On Father’s Day, I visited my dad, who is in the process of moving out of the house he has shared with his long-time girlfriend for the past thirteen or so years; she had been living in the house for about forty years, if I remember correctly. We met at the house, which was clear of almost all of its furniture, and walked into town.
Maplewood is a township in New Jersey with a cute downtown area, with several good restaurants and shops. There’s a convenient train to New York City. It’s not a cheap place to live, though. In 2011, the mean price for detached houses in the township was $570,158, and property taxes are typical for New Jersey. In other words, high.
We walked to one of the restaurants, St. James Gate Publick House, for a Father’s Day dinner and proceeded to talk about life. To provide some context for the reader, I think my father and I have a good relationship. We’re not particularly close, but we check in with each occasionally and I take some time to visit him several times throughout the year. My parents were divorced around the turn of the millennium, but each has been in a committed relationship with their current partners for a long time.
The photograph you see here is from when I was about six months old.
I don’t normally write about my family on Consumerism Commentary. I started this website in 2003 to talk very candidly about my finances, and because of this type of exposure, I wanted to remain anonymous. And I’m still anonymous to a degree. Because I put a high value on my privacy, except for my finances until a certain point, I respect the privacy of people in my life. But I think it’s safe to share some aspects of the discussions within my family that could have an effect on me or other people who may be in similar situations.
The first thing I learned pertains to retirement. I actually already know the things that I “learned” during our discussion, but hearing from or observing one’s father can have a more direct impact than harboring any particular piece of knowledge intellectually.
Don’t wait until retirement to live your life.
Now, my father has not waited until retirement to do many activities that he would enjoy. Even when he was young, he was exploring his world, with bike-riding trips, camping with friends, and cross-country road trips. Later in life, he embarked on cruises to Europe.
He’s several years beyond the traditional age of retirement now, but he’s only now starting to pull back his hours. He’s considering continuing to consult in retirement as well — not because he needs the money, but primarily because he’s not sure how he’ll be spending his time in retirement. To complicate the matter, I found out last year that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The symptoms are being controlled well by medication now, but physically — and this can apply to anyone as the years advance, anyway — he can’t handle the same activities he had handled well in the past.
There are many things I’d still like to do, mostly regarding traveling and experiencing the world. There’s little holding me back right now other than myself. Personally, although I put pressure on myself to work, the reality is that I don’t need to. If I wanted to take a few months and travel, financially, it is possible. It takes some planning, and perhaps that is what is stopping me. Another barrier is that most people I know do have to work, and that makes it difficult to have a traveling companion.
I could be living an exciting life right now — so I need to start figuring out how to make that happen before I get old.
Your education, regardless of your career path, is worthwhile.
But my dad might disagree. With my parents’ encouragement, I pursued a music education degree as an undergraduate. Entering the degree probably, although I was apprehensive about the big changes moving to campus would bring, I was passionate and dedicated to the idea of my calling to be a music teacher in a high school. I expected I would follow the typical career path of a teacher who was looking to be effective with students as well as experience career development; I expected to eventually move from teaching to administration.
It turns out I didn’t like the public school environment and moved away from the teaching field. The passion hasn’t fully left me — I recently began teaching rhythm to a group of special needs children, and find it very rewarding. Nevertheless, my life took a different path. I am, however, thankful for the education, and I think that the courses I took in college helped prepare for being a leader in the field in which I work.
My father considers my education to have been a waste of time, and doesn’t understand why I am currently giving back to my university community. Perhaps he read Matt Yglesias’s article in Slate dissuading alumni from financially supporting greedy universities. After all, these are organizations that are generally cash-rich and favor students who can afford the high cost to attend the schools. But my alma mater is not an Ivy League school and is not “well-endowed;” it is a private university while also a land-grant college; most of the funding for its programs comes from private money, yet it has the misfortune of having a public charter.
Not that any of this really matters — the bottom line is that I experienced an unfairness while I was pursuing a minor. I was required to take, and pay for, a credit course representing a non-profit internship. I was paying the university tuition so that I could work for an organization for free. I did receive a benefit — I ended up working full-time for the organization where I had the internship (though that may have been a bad idea anyway). This situation helped predicate my spiral into financial despair, all of which resulted in my life-changing run as the founder of this site, which I successfully sold several years ago. So it’s not all bad.
I’ve been giving back to my university in several ways.
- I’ve established a stipend to help one student each year pay his or her bills while pursuing a required internship, opening up more opportunities for someone who might not be able to afford to take the best opportunity available, even if it is in an area with a higher cost of living.
- I’ve been back to campus to address aspiring entrepreneurs in a speaker series. I can guarantee the students did not hear a story like mine before or after my visit.
- I signed up to meet with high school students who are interested in the University of Delaware, particularly those interested in pursuing arts-related degrees, to share my experiences with the university and with life.
- I am now a member-at-large on the alumni association’s Board of Directors.
- I’ve been invited to be on a panel of Department of Music alumni to better prepare students for life after college.
I don’t see any problem with giving back to my university, even though they certainly received a lot of funds in the form of tuition from me (and my parents). Would my father had been happier if I had pursued an engineering degree, like him, and had a career path that took advantage of the specific education that degree would provide? Perhaps, but I think things worked out fine.
One of the reasons I’ve avoided being involved with the university since my graduation is the fact that my life has taken such a strange turn and I’m not doing what I intended when I was in school — teaching music. And I do feel quite a bit separated from the friends, students and professors, I had made while in college. But I’m really excited about getting involved again, and I think it will become a worthwhile piece of my life, and something I can be proud of.
Not everyone will have children or a family of his own.
One day while in college, someone who knew me well looked at me and said, “You’re going to make a great father.” Today is almost twenty years since that moment, and I still haven’t proven her right or wrong. I’m thirty-eight years old, and I don’t have a family I thought I might have had by now. It’s really my own fault; although my relationships tend to be long-term, I’ve never “settled down.” Today, I’m in a relationship that’s still relatively new, and things are going well despite the distance between us.
During our dinner, my father suggested that maybe I just won’t have a family of my own. There’s nothing wrong with that path, and single people live their lives just as well as married folks, and in many cases, they live better, more complete lives. You can’t really generalize; every individual is different. Having a child now means I’ll be no younger than 56 when he or she graduates high school.
I can’t really look back and say that I wish I had children ten years ago; my life was in a vastly different situation at that time.
There are two choices — decide to change and actively make choices to put that change into effect, or come to terms and learn to enjoy the current situation.
Even if I disagree with my father in some respects, our discussion gave me a few things to think about. It’s good to have these discussions once in a while. At the end of dinner, to which I treated him, we walked back to the house he’d soon be moving away from. I was then on my way back to my own home, an apartment where I just renewed the lease for another year (with a break-away option) with more to think about.