Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dilemma part 2

Say someone you know has a friend.  That friend has two brothers.  One of the brothers is married with children, and the other not.  The married brother's wife decided to start a business, and borrowed from her brother-in-law.  She and her husband found a site, which required a five year lease and the owner wanted a co-signer in case they defaulted.  They begged, they cajoled.  This was the perfect spot!  No other place would do!  Please, please!  Reluctantly, the unmarried brother signed. 

The business did not do well.  It had problems getting licensure with their state and local governments, and so they were stuck paying months on a lease in a building where they couldn't operate. They started out behind, and then did not recover. It's a business that requires a  steady stream of clients.  In addition to their lease they also had to have a specialized person on staff, so their overhead was high.  Some days the building stood empty. 

The married brother lost his job.  He filed a lawsuit for wrongful firing, in a case that would grind on for 18 months.

The brother who had lent the money realized he may soon be responsible for a lease on a building a thousand miles away.  So when they came to him for more money, he felt he had no choice but to give it to them.   And they came again and again and soon he was sending them money monthly and keeping them afloat.  The promise was he'd be paid back if the lawsuit was successful.

No one was supposed to know.  The married couple asked him to keep it a secret.  But one day, he told his sister, the friend, about what was going on.  He asked his sister to continue to keep it a secret from their parents.  Their parents were also helping the couple monthly and had no idea how deeply in trouble they were.  He also requested that brother and sister-in-law not know that she knew.

The friends' brother continued the flow of money.  When the friend counseled him to stop he said he couldn't because his brother was saying he, wife, kids would all be in the street.  The friend begged him to tell their parents, who are well off and can afford to help to a greater degree than they were.   Furthermore, they'd be willing. The friend said they should get together on a conference call and see if there was something they could work out: he needs to get this hook out of him.  Her brother refused.  And so, sworn to secrecy herself she felt she could only watch as the situation played out.  His brother's wife became accustomed to the monthly stipend and expected it each month.

He asked his married brother if he could see his wife's books for the business, so he could have an idea of where his money was going.  His brother refused, saying his wife doesn't show her books to anyone, not even him.  Lending brother couldn't bring himself to confront the wife directly and insist.

Tax time came, and his hit was huge.  His sister asked if he could take a deduction for supporting a small business.  He said he could have, but he'd been doing the taxes with their dad, and would have had to reveal "the arrangement".  So he swallowed and paid the taxes on income that had only passed through his hands on the way to someone else.  He could have sheltered that income, put it into a fund for retirement, made a down payment on a house.  Nearly frenzied with frustration the friend urged him to come clean with their father, let him know what was going on, quit carrying this burden by himself.  He said he couldn't do it.

The court case drug on.  The defendants found ways to delay and delay.  Each delay meant not only hardship to the family, but also to the brother who was keeping them afloat.  There was a very real possibility that if the ruling went against the defendants they could appeal, and the case could be strung out for years.

The case ended in an out-of-court agreement, and the plaintiff, her brother, was awarded a settlement.  Jubilant, he called the friend, his sister, to set up a three way call with their brother, to break the fabulous news.  For a brief time while the call was being set up, the friend was alone on the line with the lending brother.  He was in tears, as if he'd just been released from prison. "This means I can buy a house!"

The award was dispersed.  The friend asked her brother if he had been paid back.  He said no, in fact he was kind of unhappy because he'd thought he should be "closer to the top of the list" than he was.  Disgusted, the friend said, "If they'd come to you with a check straightaway, that would be one thing.  If they're going to delay like this you should ask for interest.  What you had to pay in taxes, and the interest you could have gotten on that money was a big hit, and nobody should feel entitled to someone forgiving them that amount.  Essentially you've had to pay to give them money!  And I don't see that they're even acknowledging this!"

The friend is feeling very conflicted.  In the first place her lending-brother is a sovereign adult, and is free to spend his money however he wishes, even if it's enabling their brother and sister-in-law.  It is none of her business.  To "rescue" him would be demeaning, would it not, and would also violate a confidence.  A core part of the friend's self-identity is that she can be trusted, and will always keep confidence.  On the other hand, it appears that her brother is constitutionally unable to refuse this pair, and hasn't she been complicit in his bleeding by keeping that confidence?

Something about this is deeply offensive to her.  It has to do with appearances being not what they seem.  It has to do with her brother and sister-in-law appearing as if they're not taking money from other brother, when they are.

It seems actually a classic dilemma, so  I would guess it's been universally experienced.  How have you experienced this...what did you do?...if you were the Friend, what would you want your friend to tell you?


Sheri said...

I am not sure what I would do...luckily I have not been in this kind of a situation.

This sounds a bit too close to home. I'm really sorry about this. Feel bad for everyone potentially involved.

Mama Zen said...

This kind of thing just sucks. Unfortunately, there really isn't anything that the friend can do that wouldn't somehow leave her the one being blamed.

PaleMother said...

Unfortunately, I think it is the brother's mistake to make. Although I know it's really hard to watch someone that you care about follow on such a self-destructive course -- brother or friend.

I think all the friend can do is express her concerns as pointedly as she can. Maybe in a letter. For the sake of being extra thoughtful with expression and for the sake of getting it all out.

The big point is that enabling the couple isn't allowing them to feel consequences that they might need in order to get a grip. Enabling may seem like "helping" but it's really the opposite.

The brother sacrificing his own financial health is worrisome ... why does he feel obligated to support them at his own expense? Is there more going on here than the friend knows?

Lavender Luz said...

Grrrrr. This peeves me more than the dishes.

I think I agree with MamaZen and PaleMother.

Of course, maybe a friend of a friend could bring the parents into the mix....

But that's a bad idea, too.

Grrrr. It sucks to be stuck!

Kristin said...

Terrible situation. I think if I were the friend, I would suggest that he see a counselor or someone where he works, like a psychologist at his company's EAP (Employee Assistance Program), if he is lucky enough to have one. At an EAP, they do assessment and short-term counseling of personal problems for employees, usually at no charge to the employee. I think this man needs to figure out why he feels compelled to act in ways that put his future in jeopardy, and that enable his brother and SIL to act irresponsibly.

Ailey said...

I'm with Kristin and Pale Mother. What inside of him makes him feel so compelled to continue to let himself be taken advantage of?

I also agree with the idea of the friend writing a letter to her brother and spelling it all out to him with the care and sensitivity that is sometimes only available when one has the time and space to write and rewrite. Maybe somewhere in the letter the suggestion of short-term counseling could be slipped in.

What a tough place for this friend to be. I hope the best for all concerned.