Raising a Frugal Dad: An Open Letter to My Son

By Staff

Dear Son,

Every year, when Father’s Day rolls around, the media floods the airwaves with statistics reminding us how many bad dads are out there. From deadbeats who don’t support their children, and their children’s mother, to males who abuse the same (son, these are “males,” they do not deserve to be called men).

Unfortunately, too many good examples of great dads go unreported. The truth is, this land is full of hard-working men providing for their families. An even greater set of men (and women) serve this great country by willingly signing up to defend it and its allies around the world. Your great grandfather is one such man, and many of the lessons I’ll share today I learned from him.

A Legacy of Frugal Dads

Your great grandfather, Papa, as you know him, was born in 1925. Most of his formative years were spent in the rural south during the Great Depression. One of nine kids, his mom and dad struggled mightily to keep food in their kids’ bellies and shoes on their feet. In fact, most summers (and occasionally into the winter) they went without shoes.

Your Papa’s father was a carpenter, as was his older brother – a darn good one, too. The three of them had the opportunity to work together when Papa got older, but before that, Papa earned money for his family selling newspapers and magazines, stuffing bags of meal and flour in a mill, and a variety of other odd jobs. He might have kept a dime or two out for himself each week, but everything else went to his family.

These were hard times son. Harder than any of us can imagine. Few of us have known such despair, and I hope you never will. As a parent, your greatest fear is losing the ability to provide basic needs for your children. You’ll understand this as you grow older and one day have a family of your own.

As soon as he was old enough, Papa signed up for the Navy, and quickly joined the Marines as a fighter pilot. He served in Korea and Vietnam, flying both jets and helicopters, and did long tours in the Mediterranean, Japan, and other spots around the world. This meant he had to leave behind his wife and kids for long periods of time, which to him, was tougher than the duty he was sent off to do. He served 29 years in the Marines, and retired in his late forties.

Despite a tug to continue lucrative work in the private sector, he left the D.C. area and returned home to care for family members, an obligation he continued for nearly 40 years. At 84, you may have noticed it is now he who needs a little help from time to time, and your dad is happy to lend a hand. After all, it was an example set for me at an early age.

Being a Dad Worth Looking Up To

Once upon a time, dads were looked up to as an iconic figure – Dad could fix anything, he knew everything, and he always knew what was best. Over the years, for a variety of reasons, this respect for fathers has waned. I blame some of it on a few bad examples, but most of it on the media. As I mentioned in the beginning, the media loves to remind us of the bad examples, and rarely focuses the spotlight on the good ones. And believe me son, there are plenty of good ones out there. Here are two of my favorites.

“Dad, when we run it feels like my disability disappears.” – Rick Hoyt

Dick Hoyt, former military man and father to a disabled son, heard these words from his son as he towed him around on his bike, boat, and carried him during runs. And that was all he needed to hear. He and Rick participated in training runs, bikes and swims and competed in triathlons all over the country. Dick Hoyt raised his son Rick to be a productive, independent young man with his own career, despite physical challenges unimaginable to you and me.

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Jim Redmon, father of track star Derek Redmon, didn’t just sit around and watch his son leave his race unfinished in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He quickly made his way to the track to help his son, stricken with a torn hamstring, limp to the finish line in tears. Derek didn’t win that race. In fact, I don’t even remember who won it. What I do remember is the example of this dad being there for his son to lean on. To share in his agony, and provide a steady shoulder to help him through to the finish line – even chasing away track officials trying to stop them.

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Those were two high-profile examples of great dads, but there are millions of other dads anonymously going throughout their days with family as the number one priority. They are working a night shift to save enough to send their kids to college, or help get their family out of debt.

Maybe money isn’t a problem, but to earn that money they have to stay in a job they don’t particularly like, or work for someone that treats them like dirt.

When they were younger, they dreamed of another career, but for now are content holding onto the job they have to help their children achieve their dreams.

They are raising their children alone after an illness or an accident claimed their spouse.

They are supporting their kids even though things didn’t work out with their kids’ mom.

Maybe they don’t have a job at all right now, and are living 24 hours a day in worry over their family’s well being. They are pounding the pavement looking for another job, or working part-time, or donating plasma, or doing whatever they can to make ends meet. You see son, a real man swallows his pride, and does what he has to do for his family.

Becoming a Frugal Dad

My son, there are so many things left for me to teach you about the real world. Much more than I could write in a single letter. But above all else, remember that no one owes you a thing. You are responsible for taking care of yourself, and one day, your own family.

You will be tested, by our culture, by our government, by bad examples, and by a lazy streak that attempts to attach itself to all of us at some point in our lives. You must ignore these influences, and remember that your goal is to grow to be as self-reliant as possible.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind as you grow older:

  • Do not depend on government for your well-being. In an emergency, don’t be too proud to accept help, but do not make it a way of life.
  • Do not depend on banks for financial security. The best credit line available is the one attached to your emergency savings fund. Remember, the borrower is slave to the lender, and you don’t want to be a slave to big banks. Take my word for it!
  • Do not depend on schools to provide 100% of your education. You must self-educate beyond the lessons taught in school. Challenge your educators, and challenge your own thoughts. Read books. Read books contrary to your own opinion, so that you may learn another point of view. Read books on subjects you don’t think you care about and you just may discover your passion.
  • There’s no such thing as get rich quick. Building wealth takes time, and a lot of hard work. If you want to be successful in anything, you must work at it for hours every day – sometimes late into the night, and early in the morning. If you are happy with mediocrity, punch the clock after 8 hours, plop down in front of a television and waste valuable time until you fall asleep. Repeat this process until the weekends when you can do even more of the same.
  • Be skeptical. Don’t believe anything you read, most things you hear, and even a few things you see with your own eyes. Question everything. Nothing in life is black and white.
  • Choose your spouse carefully – it is the most important decision you will ever make. Love has a way of robbing us of our intellect, and in many cases leads to irrational decisions based solely on emotions. Choosing someone to spend the rest of your life with is far too important for that. Look for someone that shares your hopes and dreams. Someone who is ambitious, but not too much. Someone who has the same values and beliefs as you do. Like you’ve heard your dad say before, opposites do attract, but they rarely stay together forever.



*This post was selected as an Editor’s Pick in the Carnival of Personal Finance #262: 80s TV Edition, hosted by Personal Finance Journey