Every Sunday, while my cousins and I ran around rambunctiously at my grandparents house, my dad usually sat in a corner chair taking it all in. Sometimes he would read the newspaper. Other times he’d listen to the conversation. Still other times I think he may have been sleeping with his eyes open or perhaps practicing some kind of buddhist meditation. Whatever it was, trust me, sitting quietly wasn’t the norm for the way my Gram ran a household, particularly on a family Sunday. And every so often Gram would comment on her son-in-law noting that “poor Paul” didn’t know what he was getting into when he married my mother.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but my dad was offering me several important life lessons. Fitting in isn’t necessarily about acting like everyone else. There is value in quiet moments. Listening is about taking in everything that’s being offered in words and tone without judgement, without immediate interjection.
Yes, I learned a lot from the examples my dad set while growing up. And because my dad had those quiet, thoughtful moments, when he offered advice it seemed to carry a bit more immediate weight, often with a little bit of wit attached to it. Take, for example, his stance on money. In my adult life, crappy things have happened at the most inopportune times. My car breaks down. I need a new washing machine. Some other major event leaves me cash strapped. My dad would often insist on giving me money to help pay for those big ticket items. I would try to refuse. Didn’t having my parents help bail me out make me a failure as an independent adult woman?
“First of all, you’re not going to get anything when we die, so take the money now,” dad would say. “Second, I worked for the state. You’re a taxpayer. So really, this is your money in the first place.”
It’s really difficult to argue with logic that makes you laugh.
My dad’s philosophy on money is simple: if you can fix your problem with money, you really don’t have much of a problem. I told this once to a friend who became defensive. “Your dad must have never had any issues with money.” Dude totally missed the point. The point, which I always understood but have grown to fully appreciate over the last few years, is that that energy and time and people and ideas and dreams have a higher value than finances and things.
To be honest, I don’t know what our financial situation was growing up. I never got the Jordache jeans or the Esprit wardrobe, but my brother and I never truly lacked for anything. As an adult, I can see that was a product of living within our means. Money wasn’t endless. We didn’t get anything and everything we wanted. Money was valued. But it didn’t define who we were or what was important.
Shopping for my dad was always difficult. See, he didn’t need or want much and when he did need or really want something, he went out and got it. It was hard to buy him the perfect present. And while frustrating in the moment, it modeled for me another life lesson: that experiences are cherished more than things. Sure, I can buy my dad hiking boots, but what we’re both going to enjoy much more is walking around the woods together. See, the unspoken gem about living in your means is that you don’t actually live from a place of want, of wishing and hoping for more. Living in your means is about seeing all the opportunities, all the possibilities, in front you right now. And when you really get inside the “right now” you see that there really was nothing much to worry about in the first place.
Happy Father’s Day dad!