First let me say this, my father, by many measures, did not have a great deal of money. He was, however, a wealthy man. He was born in a small house at 55 Pickens Street in Little Ferry, New Jersey in 1907. That would have made him 22 when the Great Depression started and it wasn’t until he was in his early 30’s that the depression was really over. Until I wrote this I never really thought about how much of my father’s formative business days were spent in the depression.
He was a banker all his life, starting out as a page for a bank when he was recruited as a young teenager by a bank because he spoke English and Czech. He went to secretarial school while working as a page for the bank (A sort of low echelon runner – doing errands for bankers and customers), and he retired as one of many Vice Presidents for what had become a large national bank. But he retired at the young age of 62, the year I graduated from high school. He and my mother had a comfortable retirement in Fort Myers, Florida until they passed away a few months apart from each other thirty years later.
During their retirement they traveled the world, lived in a comfortable house, and had a boat, plenty of friends and an active lifestyle until the last few years as their health declined. He was a success even at the mission we all should have – compressing morbidity – that is: packing the dying part of our lives into the last months.
My folks were wealthy because they had more than they consumed. They had ”plentiful quantity of goods and money”.
This, this is the secret of wealth: Use less than you have, spend less than you earn, consume less than exists.
Thanks Dad, but I just wasn’t paying attention.
I wasn’t paying attention when every day you came home from work and put your extra change into a jar and when that jar got full you rolled the coins in paper tubes and brought them to the bank and deposited the money into a vacation fund.
I wasn’t paying attention when you explained why you and Mom had only one car when I was a kid and you took the bus instead of driving like all our other neighbors.
I wasn’t paying attention when you bought shares of AT&T stock a few shares at a time every chance you had.
I wasn’t paying attention when you went shopping for groceries and clipped coupons and went to two or three markets when I was a kid, buying only what was on sale.
I wasn’t paying attention when you brought each of us kids to the bank and opened bank accounts for us. You told us to deposit money in the account every week. I was not paying attention when I got a thrill of seeing my balance grow in that passbook. I thought every kid had a bank account, and not only knew his balance but had memorized his account number.
I wasn’t paying attention when you taught me how to root clippings of pachysandra and sell the plants to neighbors out of a wagon.
I wasn’t paying attention when you brought me to the bank to work all day counting coins in the basement of the bank, dumping bags of pennies in the spinning drum that spit out paper tubes of coins.
I wasn’t paying attention as my bank account grew, slowly, dollar by dollar.
Well, Dad, maybe indeed I did pay attention, but I forgot. I forgot that wealth comes slowly, penny by penny, sacrifice by sacrifice, and is a bucket with a spigot and a drain.
And to get wealthy the drain has to be smaller than the spigot.
Greggs Note: I first wrote that column last father’s day. I decided to resend it, well, because today is father’s day again.
Happy Fathers Day Dad! Today I get to spend my day with my children and I sure wish you were here to see them. Since last father’s day I have one more grandson. I can only hope to be as good a role model as my father was….