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The Moneyist

Feb. 24, 2020, 5:46 a.m. EST

‘My father has lived a life of crime and drugs. He threw away every opportunity we gave him.’ Now that he’s on disability, doesn’t he owe his kids something?

‘My siblings and I got him a used car. He drove it off the lot, went for a joyride, and wasn’t heard from for three days’

By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Moneyist, 

For most of his life, my father has lived a life of crime and drugs. He threw away every opportunity we gave him, financial or otherwise. He was never really around besides the odd note written on yellow legal paper that I would get from time to time, asking how my life was going. In 2008, my father had a son and began to turn his life around, or so I thought.

A few years later, he hurt himself playing softball and thought that ended his quest for maintaining a job. The doctor disagreed. After that, his aunt purchased a home for him. Because he wasn’t working, my father’s cousin kept paying the mortgage while he continued to live there. After a year, the cousin evicted my father, who began staying in hotels and shelters.

The Moneyist: My mom asked for a divorce. My dad made his mother his pension beneficiary — and then he killed himself. Now my mom and grandma are feuding. Who’s right?

His sister, my younger sister and I found a job for him at Goodwill. My siblings and I got him a used car and he drove it off the lot, went for a joyride, and wasn’t heard from for three days. He didn’t keep up payments on the car. My brother was put in foster care. For the next two years, my father was homeless.

After a major health scare that landed him in the hospital for three weeks, he was put in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. He got clean and was awarded custody of his son last year. A judge then awarded him disability, even though — in my view — the deterioration in his health was due to his own transgressions.

The Moneyist: My father left everything to my son. When I called the attorney about the will, my son got very upset. I now need financial help. Should I ask him for money?

He was awarded back pay of $23,000 and monthly support to take care of himself and son. He is on Section 8 and is pretty much set for life as long as he stays clean. My two sisters and I believed that, after many years of receiving nothing from my father, he would give us $1,000 each. He refused and thought we were being selfish. He agreed to give us $150. We haven’t spoken since.

Am I a 38-year-old brat or a 38-year-old who deserves his dues?

S.S.

Dear S.S.,

You are not a 38-year-old brat, but neither are you a 38-year-old who deserves his dues. You can’t get back the childhood that you lost: $150 won’t do it, $1,000 won’t do it and $100,000 wouldn’t do it. Not even $1 million would give you back the years you could have had without the fear and uncertainty that stalked your family as your father’s drug and alcohol addiction spiraled out of control. You father blew all the chances he was given and took whatever he could along the way.

He is now clean, but that doesn’t mean he’s better. I’m happy for all of you that he is finally sober, but that does not mean he will have become the man and the father you want him to be. He may never be accountable, show remorse or become the best version of himself. He landed in a place where he has a roof over his head and enough money to put food on the table. His role in life was not to be the provider. That was his loss, and your loss too.

Also see: ‘My daughter has been chiding me for frivolously spending her inheritance. Now she won’t speak to me’

Your father suffers from an addiction, but he is also one of the lucky ones: He survived. “An estimated 88,000 people — approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women — die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (The first cause is tobacco, it added, while the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.)

Nearly one million people have died from drug overdoses in the U.S. over the last decade. The rate of deaths involving cocaine and other so-called psychostimulants — including methamphetamine, amphetamines and prescription stimulants like Adderall — increased by 52% and 33% from 2015 to 2016, respectively, according to figures released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids appear to be the primary driver of the increase in these “deaths of despair.”

The Moneyist: My stepfather and mother pooled resources to buy a home. My mom died in 2003 and he just passed away. His kids are selling their house — am I entitled to anything?

Those stats may help put into perspective all the time you have spent trying to help your father get clean, and all those sleepless nights. Your father’s story is being repeated all across America every minute of every day. Drug and alcohol abuse is a nationwide epidemic that has torn families apart and ravaged entire communities. Like many in his position, your father left a path of destruction — both emotional and financial — during his years of active drug and alcohol addiction.

These financial reparations seem to be arbitrary and, I believe, a proxy for other debts that can never be repaid. The good news: You and your siblings made it this far. So no, I don’t see a 38-year-old brat or a 38-year-old son who deserves financial compensation. I see a 38-year-old survivor. This is not about that $1,000. It goes much deeper than that. Perhaps you want your father to say he’s sorry and really mean it. You may never get that.

You do, however, get something much more valuable: the chance to be the person your father would have wanted to be once upon a time. Move on from this argument. Make your peace. But don’t do this for your father — do it for you.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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The Moneyist: ‘What did he do with all the money?’ My dying husband cashed his $700K life insurance and emptied his bank accounts

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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