Like most sons, my relationship with my father is somewhat peculiar. It is not that it is distant, or unloving, it is just that we are men, and a lot seems to go unsaid between men most of the time. So, while I know that my Dad loves me and is proud of me, the manly silence between us sometimes makes for wrinkles in what is an otherwise pleasant, solid relationship.
One such wrinkle cropped up over the holidays. My Dad is often rather shrewd with money, and I've always seem the ability to handle my own money well as an important sign of being a responsible adult. In some way, there has always been something that has made me want my father's approval in how I am managing my finances. Such approval has not been given largely because of the (physical) distance between us. He doesn't know how well I have managed because he doesn't get to see how I live very often. Still, I know that he is proud of me, and one might think that general approval should be enough, right?
Well, it isn't. At a few select moments, my Dad has been careful to praise my sister about how she handles money. Basically, she's very frugal and can stretch a dollar until it snaps... though she has made some choices that have REQUIRED that she do so when she didn't absolutely have to. His praise of her has always bugged me, knowing that she's made her share of mistakes. I can recall once a few years ago when my Dad said (partly in jest) that "he was leaving everything to my sister when he and my mother died because she knows how to save money." This incensed me. I later talked to my mother about it, and he was joking. The memory of it stayed with me though.
I have had to borrow money from my parents three times in my life. The first time was when I first started graduate school. The school was demanding a first installment on my tuition, and the loan check hadn't arrived. My parents lent me the amount of that first installment to smooth things over. The second time was about 8.5 years later, a scant three months before I defended my Ph.D dissertation. I was going broke thanks to high rent and a car that suddenly needed $1400 in repairs. I called home "with hat in hand" as they say, and, they floated me enough money to get by and finish. The third time was when I needed to move after I had a job lined up. They lent me some money that allowed me to pay the deposit on my apartment and the first month's rent. My parents have been very generous, because they either have forgiven or will forgive these loans. They forgave the first two when I got my Ph.D. They will forgive the third when I get married.
When I was visiting them back east, my Dad happened to make another comment to me about how my sister "knew how to squeeze a nickel until the buffulo pooped" (for those living abroad, 5 cent pieces of U.S. currency used to have a buffalo on them, creating the term "buffalo nickel".) This dug into me again. I immediately shot back to my Dad that "I call home once, ONCE in ten years for money and this is what I get." I wasn't trying to be mean, but I was being defensive. I also did not immediately understand why his statement bugged me so much (I figured it out later.) He immediately attempted an apology, but, I was slightly bothered by the whole incident for a good little while afterward.
I had almost forgotten about the whole incident, until my Dad sends me the following e-mail message the day after we got back from visiting them:
Thank you very much for your time, trouble, and expense to bring
Fiancee S. with you to celebrate Christmas with us.
The note goes on to talk about some specifics of our situation that I won't dwell on here, but, this conveys the gist of it.
It made it very special!
It was an opportunity for those people who could not come to the wedding
to meet Fiancee S.
If they did not take advantage of it, then it was their loss.
I would also like to apologize for anything that I said that gave you the
impression that I did not have confidence in your financial abilities.
The fact that you only had to call home once in 10 years is remarkable.
We were only too happy to help when you needed to get yourself moved and
established when you started work at Company O.
Mom & I are very proud of all of your many achievements, and are are
looking forward to your wedding.
You couldn't have found a nicer person than Fiancee S.
Gotta love my Dad. Just reading those words from him meant a lot to me. He has his problems, but, I wouldn't give him up for anything.
on 2004-01-06 at 1:01 p.m.
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