extremely wealthy people, I'm amazed at the blatant hostility they freely express toward their children. A remarkable quote is atributed to Jackie Chan, who says of his son Jaycee, "If he is capable, he can make his own money. If he is not, then he will just be wasting my money."
So Jackie believes that corpses have possessions. Astonishing. He won't be alive, but it'll still be his money.
I worked ten hours a day as a delivery driver and then as a process server and a "document retrieval specialist" while trying to be a music journalist. It was impossible. My writing career—such as it was—only began to flourish when I moved to Los Angeles after my brother Tim invited me to live with him free of charge. Then my Great-aunt Marion died, and my parents let me move into her house and live here rent free. Finally, Dad left me the means to devote myself completely to writing.
If it weren't for Tim and my parents, you wouldn't be reading this.
The Business Insider article illustrates a form of hazing. Each parent says that he or she earned every penny, so the children should have to do the same. I never understood reinventing the wheel, and I never understood hazing. When I went to Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, the upperclassmen yanked us out of bed on the first night and made us go down into the courtyard and do calisthenics. I say "us," but my friend Joe Cady and I actually slipped away in the confusion and hid in the bathroom, watching everyone else get hazed. It was one of the stupidest things I've ever seen.
I would never haze anyone, under any circumstances. Although I don't have children and will never have children, I would leave them everything I had. All the wealthy people in the article argue the "fallacy of the excluded middle." They all say exactly the same thing, that if they leave their children a lot of money, their children will never appreciate the value of work and achievement.
My father and mother were very up front about their plans to leave us everything they owned, yet I spent years teaching myself how to write books. I wanted very badly to be a great music journalist. When that didn't work out, I tried to be a great military historian. When that didn't work out, I turned to memoir writing and then fiction. I've been told by someone I trust that Chasing the Last Whale is a spectacular novel. It's my best work. I can say in all honesty that it isn't a steaming pile of offal.
I recently got a message about Ghosts and Ballyhoo that ended thusly:
I really have to say, again, "THANK YOU!!!" for a wonderful, poignant, thoughtful and moving book. You bared your heart for us to see, and took us on a journey we may never have imagined. I even got copies for my brother and son, guitarists (NOT guitards!) both. They have appreciated it greatly, too.
Please be well, and keep writing.
One last time - THANKS!
What Dad's money will do is allow me to become an even better writer. All the wealthy people in that Business Insider article have obviously failed in their duties as parents if they think so poorly of their own children. Whose job was it to instill values? The fear that their kids will just be lazy, champagne-swilling parasites says far more about the parents than it does about the children. What it reveals—in my opinion—is an absence of a bond between parent and child.
God knows my family had and continues to have its problems. But whatever my father was, he armed me for the future. His money is a defensive weapon, like the great shore batteries that protected San Francisco during World War II. What he gave me will allow me to create art and live with peace of mind I've never had. My art will get better, not worse, due to the money he bequeathed me. By leaving me an inheritance, he guaranteed that I will prosper, as a person and as a writer. More importantly, he granted me security and freedom. I can't imagine—and I mean that literally—thinking that it's a bad thing to reassure your children that money is one thing they don't have to worry about.
It was because of prosperity that we have great philosophies such as democracy. Look at the city-state of Athens. When a society becomes wealthy enough that people have free time, great things happen. Inventions, advances in science and medicine, and fantastic art become possible when you don't have to spend all your time scrabbling for food. Too many people are condemned to lives of poverty and fighting daily for survival. Don't the wealthy have an obligation to be the best people they can, simply because so many others won't have all those unbelievable opportunities? Doesn't part of being a good person mean easing the stresses and fears of your own children?
As amazing as Jackie Chan's quote is, Michael Bloomberg outdoes him in straight-up venom toward his children by saying that "the best financial planning ends with bouncing the check to the undertaker." Meaning the kids get to pay. Bloomberg is worth almost $20 billion, but he'd stick his daughters with the cost of his funeral? Seriously? Knowing Bloomberg, yes. Seriously.
Many of these very wealthy people make a huge deal out of their philanthropy. That's great. On the other hand, the money donated is generally small compared to their net worth, often they "pledge" rather than actually follow through, they constantly remind everyone of their good deeds, and their non-profit foundations shelter them from taxes. I had no idea how much my father gave to charity, because he never talked about it. After his death I found out that it was a lot. Mom doesn't talk about her charitable donations either. The only one I know about is a school for Native Americans, but she's never told me how much she gives.
It truly sickens me to hear someone boasting about his or her philanthropic work, and then you find out all the tricks they're playing with the numbers, and they announce over and over and over, thrumming with self-righteousness, that they're not going to provide for their children. Again, they're free to do whatever they want with their money.
If it's true that these multimillionaires and billionaires won't be leaving a cent to their kids, all I can say to the children is "I'm sorry." My father understood the huge favor he'd be doing me by allowing me to inherit his money. He was confident that it wouldn't spoil me or turn me into a maniacal spendthrift, and he never uttered such horse-assery as "It wouldn't be good for society." Dad knew me. He didn't let me know him, but he knew me, and he knew that his money would improve my quality of life—physically, mentally, and artistically. Despite our insurmountable problems, he trusted me to do the right thing with the wealth that he'd accumulated.
None of the rich people in the article seem to have the faintest idea who their own children are. I find that appalling. Nigella Lawson wins the prize for the most oblivious statement about inheritances when she says, "It ruins people not having to earn money."
If Lawson had left her offspring anything, you can bet your life that the children will have earned every single dime. They will have paid for that money in ways you can't even imagine. Children often earn their parents' money with their souls. They earn it through the misfortune of being raised by dysfunctional, self-obsessed, disconnected tyrants who care more about strangers' opinions than the welfare of their own children.
All of those wealthy parents strike me as horrendously narcissistic and unpleasant people. Their every act and utterance seems calculated to draw attention to themselves. It doesn't surprise me that they would be so blind that they wouldn't understand the mercy they'd show to their children by letting them know that whatever happened, they wouldn't end up on the street.
None of them seem to have done much of a job as parents. I think that's the main reason they're so adamant that they won't leave money to their children. That way they can claim it wasn't their fault if the kids crash and burn. There's also that shallow guilt at their wealth. They feel vaguely uneasy having so much, but does it inspire them to live frugally? Of course not. They assuage their superficial guilt by cutting off their children and letting their peers and the press know.
"I'm gonna give it all to the Third World!" Sure, after a lifetime of gorging yourself on Chilean striped sea bass and Chateaubriand, flying the planet in your carbon-spewing private jets, slurping down oceans of Courvoisier and Lafite-Rothschild, and bedding all the $2000-a-night hookers you can manage before your prostate explodes.
My father was an extremely troubled man who caused a lot of havoc in his eighty-four years. Much of the damage he wrought is permanent. Yet because of his largesse, I no longer fear the future. As flawed as he was, he granted his children a level of serenity—or the possibility thereof—that none of the parents in that Business Insider article have even considered.