Parent Fail #2080: My Son Is Clueless About How Banks Work

By Nick Chiles

There comes a time in every parent's life when we are faced with an undeniable fact: we have left holes.

Somewhere in our painstaking efforts to raise a perfect African American boy child, one who is well-girded to face the strains and struggles of an unforgiving world, we missed some stuff. These holes pop up at unexpected times, surprising moments when something comes crashing through and thuds to the floor, or when we take in their vacant faces and realize they have no clue.

I had one of those moments recently when I tracked my son's efforts to survive at college for more than a week with no cash and no ATM card. The card had been lost at some point in the days leading up to his return to school after Christmas break disappeared into that black hole of lost, misplaced and vanished that seems to swirl around teenage boys. The ATM card and his driver's license were inside his wallet, which had gone missing. His watch also disappeared at around the same time relocated just this past week by his little sister in a kitchen drawer (in other words, right under his nose).

As he asked me on repeated occasions whether his replacement ATM card had arrived at the house, it occurred to me to ask him a simple question:

Do you have any money?

His response: No, because I don't have an ATM card.

I knew there was a local Bank of America branch not far from his campus. Why had he not gone into the bank and made a withdrawal?

I asked him another question: You are aware that you can go into bank branches where you have an account and withdraw money, right?

His response: Really?

Wow. Big hole. Somewhere in our discussions about the American banking system, I had left something out that there are banks and tellers and actual people attached to the ATM cards. Places where they keep money that's not stashed inside of machines.

I was reminded of my days as a Little League coach, when one of my 8-year-old players, after weeks of preseason practices, got a solid base hit in his first at bat during our season opener and the little boy ran straight to third base instead of first.  As the crowd roared with laughter, I was mortified for him and for myself. I had left a big ol' gaping hole, assuming way too much about what an 8-year-old boy would know about the fundamentals of baseball.

I guess I also assumed too much about what a college student had learned about banks in his previous 18 years. Another hole had snuck up on me. In response, I turned to my 11-year-old daughter, held up an ATM card, and said, Those buildings connected to the ATM machines? They're called banks. Inside of those banks are people

Ah, two more kids. Two more chances not to screw it up.

Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestselling tome “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms,” co-written with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. Nick also writes for several publications including Essence, where he frequently pens stories about fatherhood and manhood.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. This was hilarious! “Ah, two more kids. Two more chances not to screw it up”.
    <—That sentence is greatness 🙂

    I am the oldest, and sometimes I think I was the tester model (not in a bad way, but in a "Mom, why didn't you mention more details about how to do/buy/own/rent/wear _____". I just figured stuff out, and my brothers benefited from my "street cred".

  2. LOL!!!! He ran straight to 3rd base. I’m sorry but that is awesome. Parenting fail or not that kid knows how to make effective use of his time.

    And this: “Those buildings connected to the ATM machines? Theyre called banks. Inside of those banks are people…” <<Priceless!!

  3. Awesome! And that 8-year-old….sooooo would’ve been my Solomon! lol

  4. my mom often told me i was her daily experiment….and since I hadn’t stopped breathing, she apparently was doing a pretty ok job… give yourself a pat on the back…the boy’s still breathing….and really….you’ve got a million more chances not to screw it up….wait until he has kids…you’ll be a superhero then!

  5. OMG that is so me right now especially with my kids being 16 years apart, when we oh so think we are the perfect parent the second time around. With my oldest I was teaching her how to balance a checkbook, merge money and go inside the bank and fill out a withdrawl slip. With my youngest with all the technology and all; I too forgot they had people in the buildings I yell at the computer when my transaction fails and think to myself there has got to be a easier way. I need to talk to someone about this transaction…be hold to my surprise there is 🙂 ….great piece I feel your pain!

  6. now that’s funny…I am scared to think how many holes we have left.

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