Thanks for nothin’, Dad!

How long until Father’s Day?

I’ve been following the Madoff scandal with some interest. This financial scandal seems to be like a neutron bomb set off inside certain wealthy neighborhoods. It destroyed many lives and fortunes, but left all the buildings intact.

The investigation is in its early days, but some interesting details and speculations are making their way into the press. The really astounding part to me is how Mr. Madoff’s alleged transgressions damaged the lives and reputations of his own sons and nieces.

The story, as currently reported in New York newspapers, is that the Madoff family ran a conventional securities firm, employing hundreds of financial professionals, and engaged in providing conventional financial services. All apparently legal. However, hidden in the inner sanctum, camouflaged by the larger business, was a large hedge fund operated as a Ponzi scheme, defrauding its specific investors. The current speculation is that the Ponzi scheme was either run only by Bernard Madoff, or perhaps only by Bernard and his brother Peter. If true, the Ponzi scheme was run by one or both senior Madoff brothers, without the knowledge of the adult-age Madoff sons and daughter. Having built careers there, the sons and daughter of the senior Madoff brothers can probably expect to never again work in the financial industry. Who of good repute would ever hire someone under such a cloud? How on earth would any parent run such an operation knowing that it would destroy the careers of his sons, nieces, and nephews?

One of the interesting questions about this scandal is the boundary between chutzpah and stupidity.It certainly takes a great deal of confidence to steal from the wealthy and well-connected.   It takes a great deal of chutzpah to circulate amongst the privileged and powerful, taking their acclaims while you are taking their money, knowing that you are not only stealing their money, but also stealing from their charities.  I wonder if it felt especially bold to be taking money from Hollywood big-shots in a year where the biggest story in Hollywood touched on the ruthlessness of show business titans when crossed.  One of the more recent tidbits from the Madoff stories is speculation that some of the defrauded investors are Russian oligarchs.  These are people perhaps likely to respond differently than a Hollywood philanthropist after being fleeced of billions.

When I was a boy, my father gave me a lecture on the “ethical spectrum,” and the differences between activities that are illegal, legal, moral, and ethical. His main point was that one should seek to live one’s life on the highest ethical ground, and not merely seek to live on the slippery slope where rests the blurry line dividing between what is legal and illegal. I wish I had a recording of his actual words to listen to now, but his lecture was academic. He had already taught the lesson by example. I have been blessed to have a number of father figures in my life, who taught by example the lessons of character, trust, dependability, loyalty, sacrifice, and community.

In my own town, we recently laid to rest Mr. Willie Kocurek, who one might depict as the antithesis of Mr. Madoff (and all the other infamous names from Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, etc.) Mr. Kocurek was not widely known outside his home town. However, Mr. Kocurek and his kind form the bedrock of communities across America. Here at home, he earned what I would consider the supreme accolade, perhaps outranking the Medal of Honor as an indicator of selfless devotion in civilian life. Having lived his life an open book, and having his character so understood and appreciated, his community named a grade school in his honor while he still had decades of life ahead of him. Mr. Madoff serves as a classic justification for the very old tradition of not naming streets, ships, and buildings in honor of people while they are still alive. Even an honored elder statesman can succumb to human weakness, amuse the press, and embarrass themselves and their family. Mr. Kocurek had such a depth of character that the entire community was confident that nobody would ever have to explain to children why the namesake of their school was in jail or was the butt of jokes from comedians and columnists.

I hope everyone ensnared in the Madoff calamity finds security, hope, redemption, and justice. I pray that I will always be able to live up to the example of character taught by my father figures, even in times of adversity and temptation.


(Image courtesy  Josh Willink at Pexels.)

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