OTHER FATHER

★ ★ ★ ★

BETWEEN MONEY AND HOPE

By James Prenatt

Like all parents, I often wonder how much better things would be if we were rich. We’ve all been there before. We would like a vacation this year, and we think, if we only had enough money. Or we’re at the grocery store, we get to the checkout and try not scream when we see the bill. We then have to split payments between cards and hope neither overdraw. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about money.

I often find myself repeating my parents’ mantras in some form or another. For them it was “When we win the lottery.” For me, it’s “When I get rich” followed by something like “When I write a bestseller.” I cringe every time I say it because I wish it hadn’t been my parents’ dream to be rich, nor mine. I certainly wouldn’t mind more money, but at this point all I want is enough to make a good living, enough to save up for a house, an occasional vacation, all the necessities in life and of course retirement, which I’m lucky enough to have with my job. Oh yeah, and even though my debt isn’t insurmountable, I’d like to have it paid down.

Just listing these things makes me want to check my accounts. I’m itching to. It feels good to pay bills, but it doesn’t feel good to worry. Okay, hold on, how much is left on my student loans? Alright, be right back. Okay, done, I’m better now. Credit cards? Never mind, time to write.

I often feel guilty for my financial troubles, and though it’s complicated, I could’ve been better about money my senior year of college when I decided I had earned the right to pretty much not work. Yeah. I was pretty entitled at one point. I could’ve saved better when I was much younger, and I could’ve picked a better career.

I was pretty well off during my adolescence. We got a lot of help from my grandparents and had a lot of nice things, but we had a big family and there’s a lot of lenders out there looking to take advantage of working and middle-class people who just want something nicer. By time I was getting ready, I had seen the decline and fall of an American family and the dream they had worked hard to pursue and by time I was ready to go to college, I had to come up with my own money, despite getting a good amount of help here and there from my mom, who luckily had a good job at the time.

Unfortunately, my dad would never be able to work again due to his illness. I was very lucky to have a car to borrow and pretty much no bills to pay. I spent my college years with the same attitude of always saving, and at times having nothing, leaving me alienated from my peers who were simply being kids and not worrying about money. As I said before, eventually I let my guard down and stopped being as responsible. I still feel it’s one of the biggest mistakes I ever made, mainly because it was so out of character for me.

But that’s the world we live in. You drop your guard for a minute, you get hit in the head. In my defense, it’s not abnormal to be financially irresponsible at that age, but there were consequences and I’m still dealing with them.

I sometimes feel as though I’m some millennial cliché, the liberal arts major who can’t find a job in his field because the field is small, saturated, and drying up. But there’s also the fact that these are hard times and the struggle to get by as a family is deeply unfair. Landlords can charge what they want for rent. Food is never cheap enough for a family of two. Electricity companies charging an obscene amount. A phone is a necessity and it never seems cheap enough and neither does internet. Not to mention, public schools are free, but activities and pleasantries to keep your kid active are not. Then there’s cars. It’s sad we need two, but it’s the repairs that really screw you. Not to mention, if I used my employer’s health insurance, it would bring my salary down to a non-livable wage. Luckily, my family is pretty healthy. I can’t help but feel a raging sense of injustice for the people who have to pay an outrageous amount for medication that keeps them alive.

Make no mistake about it: money buys happiness. In our unfair system, the rich make the rules and the poor have to follow them.

The rich get a say in everything we do. They get a say in which racial groups get to be dominant, whose gender gets to be policed, who gets a financial advantage and it may sound dramatic, but ultimately who lives and who dies.

I can’t go back in time. No one can. I can’t look forward to see if this struggle will ever end, but I’m willing to bet even if I’m making more money in a few years, there will still be difficulties. I will always think like I’m poor. I will always save change. I will always be afraid that if I don’t have a substantial amount of money put aside, a huge expense will come out of nowhere and I’ll be back to square one. I’m afraid if I go somewhere cheap to eat and maybe see a movie too, I’ll end up needing that money later.

I would rather be this way than be naïve. I’m willing to bet that if I was rich, I would begin to lack empathy for those who aren’t. Yes, I want more money but I never want to forget where I came from. 

James Prenatt lives in Baltimore, MD with his beloved wife and two kids. He writes fiction and poetry along with contributing to blogs such as Everything for Dads and Parent.co. He likes punk rock, good movies, and bad coffee. You can support his writing on Patreon.

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