What Should I Do With My Grandfather’s Cringey Canvases?

I have a young adult son who does not wish to become vaccinated. He has been unemployed for a few years, but he is now working hard to get his life on track and obtain gainful employment. He lives with his long-term girlfriend, who has a good job, and they share expenses (rent, utilities, food), with all of his share coming from me. I’ve been reluctant to give him a deadline for securing work during the pandemic, but I am not wealthy and am nearing retirement. And it’s clear that there are more opportunities now than there have been in quite some time.

He is a believer in many false claims about vaccinations and insists on doing more research into their efficacy and safety, as well as the legality of an employer’s forcing him to get vaccinated. I told him recently that I wouldn’t continue to support him if he didn’t get his shot. He countered that I was disrespecting his beliefs and trying to steamroller him into doing something he didn’t agree with.

I told him that future employers would most likely insist on his getting vaccinated, and that his unvaccinated state would have financial implications by delaying his start date and income until he could get fully vaccinated. I said that his refusal to get the shot would cost money and that I wasn’t sure I would continue to support him during that gap period between accepting a job and starting work. He became upset, maintaining that he was already compromising by agreeing to become vaccinated if a job required it and that my withholding support was unfair, especially given his willingness to compromise by getting the shot.

Who’s right here? Name Withheld

Your son seems to view himself as the equivalent of a conscientious objector. But historically, conscientious objectors have distinguished themselves by their willingness to accept hardship in the service of their convictions. People who have burrowed into an anti-vax rabbit hole are not therefore owed deference when they seek to defect from practices and norms that help protect the larger community.

And notice that his objection would seem to be self-interested: He thinks he could be harmed by the vaccine, despite the fact that more than 2.5 billion doses have been safely administered. (If he merely had doubts about the vaccine’s efficacy, he would have no reason not to ease your concerns and take it.) Even though he is no kind of expert, he is confident enough in his powers of analysis to wish to defy a scientific consensus that his getting vaccinated would be not only in his interest but also in the interest of his co-workers.

Your son is specifically outraged by your refusal to cover the costs of a needless delay in starting a new job, a delay he can avoid by getting vaccinated now. It’s as if he thinks he should be rewarded for having agreed to get vaccinated if employment depends on it. But that’s a pragmatic decision. All you’re doing is pressuring him on the date of his vaccination — which would be another such decision. (Assuming your son isn’t secretly planning to defer employment indefinitely.) If he’s willing to accept an employer’s terms, he should be willing to accept his parental benefactor’s. After all, a parent isn’t generally obliged to provide financial support to an adult child.

Given that you have allowed him to depend upon your generosity, however, you would do well to withdraw that support gently, or with ample advance warning. I know it seems paradoxical to say that a gift can entail an obligation. But in all sorts of circumstances, it can. Suppose your tractor-owning neighbor makes a habit of clearing your driveway every time you’re snowed in. Because of her generosity, you don’t make alternative arrangements. If she suddenly has a change of heart, you’re worse off after the next blizzard than you would otherwise be. That doesn’t bind her to a lifetime of plowing your driveway; it does mean she owes you notice.

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