An Unintentional Burden

Let me tell you a story about a couple that immigrated to the United States from China in the late 1980’s. They arrived with just enough to start and run their own small business in the heart of the Mission district in San Francisco, California. A couple of years later, their first child – a daughter – was born and they closed down their chop shop (Cantonese-style roast shop) briefly after. While the couple worked day and night to provide for their new family, the newborn was cared for by her grandparents and immediate family members. Just as the young daughter was reaching the age of three, the couple was expecting their second child – a son. The woman stayed home briefly to care for the children while the man slaved away from the crack of dawn to sunset in a sweatshop in the China Basin district. By the time the daughter turned five, the whole family moved out of their single-bedroom studio in North Beach to the southwestern part of San Francisco – in a house that the woman’s youngest sister bought – where the couple would pay an honest rent for a two-bedroom in-law for the next fourteen years.

In the middle of the housing crash in the late 2000’s, the couple have finally saved what they deemed “enough” for a single-family home and ended up settling down in their new house less than a mile away from where their family has been living. The daughter was far from happy with the arrangement as the house was “really small and in horrible shape” in her opinion, and can’t see why her parents can’t just save longer to buy a better property. Granted, the neighborhood is relatively safe and often sought after by families, the house was simply not what the daughter had in mind for a “home” until she gets married off or can afford to live on her own. The only reasons she didn’t make too big of a fuss about it was that a) she finally gets her own room and b) she gets to live there for free while being able to start saving for her own place – or so she thought.

Raised in a traditional Chinese family, the daughter has been taught at a young age the values of family and the responsibilities of caring for your parents as repayment as you grow up.

Almost a year later, their son suddenly passed away. The couple had to rip through whatever savings they had left and depended on crowd-funding and community donations for the memorial service and burial. It was a tough time and even tougher position for the couple to ask their only living child to start to financially help them out, especially because she was just barely into her second year in college and recently departed from her part-time job. Being raised in a traditional Chinese family, the daughter has been taught at a young age the values of family and the responsibilities of caring for your parents as repayment as you grow up – she saw this coming and was prepared to take on the responsibilities. She immediately dropped all of her classes to free up her availability and create flexibility for a new full-time job and was hired into a telecommunications company as a customer service associate within a month. Immediately, she assumed financial responsibility for household utilities and “luxury necessities” like their mobile phone plans and TV/internet/etc. while simultaneously helping with a small portion of the mortgage every month. This left the daughter with just enough financial flexibility to pay her accruing credit card debt, set aside a small amount into her savings account, and whatever was left would be adequate for seldom leisure and travel expenses. After saving for two years, the daughter was suddenly asked by the woman for assistance with the property tax, amounting in thousands of dollars which resulted in the daughter having to deplete a third of her savings. The following years were better and the daughter was able to save up what she had just paid but in between, the man found himself in desperate need for a new car as both his work and family cars broke down beyond repair at the same time (both were at least fifteen years old). The daughter calculated that she had a healthy amount of savings to be able to pay for a new car for her dad so she did exactly just that. Fortunately, this was also the same time the woman decided that it was the right time to tell the daughter that they’ve been financially stable for quite a while and that her mortgage contribution is no longer needed. That left the daughter with a little bit more wiggle room than she had initially thought. The daughter, for the third time, began to build her savings while still paying for the household bills and the new vehicle purchase.

Over time, the daughter began to feel the stress her job has created and her existing OCD and developing anxiety was worsening day-by-day. It was beginning to take a toll on her and after seven years at her company and once again calculating her savings, she finally found the opportunity to walk away. She discussed it with the couple and coincidentally, the man totaled his car the week prior but had salvaged his work vehicle previously, so he technically still has a car. The daughter was now left with even more wiggle room as her monthly expenses became pretty reasonable. She took a short break and traveled in and out of the city for about two months before settling to help out at her husband’s business. Working in the food industry, she’s making just enough to get by but is happier than ever before. Recently, her parents has been frequently asking her to sign onto their property and bank accounts in preparation for the “what if one day.” This leaves the daughter to think about how much she really hated that house and how it has technically prevented her from ever purchasing her own home. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the daughter is me.

That house is the biggest burden I’ve ever had and it’s not even mine yet.

My parents have worked very hard their entire lives to provide for me and my late brother and have always said that “the house will eventually be yours,” but they’ve never once pondered on the possibility that maybe I just don’t want to have anything to do with that house. While it’s great that I technically didn’t have to pay the full mortgage nor down payment for the house but given our situation, I also haven’t been able to save for my own house because of it. In my parents’ minds, the house is a gift that they can leave me for when they are in a more peaceful place but to me, that house is the biggest burden I’ve ever had and it’s not even mine yet. I’ve always dreamed of being able to buy my own home with money that I’ve worked for, I’ve never once entertained the idea of an inheritance because I was brought up with better morals and ethics than that. I know many could only dream to be in my position and my concerns might appear petty to most, but the reality is that I just don’t like things being handed to me. I enjoyed it as a child, but I enjoy being able to pay for my own things even more. I enjoy not having to listen to my mother nag about me “wasting money” because it’s not her money to worry about. I enjoy being able to gloat to my more fortunate friends that I actually know the value of a dollar while their offspring will never survive if they ever become poor. I actually have to try very hard to be grateful for this “gift” because honestly, I’m quite bitter that that’s all I have and I literally have to wait until I’m old and creaky to get it.

In a perfect world, people start families and settle into homes by their early thirties. In San Francisco, one is lucky enough that they can feed themselves, let alone raise a family and own a property. It was a personal choice to leave a decent paying job and if I can’t buy my own property in the future, I can only blame myself (then again, living in SF on that salary, I wouldn’t have been able to buy one anyway). It’s also a personal choice to continue staying in my city of birth. I’ve lost most of my drive throughout the years and have zero passion for anything anymore, hence I’ve stopped searching for career options. I’m perfectly satisfied working alongside the Mr. and helping him grow his business and things will get better. Running a business in our case is a means to an end, but for some other people I know, it’s simply a pastime activity. For now, I’ll still be carrying a house that’s not mine and will be reluctant to receive. Who knows? Maybe my views will change one day, but I still can’t help but resent the situation that I’m left in.

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