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Leaving a Legacy

Are you going to get shafted by your parents who are blowing their wad on cruises? Do you plan to shaft your own kids? Maybe neither you nor your parents have any money to bequeath anyone. Sigh.

First of all, none of us have any money. You know how the economy is really bad right now. But even if your parents do have some money left there’s a trend among some Baby Boomers to spend all their savings before they die. They tend to think the Gen Xers (and younger) are a little on the entitled side. We kind of are. Ever lived in a boxcar?

Of course we are parents ourselves now and helicoptering ain’t cheap! After shelling out for violin lessons, gifted student enrichment packets, dance class, and Mandarin immersion we won’t have any money left either when all is said and done. Maybe getting an inheritance is dying out among the 99%.

Here’s another issue to think about: I saw a discussion between Slate writer Robert Wright and Matthew Hutson, author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking. Hutson claims that caring about your legacy–what people think of you after  you’re gone–is an instance of magical thinking and is irrational.  I don’t know about that.

Personally, I don’t plan on getting or giving any major cash from my parents or to my kids. I really hope I do and can, but it’s not like Mitt Romney is my dad. I wish! I mean, Ojala!

But it’s clear that a family legacy is much more than cash. The shows Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots demonstrate this every week. Famous people (Paula Dean, Condoleezza Rice, Rob Lowe, Robert Downey Jr., Martha Stewart) meet with genealogists to find out about their family history. I love these shows so much and get tears in my eyes every week. Most of these celebrities know very little about their ancestors. It means so much to them to find out little tidbits. It’s kind of amazing. Not to seem hung up on money, but most of the people on this show already have lots of money. It’s the family history that matters to them.

I recently read Maus and MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman. These books are his depiction of his father’s oral history about surviving Auschwitz. Talk about a legacy. (Go here for my whole review.) Art Spiegelman won The Pulitzer Prize for this graphic novel collection. It’s dedicated to his children.

I grew up with a keen sense of my own family history. It mattered and we knew about it. It’s not that the stories are so exceptional (though some of them are) it’s that you can learn a lot from the experiences of others. My neighbor once told a story about his great grandmother. She was poor and had one dress. When a friend of hers was in need, she gave her the dress to wear while she put on her apron and a coat. That is a legacy of compassion and generosity.

My grandparents did live in a boxcar for a while, which seems kind of charming to me now. A few years ago our mortgage company totally shafted us, stole our money, and declared bankruptcy. We almost lost our house and had to essentially buy it twice. It doesn’t seem so charming to me. I’m sure living in a boxcar was not exactly quaint for my grandparents. But a lot of who I think I am and what I assume I can survive comes from stories about them.

I need to start telling my kids our personal fables. In the end, it might be the most important thing I pass along and it’s not nothing.

Post contains affiliate links.

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Read more from Kacy at Every Day I Write the Book.
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