My College Kid “Needs” Money and I’m Now a Human ATM

It's not that I hated giving my kid money when he still lived with me. I didn't like the silence around it, but it was fine. Now, I'm just confused.

by Mark Shatz

I know exactly when I became a father. I’m not sure when I morphed into a cash machine. I think the purchase of a cell phone had something to do with it. After that, my son had little trouble programming me. Transactions were limited to withdrawals and there were no receipts. I was not allowed to ask questions. He withdrew and I became withdrawn. I wanted to ask the question that we all want to ask — “Do you really need that?” — but rarely did. It blurped out occasionally. A malfunction.

One of the downsides of having a smart child is that everything is questioned. Everything. Dad proclaims, “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” Son responds, “Money is made out of trees and thus literally does grow on them.” Every argument is a variant on that. So I accepted my destiny (happy enough to have a smart kid). I got used to the costs of my growing child and then something else happened. He left for college and I went from being an ATM to being a full-service financial institution. My vocabulary expanded to include new terms, like flex meal plan, and I learned a new cuss phrase, “Bursar you!”

This story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

I was surprised to relive previous battles. “Do you need to buy lunch every day?” mutated into “Given that you never eat breakfast, do you need the 21-meal plan?” I continued to question whether something was truly needed. “You hated your bunk bed, and you made me get rid of it, and now you want a loft for your dorm bed. Really?” My son’s rebuttals didn’t significantly change. “If you can afford an iPhone, why can’t I get one?” became “You’re spending $20,000 on tuition, so what’s the big deal about a renting a $175 futon?”

As a financial institution, I figured out ways to make it work. The only perk of giving money to a vertically-challenged panhandler was watching him enjoy his purchase. Today, I click a button to approve a money transfer. It’s simpler and faster. But, there’s no immediacy of appreciation. It’s entirely virtual. Where I once felt like I at least owned the Bank of Dad, now I feel more like a mid-level functionary. Still, I count myself lucky. Sometimes, I receive a text message from my son with a cute Bitmoji that assures me I am the best. (More often, he will send the obligatory “thank you” message after I repeatedly ask if he got the money.)

My son now lives hundreds of miles away. And I sincerely miss being his cash machine. At least I got to give him the cash in person.

Mark Shatz is a single-dad, psychologist, and author of Comedy Writing Secrets (3rd ed). His favorite pastime is watching his teenage son outsmart “proven” parenting techniques