America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
One Family’s Reorganization Plan
By Justin O'Brien
6 December 2016
What if families made economic decisions the way some American businesses do??
Several months into our latest economic downturn my wife and I went over the books to re-evaluate our economic situation. Our growth was sluggish with a greater cash outflow than income; there had been increases in our operating expenses. And despite budget adjustments and cuts and re-negotiations of loans, credit cards, services and the boys’ allowances, we still needed to do more. We considered several economic scenarios and concluded that we needed to further tighten our belts. The next step was clear: we would have to let one of the boys go.
My wife and I sat our three sons down at our scheduled weekly family status meeting (we saved the receipts), and after they’d eaten their half portions of beans, explained the situation. Of course they’d heard the economy was poor and money was tight. A PowerPoint presentation clearly stated the family’s predicament and how it was impacting the mortgage and car payments, tuitions, insurance, groceries, utilities, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, cable TV, cell phones, internet, health club memberships, behavioral counselors, florist, dry cleaners, lawn care, pedicurist, acupuncturist, Feng Shui advisor, etc.
The bottom line was that we weren’t getting a favorable ROI, and for the family to continue to function at a level we’d projected for its long-term success, while maintaining a progressive, optimistic image, one of them would simply have to go.
It was a matter of basic economics and the right corrective action to take for the good of the family, we concluded, and if they had any suggestions, why we would take the time to sit right there and listen.
We smiled reassuringly and urged them to think about it as they slowly licked the lard off their plates. Then we adjourned. Hard copy versions of the presentation were distributed as they shuffled out.
The next day, one of the boys came to us privately. He was worried, he said. Yes, we agreed, it really ‘sucked.’ We went over the numbers with him. A hard decision. A matter of economics.
He said he wanted to work with us. We commended him and said it was really grown up of him and that as a reward we would delegate the decision to him regarding which of his brothers would have to go.
After a brief moment of deliberation, he picked his older brother. The oldest, he reasoned, was most likely to make it on his own. And the oldest was costing the most in terms of food and education, and therefore the family would save a bundle by letting him go. And after all, he said, the oldest had been with the family the longest—wasn’t it time for him to move on, to test the waters?
We were so proud of his grown-up logic and budding business acumen.
Later, we took the oldest aside so as to not embarrass him in front of his brothers. That was certainly the decent way to go about it, and in compliance with the family’s ethics guidelines. We told him that we thought he was a really great kid, and we truly appreciated everything he’d done for the family.
He sat there quietly blinking his moist eyes (he always did have sinus trouble).
Of course we weren’t going to just turn him out into the cold, we said. Oh, no. As a parting gift we would allow him to take his warm clothes and enough cash to last a few months. Plus, we gave him the phone numbers of some distant relatives and told him that we’d certainly be willing to put in a good word for him. After all, you don’t just turn one of your own out into the street like they mean nothing to you.
We wiped away a tear that I think was forming and shook his hand. “Good luck!” we said. “We’ll never forget you and all you’ve done for us. Please stay in touch!”
We hope things get better soon. With luck we’ll get to keep the other boys around for a while. We’d hate to lose them too soon. It would sure be quiet around here. And there’d be a lot of chores for us. Although, we could probably bring in a kid or two part time to help out—as long as we didn’t have to feed or house them, or pay their medical bills.
But let’s look on the bright side. As things improve, maybe we’ll move ahead with our Old-Fashioned, Non-Specific Holiday Party™ again this year. And, if recovery looks really good, maybe expansion! Could there be another baby brother or sister for the boys?
Perhaps we’re dreaming a bit. But we think it’s good to have a dream.
And even better to have a sound business plan.
Justin O’Brien is a now-retired survivor of the ad industry and a free-lance writer with scores of published fiction, non-fiction and op-ed articles on diverse subjects in such publications as The Chicago Sun-Times, The Minneapolis Review of Baseball, Elysian Fields Quarterly, Chicago Parent, Sing Out!, Living Blues, The UIC Alumni magazine, The Typographer, and Southern Graphics. In addition he has contributed to The Encyclopedia of the Blues (Routledge Press), Armitage Avenue Transcendentalists (Charles H. Kerr) and Base Paths (William C. Brown). He is currently working on a memoir of the 1968 Democratic Convention riots.