Homeownerlessness

Thus far, in my life, I have never owned my own home except when I’ve lived in VW vans. It’s my own fault – mortgages were easy to come by several times in my life and I chose not to invest. This will sound funny, but the prices always seemed too high. In the early-1990s … Continue reading “Homeownerlessness”

Thus far, in my life, I have never owned my own home except when I’ve lived in VW vans. It’s my own fault – mortgages were easy to come by several times in my life and I chose not to invest. This will sound funny, but the prices always seemed too high. In the early-1990s – a Staff Seargent in my Marine Corps unit suggested that a bunch of enlisted guys pool our money and start buying real estate. It was a good suggestion and none of us took it. In the mid to late 1990s, I was struggling to find my calling – if, while I had worked in radio, I had applied for a mortgage using my VA Loan – I could have bought a modest house in what is now the booming real estate market of Bellingham, Washington. In the early 2000s – I had the opportunity to purchase a small studio apartment in Honolulu for $100,000 – the price seemed pretty extreme to me and I passed. And then, the housing boom came and I was sure that the economy was heading over a cliff but mortgages were incredibly easy to come by – I chose not to seek a home loan. That was it for me – those were my opportunities. We all know what happened in 2007 with the economy and housing – as a result of that – the requirements for getting a home loan became much more stringent – in fact – in 2016 when I talked to several banks about getting a loan – they told me that my VA Guarantee was no longer worth much and that as a self-employed business owner that my reported income was too low to qualify for a home loan – both bankers suggested that I ‘find a way’ to report a higher income. Yes, I could have lied on my taxes this year. I could have taken less deductions. I could have paid more tax…but the truth is that this year with the long grey winter and the bizarre politics of 2016 – my business wasn’t sufficient to do that. We needed those deductions.

Now, the housing market is again red hot. Things like AirBnB have made housing prices soar in desirable locations. I am in the midst of closing or with any luck selling my business (I do not own the building that houses it). For the present time, my VA Home Loan Guarantee sits in a folder – worthless and unusable. I console myself by imagining that the housing market will again have a massive crash and perhaps I will be able to buy something afterwards – but I don’t really believe it. I tell myself that the banks own most of the houses that people live in – and the mortgages are simply another form of rent and home ownership is by and large an illusion anyway. We have been served an eviction notice in the house we’ve rented for the past four years because the owner wants to sell it. I am thankful that we had already been making plans to move before we got the notice, but can’t help asking myself “What if we had not?”

We currently exist in a 60 day limbo in which lies a form of homelessness that terrifies me. The landlord was apologetic and felt bad about serving the eviction because we have been great tenants – but right now is the time to sell. I don’t blame her a bit. I would have done the same thing in her position. We are 60 days away from involuntary family homelessness.

Yes, we have been making plans. Yes, I am sure we will find something. I’d be foolish, however, not to be concerned. AirBnB and the red hot housing market have driven rents sky high.

I am a person – actually, we are a family, that if you want to send a birthday card to my 5-year-old daughter, a letter to my wife, or even a bill to me – more than 60 days from now to us – we have no forwarding address.

So, once again, here I am. This time, I was ready to seize opportunity – and this time it was denied me. I am rooting for the collapse of the economy. I am rooting for the collapse of the housing bubble. I am rooting for the collapse of AirBnB and more. I would rather be cheering for the economy and housing – but this Gen-x USMC veteran has been left behind by it. I have been left out of it. I accept my responsibility in this process – but no matter how hard I try – it just doesn’t make sense that this is all my fault. And so – here we are. Here I am. Here we go.

Paradigm Shift – Parents No Longer Have Need of Children for Old Age

My wife, being from another country, is often puzzled by the way of life in the United States. Actually, me, being from this country, I too am often puzzled by this way of life. She asks me about these things and I don’t have an answer.

The relationship between parents and adult children is one of those places. I’m not talking about my own relatives here, because one thing I’ve learned through the years is that my familial relationships are not normal – normal for people who are in prison, have drug or alcohol dependency, or maybe even for coworker status – but not normal for parents and children. No, I’m talking about the great majority of American familial relationships – families like our neighbors – families where the parents actually put themselves out a little bit in order to ensure the well-being of their children. I think, perhaps, one of the reasons that parents did that was to build a safety net for themselves later in life when they became old and feeble.

I spoke with my father the other day. He mentioned his cataracts and how his sight was failing. I felt a genuine compassion for him because now that I am in my mid 40s, my own vision has been getting worse – reading has become more difficult and I can tell that the vision in one eye is weaker than in the other – so I felt a sense of empathy…a real connection, I even felt a desire to take care of him because he is my father …but he went on and told me how he went to an eye doctor and paid for a surgery that not only got rid of his cataracts but made his vision perfect and how it has improved his daily golf game. Not only can I not afford to play golf, but there is no way I can afford to get that kind of surgery even if my insurance covered it because it would certainly have a high deductible.

I’m trying to write about how the parents of adult children no longer need to ask their kids for help and as a result, they no longer have a personal need to help their children to succeed. There is no longer a selfish need to protect one’s young to protect one’s future. And, it’s my belief, that as a result, there is no longer a significant even sacrificial investment in the success of one’s children. Further, as a result of that, there is now a hoarding of wealth and the ability to accumulate things like vacation houses and expensive eye surgery and personal trainers and a veritable fountain of youth of products, procedures, and formulations – that the children cannot afford but the parents can – which not only preserves the parents, but allows them to be more healthy than the children and quite possibly to live longer than their offspring.

My dad is 82 and I am 45 and he sees better than I do – I am happy for him and I don’t begrudge him that – not by any means. It wouldn’t surprise me if he lives longer than me. I’m sure he has more frequent dental appointments and he doesn’t live in a molding cheap rental – so his respiratory and heart health are probably better than mine too. There is no real incentive for him to invest in me except for altruism – a trait which seems to be missing from a large segment of our society and which many believe to be imaginary.

It’s my observation that a great many parents (in particular the parents of my generation) went about teaching life in the same way they went about teaching swimming – 1) throw the child in the pool and let them sink or swim or 2) let someone else do the teaching 3) leave it to the child to find a teacher when they reach adulthood. I believe that sort of parenting has led to the broken family relationships we have today.

When my mother was injured, we offered to stay at her house and take care of her. To do the cooking and cleaning, take care of the dogs, and take care of the house. “She’s got a physical therapist and the house takes care of itself,” was the answer her husband gave.

That’s the paradigm shift I’m trying to write about. That’s the thing that baffles my wife because she comes from a country where the parents are cherished by the adult children – and here – quite frankly – I think there is resentment on both sides. Of course in her country of origin, the parents sacrifice everything to give their children a better life and the children understand that when they become adults and take care of the parents – quid pro quo – but it’s not like that here among families like mine.

Granted, my family is an extreme example with divorces and remarriages etc, but I see this sort of behavior happening with a majority of American families – the parents no longer sacrifice greatly for the children and when the children become adults, they feel no great debt to the parents – and the parents seeing this hoard more for their own well being – and the children seeing this feel a growing sense of resentment and isolation. I think that is why we don’t have big family dinners. The parents are scared of being caught in their selfish hoarding, the children are scared of being asked to care for the selfish hoarders, the grandchildren are watching and learning. A family dinner is a meeting of people who could have helped each other, but did not.

I see this daily. When baby boomers come in my shop and talk about their children and their adventures. I see it in the ads directed at baby boomers. I see it in the movies that are appearing. My wife is baffled but it simply makes me sad.

A Powerful Message

A few years ago, I was watching a very smart and well written show called Better Off Ted. It was a great show in general, but the moment I remember from it has all kinds of meaning. Ted is talking about the problems in life, with work, with politics, with relationships – the kind of things we all deal with and then he said something like “And when I get completely overwhelmed and nothing is going right and the world is about to end, there is only one thing I can do” and it cuts to a scene of him and his little daughter – he looks at her and says “I love you” and she looks up at him with worshipful eyes and says “I love you too Daddy”. It’s one of the truest moments in television as far as I’m concerned. I am very grateful I saw it because while I think every father knows it, it’s just good to have it clearly pointed out and to understand the truth of it. There is nothing that makes everything okay when the world is upside down and turned inside out than to know that you are doing right by your little girl. Doing right by my daughter makes it all worthwhile. I’m guessing that this is universal for parents and children, but one thing I know from watching Better Off Ted – I’m not the only father who feels the way Ted was written.

The Preaster Cat and Preaster Bunny – Celebrating Preaster


I won’t be able to spend Easter morning with my 5-year-old daughter and I hate to miss the excitement and joy of the holidays as she experiences them – so this year- I let her in on a little known secret which I’m about to share with you. The Friday before Easter is a very little known day called PREASTER – yes, Virginia, there is a Preaster Bunny and if you are good he brings you a book, if you are bad he leaves a list of chores – but the real star of Preaster is the PREASTER CAT! If you are good, the Preaster Cat leaves you a hat (and other presents inside it) and if you are bad he leaves you a rat! Preaster is a non-religious holiday – we chose to leave a note for the Preaster Cat and the Preaster Bunny along with a dish of milk for the Preaster Cat and a carrot for the Preaster Bunny.This morning when she woke up – my daughter was overjoyed to find her hat, book, and assorted presents. “I must have been so good!” she exclaimed “I love being good!” And she is – and so a holiday is born. This year, the holiday shifted away from weird religious rituals and candy filled eggs laid by a magic bunny (which will still be there but not be emphasized by us) to the power of being good and being rewarded with a book and a hat. In any event – this morning has been much more fun than most Friday’s before Easter.

2017 World Happiness Survey – Thoughts on Happiness

There are a lot of very short news stories about the Global Happiness Survey – most of them read something like “Norway is the happiest country in the world” – and then they talk about the top ten countries and the places and the place of the USA and the bottom two or three countries and maybe how countries shifted from the last survey. When you read the actual report, there is a lot more to it. Here is the link to the full report: https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdsn-whr2017/HR17_3-20-17.pdf

On page 122 of the report (yes, it is nearly 200 hundred pages long) what I consider to be the most revealing chapter begins – it is titled “The Key Determinants of Happiness and Misery” – it begins with this:

This chapter is directed at policy-makers of all kinds—both in government and in NGOs. We assume, like Thomas Jefferson, that “the care of human life and happiness … is the only legitimate object of good government.”1 And we assume that NGOs would have similar objectives. In other words, all policy-makers want to create the conditions for the greatest possible happiness in the population and, especially, the least possible misery.

Which sounds great but which is obviously not true. Policy makers in 2017 want money and power for their financial backers. The problems with the world are well known and easily solved – if that were what those in control wanted to do. They do not. And to prove that point the last paragraph of the chapter:

To conclude, within any country, mental health explains more of the variance of happiness in Western countries than income does. In Indonesia mental illness also matters, but less than income. Nowhere is physical illness a bigger source of misery than mental illness. Equally, if we go back to childhood, the key factors for the future adult are the mental health of the mother and the social ambiance of primary and secondary school. The implications for policy are momentous.

If we wanted to have a better world filled with happier people, we would be focused on taking care of mental health, ensuring that mothers (and fathers) had the support they need to be good parents, and that schools were creating the type of atmosphere which brings about psychologically healthy and confident individuals – instead of factories that create workers filled with fear, anxiety, and depression. Simple. Business does not create happiness, nor does war/defense, nor do jobs, nor do any of the other things we spend trillions of dollars on. Security in childhood, healthcare, and education. That’s it.

This report is a treasure trove of information about creating a happier planet like this:

The effect from the increase in the numbers of people having someone to count on in times of trouble is by itself equal to the happiness effects from the 16-fold increase in average per capita annual incomes required to shift the three poorest countries up to the world average (from about $600 to about $10,000).

From my point of view – this fact alone shows why the two working parents, dog-eat-dog, get out when you are 18, take care of yourself, ‘sorry, I can’t help you’ society of capitalism in the USA is leading to unhappiness, stress, anxiety, overeating, alcoholism, and drug abuse/overdose. We can’t count on each other here. People give lip service to being there for their families, but in my experience (in my awful family) when it comes time to put their actions where their mouth is, Americans turn selfish. My wife’s family in Morocco mean it when they say you can stay as long as you want or need to, they mean it when they tell you that their home is your home, they are there for you in whatever capacity they can be – without excuses. They are not rich – they work hard to survive – but I know for certain that they would never turn away a dear friend or family member even if it meant they had to work harder. When I think of them in comparison with myself or my family, I feel ashamed – and I should. They are poor and they suffer in their poverty, but they are happier than most Americans I’ve met.

And…one last quote just to drive home a point

Overall, the chapter concludes that falling American happiness is due primarily to social rather than to economic causes.

The Joy of Teaching

One of the great joys of my life is being Sophia’s primary teacher. From the time she was born, I’ve tried to never overlook an opportunity to open her eyes to the way the world works – from pointing out the science and math in everyday objects to letting her know about the vast amounts of information she can find in books and libraries. Sophia is a kindergartner who reads at a high level and now has a firm understanding of addition and subtraction and a basic level of multiplication – she can tell you about planets, elements, and a huge array of other things. She has (I think) a decent understanding of birth, life, death, and how the body works. All of this wasn’t learned from someone standing in front of a classroom or from hearing a lecture – it was learned because I saw her interest and helped to guide it to the things I think it is important that she learns. This idea didn’t come from a vacuum either. In the 1990s, I read a lot about un-schooling and different ideas about how education could be reformed – changed from an industrial model. In the early 2000’s I was introduced to the work of Tsunebaro Makiguci and his philosophy of education (Makiguci was not only an educator but the founder of one of the schools of Buddhism I follow – SGI) Makiguci was persecuted by the Imperial Japanese government for his pursuit of non-traditional education methods – in particular – the idea that a child should be encouraged to follow their passion and it is the educator’s job to guide that enthusiasm into the subjects the child needs to learn…that is what I have been doing with Sophia. I wish I had been given that kind of education, I wish we all had. I can only imagine how different the world would be. Not a world where money is the driving force, but a world where knowledge is. I hope that this reaches someone and allows them to find the sort of joy I am finding in helping my daughter to become the person she is meant to be.