Wall Street Journal Saturday Essay, Why Are We So Obsessed With Sam Bankman-Fried’s Parents?:
The operatic family saga showed us not just the deranging effect of parental love but the limits of privilege and good intentions in saving our children from themselves.
During the trial for disgraced crypto-wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried, the courtroom artist did an inspired, almost abstract evocation of his parents at the moment of the crushing verdict. His father is bent over, white head in his hands, his mother is covering her face; the shadowing of their dark clothes merges them into a single mountain of unspeakable grief. Journalists in the room were equally riveted by their reaction, writing about Barbara Fried “crumpling” and Joe Bankman “doubling over” and of them “holding each other up.” Covering their faces would not shield them from the intense scrutiny aimed in their direction.
As Stanford law professors, they are an unlikely couple to be watching their son remove his tie and shoelaces as he is taken off to jail. Fried taught legal ethics, and Bankman has focused on financial regulation—details that would seem a little heavy-handed in their irony if they were in a novel someone was writing.
The wildest dreams and worst nightmares of a certain type of parent are entangled in the SBF story. Their child succeeded beyond their expectations and rebelled slightly by entering the world of finance, but upheld their beliefs by giving away huge portions of that money, but then flouted those expectations again by becoming a convicted criminal. ...
It was astonishing to think of these very smart people sitting through the trial and continuing to believe their son is innocent in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Avid trial watchers were gripped by the immensity of the self-deception, by how completely impossible it seemed for them to see their son with anything like rational judgment. ...
Part of the fascination of the trial was the inevitable confrontation between parental love and harsh reality. There was, in the press and the public, a hunger for Bankman and Fried to process that their son had committed the crimes he was accused of, which, of course, they may never do. In the Verge, a reporter actually asserted, “Whatever delusions they may have had about their son’s innocence dissipated over the course of trial,” but there is no evidence that this is true.
The spectacle raises the unsettling question: Can any parent see their child clearly? One wonders if the idées fixes we have about our children—“Sam will never speak an untruth. It’s just not in him,” Fried said—are often delusions or fantasies. If we are all this blinkered or blind on the subject of our sons and daughters. If we will follow them to any dark place they go. Sam was pretty conspicuously and flagrantly lying on the stand, but his parents may never believe that.
The story of SBF’s parents shows us how deranging parental love is. The values they held were upended. Their entire selves were reorganized by this calamity. They have been forged into different human beings. ...
Many of us long to discover some fatal misstep, something Bankman or Fried did wrong as parents, some way in which they could have acted differently to save their brilliant but dangerously arrogant son. Say, limiting his screen time or communicating more clearly that rules apply to everyone, even the children of Stanford professors.
Yet we may only find how helpless parents are to ensure the happiness or even basic well-being of their child. “Saving Sam is the major project of our lives,” Fried said, and it is also the project at which they will most spectacularly fail.
Wall Street Journal Page One, Bankman-Fried’s Parents Stand by Their Sam—and Face Their Own Legal Perils:
Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried had hovered nearby when their son soared to prominence as the crypto industry’s biggest star, and advised him as his company collapsed and the government made its case against him. And after a federal jury delivered a guilty verdict that could send him to prison for decades, his parents are trying to prepare him for what comes next.
The couple maintain their son’s innocence and are helping formulate grounds for an appeal. They visited him at a Brooklyn, N.Y., jail on Tuesday to assure him he has a life worth living, even if much of it stands to be spent behind bars. His conviction carries a potential maximum sentence of 110 years, though defendants rarely receive the most severe punishment.
Their unwavering support isn’t all that unusual. But Bankman, 68 years old, and Fried, 72, aren’t like most parents. The luster of their careers as beloved Stanford Law professors helped pave the way for the stunning rise of their son’s crypto exchange, FTX. And their direct dealings with that company, and the perks they received from their son before FTX filed for bankruptcy, have opened them up to legal headaches of their own.
Bankman worked for a time as a paid employee at FTX. Fried had no formal position there, but FTX alleges that she helped direct her son’s millions of dollars of political donations. The company, now under new management, has sued them both, arguing they pocketed millions that should be returned.
The couple’s lawyers have said the allegations are “completely false” and “a dangerous attempt to intimidate Joe and Barbara.” ...
FTX was a crypto giant valued in the billions of dollars when the company moved to the Bahamas in 2021. Both Bankman and Fried applied for permanent residency there, according to the lawsuit. Bankman went on leave from Stanford to work for his son.
Bankman became a key decision maker, FTX said, managing tax issues and advising on job hires. He was supposed to be the adult in the room at a company populated with young high achievers.
FTX agreed to pay Bankman a $200,000 annual salary, according to the lawsuit, and in early 2022 he lobbied for more. Bankman-Fried sent his parents $10 million shortly afterward.
“We are so touched by this gift,” Bankman wrote to his son, according to the lawsuit. “Mom is announcing retirement, which she would not have done otherwise.”
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage: