Today would have been my Dad’s 100th birthday. He was quite a character, who taught me how to cook Italian food, a love of music, introduced me to golf, and oh yeah, he taught me to be cheap.
Right now in the background you can hear my wife saying “Well, at least you come by it honestly.”
I found myself thinking about the old man this morning (he passed away in 2006) because in his own way, he prepared me – like other fathers of my generation – for what’s going on now. He was 9 years old when the Great Depression arrived and it affected him the rest of his life.
Add in that his Dad had just arrived in Central Pennsylvania from Melfi, Italy only a decade earlier, and a decade later he would be in the Navy and end up in the Pacific during World War II, and you can understand some of his thrifty ways. He grew up with nothing and lived his young adult years on a ship during a World War wondering if he’d see the next sunrise.
Those conditions tend to make you a bit cautious, causing you to constantly prepare for something bad that could happen. He passed that gene on to me, and it’s why on the spender-saver matrix, I’m so far over to the saver side that my wife has to force me to buy something she knows I really want. Otherwise, I go through a thought process that ends in “I don’t really need it” and I don’t buy it.
Lots of my friends have the same issue, and we talk about it all the time. We actually are envious of our children at times, who don’t appear to have such inhibitions. But it’s the way we’re hard-wired: work hard, pay off your debts, buy what you need and save the rest for a rainy day.
I even once said “Dad, there’s never going to be another Depression so you don’t need to do this” after he told me had put a couple hundred dollars in an old pretzel can filled with sand under the sink so in case anything happened to him, there’d be money to pay the electric bill and buy food for a month or two.
He’d be laughing at me right now if he were alive about that bit of wisdom I spouted off at him.
He was a lousy golfer but loved the game. His equipment was always modest, and he could make a golf ball last for months. The biggest sin he thought you could ever commit on a golf course was to take out a brand new ball and lose it after one swing. It killed him when that happened, so he rarely used a new ball if there were any dangers such as water, tall rough or trees…which are on about every hole on the courses we used to play.
One day while looking for his ball in the rough, I came across one with a small elk on it and a big crack on the side. “That’s mine” my Dad said, and I told him “enough.” Driving home I stopped at a sporting good store and bought him several dozen balls. Every Father’s Day and his birthday, I’d send him another dozen or two. If you don’t want to buy better equipment, I told him, I’ll buy it for you.
This went on for close to 20 years. He would play with the new balls when I’d play with him because I made him show me what he was going to hit on every tee. He’d whine and complain when he’d lose them, but I reassured him I’d buy more.
The days when I could go home and play golf with him got fewer and fewer, but I still sent him Top-Flights and Titleists several times a year. He passed away at the ripe old age of 86, and months after that, I went home for another visit. My mother said he had kept an old storage trunk in a closet that she’d never looked at, and asked if I would I want it.
I opened it and was amazed at what I saw. Staring back at me were at least 30 dozen golf balls, never opened. As I was sighing “oh, Dad”, in my head I could hear him say “but…I didn’t want to lose them.”
So yeah, my Dad was cheap and he taught me to be the same way. But that day I opened up his storage trunk, he also taught me if you save too much, you never get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Being a reckless spender is not a good idea. But being so frugal you don’t live life to its fullest is equally as bad.
Since then, all I play with is new balls. After all, when you receive a windfall of 30 dozen, you have that luxury. And every time I pull one deep into the woods that I will never find, I think of my Dad.
So Happy 100th Birthday Pops!
One day we’ll play again.