Ask my father about wisdom and he will tell you, “Black folks have all the sayings and white folks have all the money.” Okay, that’s an Archie Bunker wisdom of sorts, not so politically correct these days; but my dad raised eleven children in an age when political correctness took a back seat to hard work, sacrifice and practical knowledge. His words were meant to inspire hard work and, ultimately, financial security. That style of fatherhood wisdom helped Dad and Mom raise a big family during many tough years.
My father said what came from his mind and his heart; and, most importantly, he backed up his wisdom by doing what needed to be done. He rose up early every morning, went to work, laboring the way his wisdom dictated, “like somebody is always watching you;” so even during lean economic years, his hard work guaranteed he always had a job to go to. He brought home his paycheck to a devoted wife. He raised his children; and along the way, he passed on a great deal of fatherhood wisdom that helped him push each child toward the door to success.
Over 62 years of fatherhood, my dad passed on a lot of lessons. Here are three of my favorites:
“Never have a bunch of kids..”
Large families are fun, built with a different kind of joy, loyalty, devotion and unrestrained portions of love. But feeding, clothing and educating a bunch of children takes money… lots of it. (Do a cost analysis of raising 1 child and multiply that by 11)
My parent’s marriage was 1940s traditional: a housewife to care for the home and children, a husband to bring in the money. Even looking back under the sweetness of a nostalgic glow, it’s easy to see raising 11 children was a tremendous economic undertaking; and thus “Never have a bunch of kids” became prime fatherhood wisdom passed on early and often.
Needless to say, none of us came anywhere close to matching his record of 11 offspring.
“It’s not how much money you make, it’s how much you save.”
My Father often talked about money and this bit of wisdom earned a spot as one of the 2006 Cincinnati Enquirer’s “Dad’s Favorite Sayings.” As with a lot of my father’s wisdom, it came from hard, first hand experience.
1969, as always, was a time of juggling bills and robbing Peter to pay Paul… another old expression. When my 8 year old brother died, my father had just missed the final deadline for paying the family life insurance policy; and he had a mere 600 dollars in the bank.
With no other means of paying for a funeral, my father called to plead his case with the insurance company’s Cincinnati branch. He spoke to a kindhearted insurance clerk (no, not an oxymoron) who offered an alternative to taking out a loan for his son’s funeral.
As child number 4, a middle-ish sibling of the then 9 children, I was quiet and compliant yet willing to do anything to stand out in the crowd; so perhaps that’s why my father chose me to help implement the scheme. I still remember tiptoeing up a long walkway and slipping a cash-filled envelope into the night deposit box. The kindhearted… and honest clerk retrieved it and took the blame for not processing the premium payment on a timely basis. Most company’s records were not computer-processed back than, so such situations were actually possible.
My father earned a good living, but until that day, every penny had gone toward raising his family; still from that moment on, he made savings a priority. When mom asked if he was saving all that cash for his next wife, Dad would smile and keep packing away as much cash as he could. He became that man who earned well and saved. Thus his wisdom: “It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you save.”
“What goes around comes around.”
This was my father’s own version of Karma and my favorite saying. It’s pretty simple. Somewhere along the way he learned that whatever you do, however you do it, it will come back to you in time. It’s a model way to live your life and wisdom worth remembering.
When I hear tales of fathers great and not so great, fathers rich and fathers famous, many with untried wisdom to share; I listen and smile and think of what my father might say, “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t say nothing!.”