I Bought My Parents $760 Adele Tickets

At $380 per ticket, the single biggest discretionary purchase of my entire life is also the most grown-up thing I’ve ever paid for.

When We Were Young

“I have a crazy idea,” I texted a friend one Monday night, emboldened by endorphins as I staggered home from the gym. “Tell me if this is crazy.”


“I want to buy some Adele concert tickets,” I typed, then actually winced. “They’re $760 for the pair.”

The response was swift: “Omfg delia”

Oh my fucking god delia was right. At $760, these tickets would be the single biggest discretionary purchase of my entire life, literally second only to a flight to Paris years ago. But France had been something I’d soberly saved up for back in college, when I had no real bills or commitments outside of a Chipotle habit.

Now, I was a grown-up: a (not completely, but mostly) financially independent organism, responsible for rent and medical co-pays and anything that wasn’t on a family plan. Which made two tickets to see pop goddess Adele in in all her splendor at Chicago’s United Center this July a splurge in every sense of the word.

Or was it?


Here I was, a month into my first real job and new life in New York City. The full-out dream. As an entry-level creative, my first salary wasn’t shattering any ceilings, but this was the media industry and I was 23. To be able to afford a petite $1,034-a-month apartment in Brooklyn, regular Trader Joe’s hauls, all the requisite video streaming subscriptions, and even a cocktail or two at bars rated with more than one dollar sign felt like the height of Millennialhood. Every Sunday, as I checked my bank account and logged each item on a tidy spreadsheet, I would mentally self-congratulate. I am so grown-up. This is budgeting! This is being an adult!

Of course, splurges happened. The other weekend, I ran out of this extra-nice hair pomade that a Birchbox trial had hooked me on, so I took the train to Chelsea and mindlessly picked it up along with a $25 candle that felt equally inexplicably crucial. I deserve these things, I said to myself later as I lit the candle and then spent half an hour scrubbing thrifted tennis shoes in the sink. I worked hard for these things. Completely forgetting, of course, I only had the freedom to go after what I wanted because, for the past 23 years, I’d always been given everything I needed.

Someone Like You

My parents moved to the U.S. in the ’90s, a pair of Chinese graduate students who played by the rules and made their American Dream come true. I took my first steps in their little share of University of Wisconsin student housing, furnished with garage sale and dumpster finds—but by the time I left for college, I was saying good-bye to a beautiful brick house in a Midwestern suburb. My parents had long since become not only American citizens, but also well-employed engineers. Engineers whose daughter insisted on working in, long exhale here, magazines, and so they paid for journalism school. Rent. Three summers of living expenses for unpaid (or barely-paid) internships in Omaha, Chicago, and London. When I had the chance to intern in DC for roughly $12/hour after graduation, they paid the rent for my room in a townhouse and my first foray into the real world.

“Don’t worry about it,” my mom and dad said. “Just focus on your dreams.”

Nine months later, they paid for my moving costs, and I signed an employee contract and lease in New York. There was nothing more I wanted.

The numbers on my first paycheck gave me serious delusions of grandeur, but I prided myself on being all smart and mature at the same time. I socked away slivers in a 401(k). I did the weekly budget thing. I bought the $25 candle but walked away from this pair of Steve Madden sandals I tried on in SoHo, telling myself I needed to save up for the splurge. I am a grown-up. This is what grown-ups do.

Rolling in the Deep

When Adele announced her U.S. summer tour, I was still an intern. I didn’t know how much tickets would be, but I tried to get a pair, thinking it would be fun to go with my dad. Neither of my parents are very tuned into pop music, but my dad has taken a shine to Adele in recent years. I found out about this first when he casually mentioned livestreaming her Radio City Music Hall show—my dad! livestreaming!—and then later when he got particularly worked up about Donald Trump cutting the Adele ticket line.

So I imagined sending my dad to see quite possibly the only pop star he would ever care about while also experiencing his first concert ever. When ticket sales opened up I was ready to go—but I had my Ticketmaster settings wrong, and by the time I righted them and blinked, it was too late. My dad was all, “Don’t worry about it, we can go another time,” but I felt terrible. I made a bookmark on StubHub, resolved to jump on it if prices fell or if I, like, won the lottery. After moving to New York, I kept that bookmark and still checked it from time to time. But I also checked the Steve Madden website, hoping for a sale on those sandals.

Then something changed. Only a few weeks into my Grand New York Mostly Independent Adventure, my dad fell over at his office and was taken to the hospital. It came out later that he had an inner ear infection that was throwing off his balance, but that was only after the ambulance and the emergency room and the doctors and the unspeakable, unshakable fear of a stroke.

I only found out about everything that day after work, when my brother texted me the official, thank-fucking-god diagnosis. I called home and tried to be as attentive as I could from 900 miles away, but I didn’t really know what else there was to do. Which was why I must have found myself staring at StubHub that Monday night after coming home from the gym. The prices for resold tickets hadn’t gone down a goddamn cent, but July was basically here. I started thinking unnerving thoughts about money and mortality and being truly grown up.

“It’s not that I can’t afford it,” I texted my friend back, doing the math in my head at a rate that would embarrass the shit out of this pair of overworked, underappreciated engineers I got as parents. “It’s just that my life would be, like a little bit harder for a few months.” Before hitting send, I stared at what I’d typed and felt wholly, singularly ashamed to the core.

Twenty minutes later, on the phone, my mom was bubbling over.

“I’d love to go, sweetheart,” she said. “I only know some of her songs. ‘Hello’ is very good.”

“Do you think you and Dad can both get off work that day?”

“Of course.”

“Great.” I reached for my Visa. The Visa of a grownass adult, I decided—or, at least, one in the making. The Stubhub tab was open and the Steve Madden tab was closed.

“But sweetheart?” She paused, sounding so anxious. “How much are the tickets? Is it a lot?”

And this time, I got to say it:

“Mom. Seriously. Don’t worry about it.”

Delia Cai strategizes content by day and her bubble tea consumption by night. Follow her on Twitter @deezycai.

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