Blazing a trail can mean so many things. As a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner, I think this takes on so much more meaning as it pertains to older adults. When I speak with my older patients, I am startled by how much things have changed in only a couple of decades. Take, for example, how we Americans spend money. Years ago, there seemed to have been more financial restraint. Today, lines of credit are extended to almost everyone…even those who have already proven that they cannot pay back debt, yet accumulate it nonetheless. Bad credit? No credit? No problem!! It takes fortitude to withstand all of the temptations of immediate gratification.
My dad is my role model (financial and otherwise). Growing up, we didn’t spend a lot of quality time together. It was my mother who cared for us. She did not, as many of the mothers in my rather affluent neighborhood, work outside the home. As a child with severe asthma, it was my mom who slept next to me in my hospital room, brought me special lunches in school due to all of my severe food allergies, and took me to countless specialists for my profound allergies. Yet I want to spend time here talking about my dad, who was an “absent father”.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not that he didn’t want to spend time with me or my brother. It’s that he was always working (or going to school so that he can work some more). At the age of twenty, he joined the New York City Police Department. He worked his way up the ranks making Lieutenant in the Midtown North Precinct in New York City. His shifts varied, but he almost always worked a “double” to earn extra money. When he was not working, he was going to school to become a lawyer; the NYC Police Department offered free tuition through a grant, which he took full advantage of. So this may explain why growing up we saw little of my dad. After becoming a lawyer, he earned extra money teaching at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. My dad…always working.
My dad wore many more hats than that- he was a carpenter, a plumber, a gardener, an electrician, and an all-around handyman. And he did these jobs probably better than anyone trained in the professional formally. How did he learn these crafts? Reading! He read many books, asked a lot of questions, and practiced. He never saw the value in paying somebody to do work that he would consider subpar, when he could learn how to do it himself, use the best materials, and be sure not to take any shortcuts that may jeopardize the finished product.
It was not until I became a nurse that I discovered (and ultimately appreciated) exactly why he wasn’t around when we were growing up. I remember the exact moment when full appreciation set in. I had just come home with my first paycheck as a nurse. So excited, I began rambling off all of the things I was going to buy with my newfound riches. He said “Maryanne, you always have to remember that you should never spend money that you don’t have. You should take this money and pay off that credit card bill.” He saw my deflated look, and sensed that further explanation may be in order. He began crafting a story that I will never forget. He told me that never in his life did he buy something that he did not already have the money for. He never had revolving credit, and never borrowed money from anybody. If he wanted something but didn’t have the money, he simply didn’t buy it. To him, it was all about delayed gratification. He worked hard and saved for a rainy day. The money he did spend was on “needs”, not “wants”.
This story really struck me as so odd, especially in a world of where a “buy now, pay later” philosophy dominates society. Almost comically, I look back on my childhood growing up in a quaint suburban town, always thinking that we were poor. Why? Because as my high school friends drove around in their parent’s BMWs and Mercedes, I got to drive around in my mom’s old beat-up station wagon. Our house was always clean, neat, and organized but not adorned with high-end furniture or artwork. It was a rather small house, but always very well maintained. I remember when my parents wanted to put a skylight in the kitchen, it was my dad who cut a huge gaping hole in the ceiling and worked on it day and night for several days, hoping that it didn’t rain. Now it would have been so much easier (and faster) to pay somebody to do it. Had my dad every installed a skylight before? Nope. But he read books and learned. And, in the end, the finished product looked like a professional did it, but for a lot less money!
I always had what I needed growing up, but never more than that. We never went on luxurious vacations, and drove our cars into the ground. So, as a tribute to my aging dad, I would like to recognize him for being a financial trail blazer. Setting limits on himself even when society and commercialism did not support this idea. Now, at the age of 69, he still adopts this philosophy. Retired and spending time traveling with my mom in their RV all over the east coast, he continues this financial restraint. He easily could be flying and cruising all over the world and still be financially comfortable, but that is not part of the fabric of his being. The things that fulfill him the most are spending time with his five grandkids, doing work in his woodshop, and knowing that he has lived his life the way all of us would like to. He has set a great example for me and my brother and has blazed a trail that all of us should follow!