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During my rootless and migratory childhood, security for me largely meant one thing: owning your own home. I knocked around an awful lot during my childhood and adolescence, first in a series of apartments with my dad and various other family members, and then in a foster home. My last stop was a group home for adolescents with nowhere else to go where I spent years fourteen through nineteen.
As a consequence of all this dislocation, I fetishized the idea of home ownership. It seemed so gloriously permanent and concrete. I loved the idea of having something that was all mine, that could not be taken away from me, but could be left to my children. When I was 33 and head over heels in love with the woman who would become the mother of my son Declan, I finally took the plunge and bought a modest but charming two-bedroom condo.
So, there is some dark irony in the fact that after my son was born the home that I bought partially to give my son some security and stability growing up became a place that I could not afford, particularly after losing my job a few months back. I could no longer afford both mortgage and childcare, and so my wife and I were stuck with a dilemma. We could only afford to keep either our condo or our baby, and we're awfully attached to our little guy, so we made the decision to move out of our home in Chicago and into my wives' parent's basement in Marietta, Georgia.
There is some part of me that suspects I should be deeply ashamed of this fact. In a culture ever-ready to divide the populace into winners and losers, going from home owner, author and staff writer to free lancer in a basement could be construed as a profound personal failure, especially when you bring a baby into the mix. I could kick myself in the ass an awful lot if I wanted to and wallow in self-pity and self-hatred, obsessing about the person I used to be and the person I am today.
And though children are the greatest and most important responsibility, there is liberating about living for someone else, in prioritizing your child's needs above your own. I live for him; my needs are secondary.
But I refuse to luxuriate in that kind of self-negation. Truth be told, I am happy to be living in a basement with my wife and dog and son, at least for the time being. The moment my son was born my life stopped being primarily about myself, or my career, or my ego, and starting being about growing family. And though children are the greatest and most important responsibility, there is liberating about living for someone else, in prioritizing your child's needs above your own. I live for him; my needs are secondary.
And while we moved down here for our son's sake, there are enormous advantages for us as well. After years of living paycheck to paycheck, it feels good to finally be in a place where I might be able to put some money aside. I wanted to own my own place in part because I so desperately wished my family owned their own place when I was a child. But I think my son will be better served by living in the same place as his extended family who adore him, and can help him in every conceivable way, and are huge, active and unambiguously positive elements in his life, than he would be by having a dad who clings to his self-image as a homeowner at any cost.
In hindsight, maybe what I really wanted when I was a kid wasn't to be part of a family that owned property, but for my dad to not have to struggle every goddamned day of his life as a habitually unemployed single dad with multiple sclerosis and two kids he loved desperately, but was physically and financially unable to provide for. What breaks my heart, even now, is the knowledge of how hard it was for my dad. And the knowledge that my mere existence made his life so much harder.
I think that my son will be better off living in a basement and surrounded by love, then he would be living in a home his parents own, but need to struggle relentlessly to maintain. Our living situation is not permanent, but—right now— my in-law's basement feels exactly right. Declan is loved and secure and stable here. We made a choice that makes him happy. And that, more so than any kind of homeownership, is cause for celebration.