My father is an engineer. He’s also a Buddhist. He’s a kind, generous person, always ready to enjoy life with friends and family.
So when a friend and former colleague from TI days asked him to join his startup, my dad was eager to accept. He’d recently been laid off, but the promise of being able to retire with a potentially generous stock option package while working from home – relocating to the Pacific Northwest, an area he’s long been in love with – made his last working years seem promising. His friend, Pius Ng, planned to develop a product with high potential to pitch to investors. If they liked the product, they’d buy the company, and if my dad stayed employed with them for two years, he’d be able to cash in on stock options and either continue with the new owners or retire.
What happened instead? Almost immediately, my dad developed shoulder problems from 14-hour days, seven days a week in front of the computer. Within a year, he’d developed diabetes from stress. My mother spent almost two years jetting back and forth between Portland and Dallas (on my parents’ dime), since they were never confident enough in the long-term outcome of the job to sell the house in Texas and relocate permanently to Portland. My father’s income – significantly reduced from what he’d been earning previously, not to mention from the offer Pius initially made to him – paid property taxes in Texas, rent in Portland, and supported my brothers through their respective last years of medical school and last years of college/first years of unemployment and their rent. My mother had long since been rendered unable to work by her health issues but had already been denied disability benefits. My father’s income was it for the family. And every time my mother left for Portland, I was left to house- and cat-sit. When she was in Texas, I felt obliged to care for her in my father’s absence, which brought up a number of stressors in my life that would require their own case file. My parents’ savings were depleted, and their retirement and investment funds were eroded. Mere months before my dad’s two-year anniversary, the point at which he’d be eligible to cash in his stock options, he was laid off.
In May, my dad flew back to Texas to attend my brother’s medical school graduation. During the week he was in Texas, he was required to spend time working on the project because they were behind deadline, through no fault of my father’s. The team responsible for the stage of development immediately before my dad’s were three weeks behind because Pius had bought software that required debugging – which even Pius wasn’t able to solve. My dad, then, instead of having three weeks to work on the project, had only one. Nevertheless, Pius blamed my dad for the delay and gave him the silent treatment for the duration of my dad’s employment, except when he was verbally abusive and cussed him out.
My gentle father had been made a scapegoat for Pius’s poor management decisions. My parents are now 61, filing for unemployment and disability to try to make sure health insurance is available for my parents, both of whom are diabetic and have multiple health issues.
And Pius? He sold his company about a month after he laid off my dad and made millions. He immediately sold his home in Oregon and relocated to Washington – a state that, unlike Oregon, does not have state income tax and in which, because he established residency within two weeks, he will not be required to pay taxes on the millions he made from the sale of his company.
The trickle down effect that economic conservatives tout as the mechanism of social welfare? I haven’t seen it work. Instead, I see one more example of another parasite bleeding the middle class dry, eliminating almost everything my parents have worked so hard to build up since coming to this country as war refugees 38 years ago, while making out like a bandit himself. I see a person so morally bereft that he’s strained a whole family in emotional, financial and physical ways and who doesn’t even think he should pay taxes to help support families like the one he’s crippled.
My father, who eagerly looked forward to working, because he enjoys working and enjoys keeping his mind active, over the Christmas holidays sighed about retiring. Not only did Pius take my parents financial security, my mom’s security that her health care would be provided for, and my dad’s health – he’s taken my dad’s passion for working. No person deserves to have that kind of power over another. Everyone deserves to determine his or her own purpose.
I’m not the sort of person who thinks that people should try to motivate others through shame, guilt or embarrassment. I think people are at their very best when they’re inspired. But I still can’t help the part of me that hopes – wishes – that Pius would be shamed by his behavior. Maybe only because I don’t believe he’s capable of it.
Don’t tell me about the trickle down effect. Tell me about the changes that will be put in place to inspire people to treat each other with more dignity and respect, with more grace and generosity. Tell me how to change the Piuses of the world into decent human beings. Maybe we could get some real shit done then.