To Bail or not to Bail?
I was watching an episode of Billions the other night. For those that don’t know, it centres around a merciless and successful hedge fund manager and a New York District Attorney who sees it as his personal mission to dismantle and destroy the amoral hedge fund manager, while fending off his own myriad attackers and family issues. Spoilers ahead… so please stop here if you are yet to see Season 5 Episode 3. Anyway, in this particular episode, the son of the hedge fund manager, who boards at a prestigious school, is threatened with suspension and potential expulsion for causing a huge power outage - because he was trying to mine crypto-currency no less…
In swoops daddy on his private jet to throw money at the problem but the Headmaster does not want to play ball. So hedge fund manager Daddy is ‘forced’ to dig up dirt on this Headmaster and blackmail him so everyone can live happily ever after in the manner to which they are accustomed. The dirt being that the Headmaster has appropriated a small percentage of funds to cover tuition for a handful of Syrian refugees so they can have a chance at a better life. All this goes down in full view of the son, who is impressed no end by his father’s willingness to ruin a noble man to protect him. And I started to think to myself (apart from “must buy Bitcoin – oops too late”), how far should we go to protect our kids, especially from themselves?
To bail or not to bail, that is the question. When your kids get into trouble do you let them face the music and let the chips fall where they may? Or do you come to their rescue and dig them out of the hole they’re in? It’s rarely a black and white answer. It can depend on age, the problem, the potential consequences, collateral damage to others (see example above), and the damage it may cause the child if you were to help them or not help them.
It’s an interesting question if you happen to live in Singapore where, if you’re an expat, you might have to suddenly uproot your whole family and leave the country in some situations where the misadventures of youth can be viewed as a criminal offence. It’s a hell of a weight for teenagers to carry for exploring and making mistakes during the rite of passage that is adolescence.
But going back to Billions, I couldn’t get over what a missed opportunity it was for the father and son characters. I know, I know, it’s a TV show. But I feel it demonstrated some of what is wrong with the world. Not the bit about how if you’re rich and connected you can buy yourself out of any situation. We all know that, and I can’t see that changing in our capitalist society. No, it was the part that this knowledge was transferred to the child that is the problem. And not only that. The son also learned that instead of having to grow courage, contrition, integrity and humility, he can just avoid it all because someone else will come to his rescue. What will happen when this child is an adult?
So amid the sensational trash TV and outlandish dialogue, I think it serves as a cautionary tale about underestimating your kids and missed opportunities to witness them grow and learn from their mistakes. The alternative storyline for this is that the kid saves himself. His infraction was not bad (I mean, if my kids knew how to assemble a network to harness power from a whole town so they could mine Bitcoin, I think I’d at least be impressed by their enterprise), it was simply grandiose and inconvenient. It was conceived with endeavour in mind, not harm. So what if the story was one of redemption - for both father and son? Once the father sees that the Headmaster is a man of integrity, he honours that, steps aside and watches the child develop the courage to plead his case, atone and appeal for forgiveness. And we as viewers are intrigued to watch too because we see a crack in the armour of this tough guy who teaches his kid to win in his own way.
Alas, I’m not a TV writer and the story is what it is. But as parents, we have the choice to let our kids own their own story - with guidance from us. No doubt we’ll get it wrong sometimes, and the consequences our kids face when we don’t step in may cause them years of therapy later in life, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen great outcomes in adults that grew up with controlling parents either.
What do you think?