Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Gift

The grand guy is 5 today. The event occasions a lot of thought. C and I are starting to contemplate the final gift, the legacy we can leave the family.

We take all too seriously the probability that whatever cash we might have will be inflated away. That belief results in the avoidance of toys, and diversions as gifts. Coming off the Chanukah round and heading into the Christmas season it is hard to maintain some kind of reason in the face of the buying tide that engulfs us all. An idea becomes obvious; we can't fritter away what we have on junk.
We want to set a serious tone about values. We are trying to define wealth, imagine what it might consist of going forward, and endow the family with the ways and means to help secure their future.
The best gifts I received as a child (excluding the Rawlings PM7 baseball mitt) were those certificates, shares of stock, (1000 shares of USAir grandpa bought at $3, for my Bar Mitzvah) that sat undisturbed in the desk drawer and quietly accrued value until we sold them, at $33, to pay off college loans. We were lucky. The market has been a storehouse of wealth. I have no such confidence going forward. No shares for Westley.

The gold bugs have replaced paper for a hard currency. All well and good. But the fact is that for gold to be of value it must be exchanged for a consumable at the end of the day or it remains no more than a symbol. No bars for Westley. We could contribute to a college fund which of itself reinforces the horrible and disproportionate inflation that is tuition. No 529 for the boy.

We recently returned from a visit to the children during which time the family were guests at a friend's birthday party. We talked about it on the long drive home. We sense the pressure to engage the kids in a memorable experience. In this case it was a bowling party. They had a ball. Conversations with the parents during the party, getting to know them a bit, revealed that most of the 15 moms at the party are members of a reading group. The men were heard roaring and lying the way their dads did before them. They have figured out how to be together at times of no import. There is no evidence that they congregate to contemplate the big issues of the day. They appear to pursue their hopes and dreams within the privacy of their separate homes. Their fates are going to be determined independent of one another.

I have spent my entire life in pursuit of the promise of community. I have failed to find it. From the early shock of my high school fraternity deciding to black-ball my friend and my resignation because of it, to the ultimate, and finally acceptance of the truth that self interest trumps community every time. I wonder if this "truth" is one that is a by-product of wealth. As one acquires more money it seems the most obvious way to express it is to buy the house on the hill,"top out of sight", the furthest one can get away from ones neighbors. Clearly the owner doesn't believe that he will ever need them. One wonders how this will play if and when times get tough.

I think the family needs a fall back position. If this were a suggestion that they ought to form some kind of commune, get in front of the curve, I would be tolerated and dismissed as the unreconstructed 60's refuge that I am. But, what if the project was something more immediately practical, useful, and without the stigma of group grope?

My children contemplate vacation destinations. My son hunts with friends. My grandson attends day camp all during the summer. How would they respond to the idea that they build a camp for themselves. Not a second home, or a getaway but a camp in the woods shared by any and all of their friends who want a piece. Hopefully the place will never have to be more than a retreat. But if/then they have it. They will have learned to work together. They will have shared basic skills. Here's the deal.

Our gift to Westley, his parents, and their friends, is to match any amount that other friends and/or their parents are willing to put up to buy such a place. A hypothetical might be that Max/Rachel share this idea with 20 friends. 10 friends want to pursue it. They identify a 20 acre parcel in the near woods that is private and affordable. They split the price ten ways. Our check is in the mail

Happy Birthday


  1. An interesting idea.

    First, I'd like to suggest that anyone who doesn't get the point about tuition above look quickly at this: The charts are stunning (not like Jane Birkin is stunning, like a stun gun is stunning), and the idea that tuition increases at twice the rate of inflation makes saving to pay for it seem like a losing proposition. It's a bad way to funnel money, and it's really very clear that the kid would be better off with 400,000 dollars than a 400,000 dollar education.

    I think that if this is an idea that is to be pursued, it must be framed and shaped not in regards to what it isn't (it isn't a commune, it isn't a group grope) but in regards to what it actually is. What's a camp? What does that mean? What's it for? What do people do there? Let's talk function, goals, outcomes, and shape.

  2. Will - I hate to burst your bubble but I find quite a bit of hypocrisy in your gift. For one who touts "community" you sure are looking to find a place well away from the community. Yeah, let's create our own little ivory tower just for the experience of doing "something" together, as a team, group, friends, whatever. There seems to be all kinds of community involvement with young parents and their children today. I've seen it in different geographical areas of the country. Today and the day before the daughter of the family next door called (out of the blue) from her apt. in town to ask if we could give her a ride to/from work (it takes a village). She called because growing up she felt she was part of a whole community; a community that felt like family to her. My daughter has a myriad of friends that band together with their children to do all kinds of experiential things together without having to find a secluded track of 20 acres in order to gain a "community" experience and learn about trust and friendship. And it is done interactively in the community, not just among themselves. I have some great financial planning ideas if you want to leave your grandkids with some financial security ... give me a call. They could use it by the time they grow up.
    In the meantime take the blinders off and look around you. Community is what you make of it. To really learn about community is to work in the community you live in presently and work with all different kinds of people ... not the kind who either can afford to do what you want to do or the ones that you pick and choose to be part of "your" community.

  3. Will--

    I know this tangential to the point you're
    making, but there are some economists (Robert Prechter)
    who have made very compelling arguments for
    deflation in the near future. Have you heard


  4. As for myself, not if, but when I end my career as a full-time Scrabble player I intend to travel to several international locations with my wife and son (for no less than 2 months) before I shuffle off this mortal coil. The memories we make together will be my gift to not only them but myself as well.