Getting Him Back On His Feet

John and his wife are nearing retirement. Their son is 36 and had to file bankruptcy with the downturn in the economy. He moved into John’s basement. What can John do to get his son back on his feet?

QUESTION: John in Portland and his wife are nearing retirement. Their son is 36 and was in auto restoration. He had to file bankruptcy with the downturn in the economy. He moved into John’s basement because he had nowhere else to go. What can John do to get his son back on his feet? Dave suggests setting some deadlines for him to move out.

ANSWER: You have to define help. What does helping your son mean? Five years from now when he’s 41 and still feeding you this crap about not being able to find a job and he’s still in the basement, have you helped him? The answer is no; you’ve been an enabler. If you throw him in the street today and tell him, “You’re on your own. You’re 36. Be a man,” well, that’s probably harsh and not helping him. That’s the other end of the spectrum. In my mind, somewhere in between would be a progressive plan that moves him back to dignity.

He’s gone through a really hard time. He’s bankrupt; he’s lost everything. He’s got to emotionally and spiritually get rebuilt and maybe even physically get rebuilt. His confidence…that’s going to take a little time, but we’re not going to make this a career track for you.

As a part of living with you, I would require him to do three or four things. “This is how you pay rent, son. Thing one is you abide by our household rules. If you’re going to live in my home, you’re going to act the way I want you to act.”

Thing two is he needs to be engaged in some physical activity. Playing the Nintendo and being a couch potato at 36 is a bad plan. Even if you pay for it, he needs to go to the Y or the local gym or use your exercise equipment. That stimulates his mind, and he really desperately needs that to be stimulated right now. He needs to take care of his body.

Thing three is we’re going to think about the career steps and what are the steps to get him where he needs to be. There are two types of jobs he can work. One is the dreaded part-time job like delivering pizza or the entrepreneurial job like cutting grass, walking dogs, or odd jobs. That’s not a career track, but it at least gets him up and gets him moving, and he starts to have some pocket money that’s his that you didn’t have to give him at 36.

The second part of his career is his long-term goal. What do I want to be when I grow up now that all of this has happened to me? How am I going to take all of these lemons I’ve got and turn them into lemonade? He obviously knows how to turn a wrench. And I suspect he’s talented in that area beyond belief. For us to completely abandon that because he had a bad experience is a silly idea. I think he probably likes it. I don’t know if it’s employment or self-employment. It might not even be auto. Maybe he learns to work on something else—aircraft or boats or whatever. His mind works spatially, which means he knows how to look at things and figure out how they work. That’s where he gets his joy and his creativity. We need to move him in that direction.

The problem is when you get hit this hard at this point in his life as a single guy, he can really develop the blues even to the point of depression if you don’t engage physical activity and a goal-setting game plan.

I’m going to make those requirements of me providing him shelter. In other words, I’m not going to participate in his sewage. I will participate in cleaning the sewage out of his life. He can have a bad day every now and then, but let’s get up and get moving here because that’s what’s good for him. Not one ounce of that is selfish on your part.

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