Loving Your Friend Enough For the Truth

Natalie says her friend's daughter is going to college to become a band director. She's taking out student loans for the private college, and Natalie wants to know what to say to her friend about this.

QUESTION: Natalie in Michigan says her friend’s daughter is going to college to become a band director. She’s taking out student loans for the private college, and Natalie wants to know what to say to her friend about this. Dave tells Natalie she needs to make sure she loves this friend enough to make her angry.

ANSWER: This is an 18-year-old who has her little heart set on something, and no one has told this little girl no lately. You’re getting ready to introduce a new word to her vocabulary because what she’s describing is stupid!

Listen, I love high-school band directors. There’s no possible way that it makes sense to spend $100,000 on a degree to be a high-school band director. The return on investment of that is stupid. If you’re going to be a high-school band director, you go two years to the community college, and you go to the local in-state school and you live in your mommy’s basement while you’re there. You minimize the amount of money you spend on this because this is not known as a high-income-producing career choice. You’re going to make nothing doing this, which is okay if that’s what you’re called to do and want to do. I’m not picking on the career choice. I’m picking on the method to get to be this, which is $100,000 in tuition alone. That doesn’t count room and board. That doesn’t count books. That doesn’t count, “Oh, my car broke down while I was in college.” This kid’s going to be $150,000 in the hole. It makes me want to throw up.

How do we calm down from that and say, “Okay, darling. Let’s be wise and think about this.” I think I would take Mom to coffee, and again, this is dependent upon your level of relationship with her because you can only confront someone in direct ratio to your level of relationship with them. So when people who I’ve never met send me hate mail and they live in Baton Rouge, you know what I do with it? We use it for comedy in staff meeting because I have no relationship with them. Blake Thompson has been a good friend of mine for 17 years and has worked on the other side of this glass, and if he wants to confront me about something I’m doing or saying, he’s earned the right to do that. That’s the ratio I’m worried about here. I’m not trying to cause you to be a jerk. People who stick their nose in where it’s not welcome are jerks.

We take her to coffee, and we say, “I’ve got to talk to you about this, and you’ve got to hear that the reason I’m talking to you about this is because I care deeply about you and I care deeply about your daughter. You guys are good friends, and we love you guys. If I was on the road and there was a bridge out, I would want you to love me enough to yell, ‘Bbridge out!.’ Catch me right now. Watch this. I’m getting ready to stand up in the middle of the coffee shop, and I’m going to yell, ‘Bridge out!’ Are you ready? Because it’s getting ready to happen.” You’re kind of setting her up here so she’s like, “What am I doing? What’s this about?” You’re going, “Band directors make $30,000 a year. People who go $100,000 to $150,000 in debt to get that job are known as fools. Mommies who allow their babies to do that are known as bad mommies. Bad mommy! Bad mommy! Grow a backbone. Tell your 18-year-old no.”

I think you start with Mom because if you talk to the daughter, then you’re mean old friend Natalie. This doesn’t need to come from you. It needs to come from her mom, and her mom needs to sit down with her and say, “Baby doll, I care about you and my brain is more formed than yours, apparently. We are not going to participate in this illusion any longer. I appreciate that you would like to go to school there. You probably would like a new Mercedes too. And you’d probably like to live in a $2 million home. None of those things are possible. They’re not in our budget. Welcome to the fact that money is finite.”

This is nothing about me trashing band directors. I don’t care if you’re a band director, the football coach ... I don’t care what you are. I don’t care if you work in the doughnut shop, but figure out what you’re going to make versus what you spent to get to be one of those. Have some freaking common sense about that. No, you can’t go to that school. That kid going to that school is like when she turned 16 and Mom taking her and letting her test-drive a Bentley or a Maserati. All you did was whet their appetite for something else. “Let’s go visit colleges that you can’t afford because we can all visit colleges because our friends visited colleges because they don’t parent their kids either.” There’s nothing wrong with visiting colleges, but don’t take your kids to colleges they can’t afford.

We’re not going. We’re going to jump on the phone, and we’re going to start scrambling and applying to some other places and get in. You can probably do that with community college and get a year under your belt with the basics anyway because you’re not studying band music the first year anyway. You get to study biology and math and English comp. These are called core curriculum items. You can knock those out at the local community college, and you can still get in there and start in August. By the way, you could make enough to pay for that by working this summer delivering pizzas. No debt! This makes sense, actually, to get that. You can get your teaching certificate having gone two years to community college and two years in your local four-year in-state school living in Mommy’s basement. That’s what you do if you’re going to be a band director in a high school. If you’ve got something else you’re going to do with your music talent that’s going to pay differently, we can have a different discussion. But at this stage of the game, that’s not on the table in this.

I think the trick here is there are two big parts of this conversation. I 100% agree with your conclusions in this. The trick here is how to maintain enough influence in this relationship to actually guide these two weak people away from their horrible decision. I’m calling mom out. Student loans are also a parenting problem. They’re the result of weak parents. If I lost my right to be Daddy every time I wasn’t a good daddy—every time I made a mistake as a daddy—my kids would all be in jail. Of course, I wasn’t a perfect dad, but I never resigned the position. I’m still bigger than you. I can still take you out and make another one that looks just like you. That’s still a possibility.