This May Be Uncomfortable to Read

It was uncomfortable for me to write, but I felt the need to move past a subject that was regarded by my parents as “taboo.” Growing up, we were never allowed to speak about it. We were restricted from discussing it with friends, family members outside of our immediate circle and even significant others. The fact that none of my family (save one brother) know that this blog exists, is the only reason I can even begin to consider writing this post. It has taken me 10 years, at least three blogs and countless hours of fighting with myself to put “pen to paper” in regards to the subject of money.

I would rather discuss sexual conquests, bodily functions and past indiscretions than talk about money. My parents made broaching the subject around the dinner table forbidden and went so far as to declare it “off limits” in the company of others. It was the one topic we could not pick and the single most awful word we could utter. To this day I believe that my parents would rather us discuss sexual acts at length, than bring up our finances.

My parents went to great lengths to hide their wealth. Traveling to Europe/Asia became “visiting family on the East coast.” Large purchases were hidden and spread between multiple properties. When people asked about our life in Poland we were told not to talk about the people who had worked for us. It became some sort of Anonymity Game, one that forced us to lie and hide our lives from those we trusted.  I grew up terrified that I would let slip something that would get back to my parents and I would quickly change the subject if anyone asked about something remotely related.

I have always wondered why my parents were so uncomfortable with the subject. I tried to discuss it with my father when I was in college, but he told me that it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss with me when I was older. After I completed my residency, I asked him again and this time he told me that he was too busy. The way he was unable talk about our finances made me feel ashamed and embarrassed.

Sitting around a table with my friends from medical school, they would freely discuss their student loans. They even went so far as to mention the raw figures and how they planned to pay them off. Not a single one of them was finishing medical school without debt. Except me. I had not been forced to pay a penny for my education. It wasn’t because of scholarships or some mysterious benefactor, it was because my parents had simply taken out their checkbooks. When my turn came, I offered a quick, “To hell student loans!” which garnered laughter instead of more questions. With their attention diverted, I went back to contemplating how they were so comfortable discussing their financial situations. I envied them and I wanted to take part in the discussion, but I didn’t want to seem privileged.

When I was 14, my parents forced me to get a job over the summer. Not a job with a family member in an air-conditioned office, but a job where I actually worked. It was miserable and I hated it, but each time I was paid my parents would ferret the money away in an account they had set up for me. This continued throughout high school and only stopped when I applied to medical school.

The year I turned 16, my parents gave me the keys to my first car. All of my friends expected that I would be given whatever car I wanted and I have to admit that I was kind of hoping that was the case. Instead, when they opened the garage door, there sat a beat up 1987 Camaro. I don’t know why, but I was ecstatic about my car. When I drove it to school the first day after break, my friends were more surprised than I was. They asked me why parents hadn’t just purchased me a new car. I would respond, sounding like a clone of my parents, “Because I don’t need a new car for my first car, I need to learn how to drive.”

After coming back from a trip to Europe over the summer of my junior year, I was telling my best friend about all the places we went. My mother overhead me and called me downstairs. She told me that I wasn’t suppose to tell people what we had done. By this point I was fed-up with the situation and I told her that no one believed me when I said we just went to New Jersey. She told me that I shouldn’t act so privileged and that it was time for my friend to go home.

What it boils down to is that I have never wanted to be viewed as privileged, but I also want to be able to talk about my experiences. I have always felt there is such a stigma toward children from families who are considered wealthy. We are often stereotyped as lazy, arrogant and, more often than not, unintelligent. We are constantly told that we “just don’t understand” because we were raised differently. We are made to feel bad about enjoying what has been given to us, that which our parents have worked so hard for. It makes for awkward, uncomfortable social situations and I would usually just try to avoid them all together.

Writing this post was extremely uncomfortable. What should have only taken an hour to type, ended up taking several hours. I was constantly deleting anecdotes and rephrasing things because I didn’t want to offend anyone. I feel like I should write a post apologizing for having money and begging forgiveness from those who are not as fortunate as I. The thought of posting this made me anxious and I considered deleting it entirely. I didn’t even allow myself to go onto the kind of detail I wanted, due to some sort of psychological barrier my parents installed when I was younger. The only reason I am able to click the “Publish” button is because I know that the internet offers some anonymity.

So I guess that, in some respects, I am still playing the Anonymity Game with myself.

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3 responses to “This May Be Uncomfortable to Read

  1. Nice job on an interesting subject. My daughter is a radiologist and she burns through money like it grows on trees because for years, it did. The Daddy tree! She budgets–but only for the first half of each month! I love her dearly and I’m an easy touch, so, her lack of wisdom in this area is my fault. However, she is so brilliant, it looks like she could figure it out! Dan

    • It does take some time. My parents were always very strict regarding what I was allowed to spend money on. As I began to make my own money, they tried to teach me how to budget (I really didn’t want to learn, however) and I’m sure it was incredibly frustrating for them. My dad would often sit down with me and show me my expenses. He would explain to me how “money doesn’t grow on trees,” yet he would turn right around and let me use his cards! I’m sure your daughter will learn (I had to) in her own time. It took several years of fending for myself to realize that, even though my father will always be there, sometimes I need to work things out myself.

  2. I feel like you have nothing to hide from with wealth because of your career. You work really hard and studied really hard to get there, you may not be wallowing in debt but for me it’s business as usual. I’m an American, by essence, my dad was an immigrant and my grandfather was an uneducated grocery store owner, grandmother was a housewife. My mother was forced to leave her education when I came into the picture, the money she made from working was being spent on daycare costs when they tried it for a year or so. When I get to my great grandfather’s generations we are talking about farmers and small shop owners in a village (now a small town) a place fellow countrymen never heard of.

    The difference between you and me is that your family was several generations ahead, or had a wiser, possibly less moral individual who capitalized in his situation. Considering what you mentioned about your brothers, you’re all very intelligent and hard-working individuals. I imagine you had an ancestor that was similar to you and took advantage of his abilities. Some people are ashamed of that, as generally all capital is earned over the back of the common workers. Or it may have something to do with the war, and your parents will tell you one day I’m sure.

    The reason we so freely talk about our debt is because we are slaves to it. I don’t have an option to quit medicine now because of it, it is a strong motivating factor to complete what I started and to endure hard labor because of it.

    What I envy about you is how little your financial pillow plays a role in your day-to-day activities, you had a multitude of easier “options” and while your parents were a factor in kick your ass motivation (all good parents should kick ass), you went above and beyond on your own. You almost excessively work hard, maybe cause you feel like you have something to prove. I feel like you need to let go of the shame of your wealth, pretend it’s all coming from your job and you don’t need to talk about trust funds cause they are no longer relevant.

    Sorry this was a large block of text, you can tell I really enjoyed that post.

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