Bah! I’m not paying for college

You know the bumper sticker that says “My son and my money go to UCLA” (or some other university)? I am not qualified to put that sticker on my car.

I have two sons in college, and I’m not paying for either one of them to go. Does that make me a bad dad? (They get aid as part of my veteran benefits, but it certainly doesn’t cover everything, and of course it’s not the same as my paying out of pocket.)

I feel like I’m the only parent in the world who (1) isn’t paying cash for college and (2) isn’t hiding behind the excuse of not being able to afford it.

Yes, I’m divorced from their mother and remarried. Yes, my wife and I have a preschooler. Yes, our expenses are considerable. But my position on paying for college would be the same if I had stayed single after the divorce or never gotten divorced.

Here is my position: Being autonomous is the only way to learn autonomy, and that is a fundamental part of a proper education.

It’s cheap and easy for me to take that position. Some might even call it a cop-out. I don’t care. It’s what I actually believe. And I don’t think it’s a win-lose position.

Its Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is Back to School.

It's Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is "Back to School."

One benefit of my ‘cheap and easy’ position — from my sons’ perspective, not mine — is that they don’t (and won’t ever) have to answer to me for how they live their lives. If they goof off and get poor grades, that’s their business. If they drop out, that’s their business. If  they get their degrees and then decide to become monks, that’s their business. If they rack up too much debt during college, that’s their business. Whatever they do with their investments is their business.

In the three years my oldest son has been in college, I’ve never had the slightest inclination to judge how he has spent his time or money. I’ve given him advice, but we both understand that he doesn’t answer to me. I think he is better off because of this, and I think my second son (and, down the road, my third) will be better off, too.

Still, most of the world seems to believe paying cash for college — giving till it hurts — is a sacred obligation of parents.

There’s a whole page at FinAid.org dedicated to trashing parents who, for whatever reason, don’t pay. Here’s a little excerpt:

Some parents feel that they can’t afford to pay for college or are up to their eyebrows in debt. They don’t realize that paying for your children’s college education entails sacrifice. The parents will have to forgo buying a new or second car, clothing or big-screen TV, going on the annual vacation to Aruba, eating out every night, and a few other luxuries to help pay for their children’s education. It won’t be easy, but most families can afford college if they really try.

I know paying for college entails sacrifice. But whose sacrifice should it entail?

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Book preview has insights for older and divorced dads

Guys who are recycled dads invariably fit into other, broader categories as well — for example, remarried dads or older dads. I’m not here to reinvent the wheel, so when I discover good sites or articles about those broader categories, I will link to them.

Here is one such plug:

Do a Web search on “older fathers”* and you will get thousands of results, most of them describing the horrible (physical and mental) health risks you subject your children to by becoming a dad ‘late in life.’

Buried among those distressing results is a link to something a little more constructive: a Google Books preview of How Children Develop, a textbook by Robert S. Siegler, Judy S. DeLoache and Nancy Eisenberg (MacMillan, some edition prior to 2006). The link points to page 472, on which begins a short section on “Older Parents” that identifies some very general pros and cons.

That section is followed by a long sidebar about adolescent parents (this may or may not have bearing on your situation) and then a section on divorce (and its impact on children). The divorce part is not previewed in its entirety (page 479 is omitted from the free preview), but what’s there is good high-level discussion.

Rational, substantive and free. Can’t beat that.