I’ve had many conversations with my dad over a wide variety of topics, but I can’t remember a time in which we ever discussed his salary. I have no idea how much money my dad made each year, but I put together plenty of clues. Based on the evidence, I put together that my dad didn’t make very much money. We were poor.
My parents had a very humble beginning to their marriage. Their wedding was simple, the took only a weekend honeymoon, and they moved in with my dad’s oldest brother. I can imagine my dad in his young 20s rubbing two nickels together in attempt to provide for him and his young bride.
They put themselves through college and started a family while my dad was working on his master’s and PhD. Times were tough and money was tight.
These were the details my dad did talk about. But from there he was silent on the issue of money and all I had was my experience as his daughter.
We took a vacation every summer, but we always drove and we always stayed with family.
My sisters and I each were given $100
at the beginning of the school year to get the necessary supplies and new clothes. It seems like a lot, but it doesn’t go far when you’re trying to buy new Nikes for gym class and enough clothes so you don’t have to repeat an outfit during the week.
Eating out was reserved for special occasions. When we did eat out, my dad would usually make my sisters and I split a meal. He said he was not going to waste money and food if we weren’t going to eat it all.
When my older sister turned 16, my parents bought a new car for my mom and handed down her old car (a Chevy Cavalier) to us kids. We had 1 car to
share along with 1 cellphone. The cellphone stayed with the car and was for emergencies only.
We also had to get a part time job when we turned 16. I really didn’t take issue with this; I babysat full time during the summer for 3 kids when I was 13. When I turned 14, I babysat during the summer and also worked at the Dairy Queen in town. I’ve always enjoyed working. But my dad was strict about our paychecks. We had to tithe and we had to put money into savings from every check we earned.
I was horrible at sharing the car, so when it came time for my younger sister to drive my dad told me to share or buy my own car. He co-signed my loan, but provided no money for it. He told me the first time I missed a payment and he had to cover for me, he would take my car and sell it.
When my older sister got engaged, my dad gave her a lump sum of money for her wedding. We were told we’d each receive this amount for our weddings. We got to keep any of it we didn’t spend, but if we went over we had to pay from our own pockets. Now it was a generous amount, I’ve never been given anywhere close to this amount of money before. But when it comes to a wedding these days, what my dad gave us wouldn’t go far. My sister and I both opted for low key weddings rather than investing our own money into the event.
All of these experiences painted a picture of poverty in my mind. I had friends who were always flying to this place and that with their families. Friends who would only wear the latest, trendiest (expensive) clothes. They had their own cars and cellphones. I made the assumption that that was the kind of life my dad wished I could have, but our lack of money wouldn’t allow it.
Yet this picture of poverty has some flaws. My parents paid for all our college tuition. During that time, they also paid for our housing and groceries. I graduated college without a cent of debt to my name.
Nick and I had only been dating for two months when we got engaged. I figured with how quickly it happened that my dad wouldn’t have the money readily available. Without hesitation my dad wrote me a check. He didn’t have to put the wedding expenses on a credit card or ask for time to get the money to me. He had the money and could give it to me without liquidating any assets first.
In my house, I have a coffee table, 2 bedside tables, a bookcase, a queen sized bed frame, a full sized dresser and chest of drawers, a crib, and a changing table. All made by my dad. All solid oak. And I’ve never paid a dime for it. All I had to do was ask.
When I was pregnant and had to make several trips to the ER, my parents gave us money to help with the medical bills.
My parents wrote us a rather large check to help pay off our car loans. More recently, the wrote us another check to help buy a new, larger vehicle. All without batting an eye.
Where did this money come from? How did my parents go from being so poor, to being so loaded?
I’ve embarrassed to say I never made the connection until this past weekend. I have finally matured enough to see the kind of man my father is and to realize that he always wanted more for me than a stupid pair of designer jeans. I thought we were poor because I was living in the moment; aware only of the possessions I wanted, but could never have.
But my dad has always had the future in mind. The money I thought we didn’t have was actually in the bank the entire time. My dad knew that there would be tuition to be paid, weddings to fund, and family emergencies.
I’m grateful for the furniture and the money; I can’t pretend as if those things aren’t valuable to me. But more importantly, I’m grateful that my dad taught me the value of working hard and living beneath your means. These are lessons I want Milo to learn. I want Milo to think we’re poor. I want him to assume that his mom makes the laundry detergent and toothpaste because we can’t afford the store bought stuff. I want him to assume that we almost never eat out and buy second hand couches because we have no money. And then someday I want to lavishly give him the gifts he needs because all the time we were living poor we were actually storing up.