Thursday, December 6, 2007

What Is Lear's Legacy?

A gruel thin legacy or a basket of love? Bill Thomas asks the question of intergenerational transfers of wealth. My answer:

It all depends on what kind of capital the parents have built up to pass on.

Amassing physical wealth, property, glories, riches, requires constant vigilance to protect. Offspring are held in thrall to the prospects of inheriting some or all of that earthly glory.

Building, nourishing, cultivating family and friendship bonds, links to loved ones, old stories told and retold, are human and spiritual capital that can't be given away and that keep offspring coming back for more.

I was lucky to have parents who continued to earn our love and affection and trust and eager connection until death. They both continued to grow into more full, more exciting, more engaged humans until, so far, only my mother's death. We children vied for who could visit when, with limited bed rooms. We travelled in bunches, carrying our sailing canoes and kayaks to beautiful places where we played and ate and continued the conversations, well into my parents old age.

Now, with my step father still telling amazing stories as he sinks into a wheelchair that we are keeping away from him so he retains his muscletone, he has invented a novel of 24 chapters. A filmmaker son in law will record the telling of those chapters, all about the Civil War, rewritten to a more satisfying outcome.

That is a transfer of wealth that can never be exhausted and that nourishes each one of us.

My biological father, on the other hand, pursued wealth and glory. He died a pauper, having disinherited two sons and shortchanged a third because they "were a disappointment to him". These sons, who will never recover, argued for months that the will should be contested, that the stepmother had poisoned him and stolen all of his money. A gruel thin legacy.

Which basket should one lay one's eggs in?