I was living in San Francisco when ATMs first came out. I needed a few dollars to buy lunch before I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to hike the Marin Headlands. It was a weekend, the lobby of my bank was closed, so I decided to try out one of the new automated cash machines. I asked for $20, and the ATM said, “You don’t have $20 in your account.” I then asked for $10. The ATM said, “You don’t have $10 in your account.” Finally I asked for $5, and the machine said, “Funds are distributed in increments of $10.”

I usually look back on my early financial difficulties fondly, but they took on a more serious tone this past Wednesday. Manyu and I were in Madison to pick up Clare on the way to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving. As long as we were in town, we tagged along with Clare when she looked at an apartment she is thinking about renting. Clare has decided that it is time for her to live without roommates, and she is discovering that doing so comes with a price tag. 

My overall impression of the apartment was that it is at the low end of the acceptable range, but still slightly more expensive than Clare can afford. Herein lies the problem (for me, maybe not for Clare). Part of me wants to subsidize my daughter’s rent for a year so she can settle into a safe and comfortable place. Another part of me wants Clare to struggle through the same lean times her dad did. I lived in several dumps during my twenties, but those years made me who I am. Conversely, when I think back to some of the studio apartments and rooming houses I lived in when my paychecks were sporadic and small, a half dozen were not places I’d let my daughter stay. Fronting her a few hundred dollars a month would make a big difference in the quality of her housing, but I am not sure it is my place to step in.

Clare’s early years have not been the same as mine. I grew up working class; Clare grew up middle class. I was the first in my family to go to college; Clare was not. I hadn’t boarded a plane until I was eighteen years old; Clare was such a seasoned traveler by the age of fifteen that she flew to Asia by herself. I paid my own way as soon as I finished high school; Clare knew she’d be on her own financially only after she finished college and found her first job. I have no idea which situation better prepares a person for the rest of his or her life. 

In May, Clare did graduate from college. In July, she landed a full-time job with an entry level salary. Still, I offered to help her with her rent once she moves into a place of her own. Am depriving her of one of life’s valuable lessons?

Steven Simpson